Inspring alumni: Evelien Berends

There are UU alumni in every big city around the world, so why not build a local network?
Evelien Berends

When Evelien Berends came to New York City for her postdoc in biomedical science after 11 years at Utrecht University, she soon found herself involved in reviving the local UU alumni network.

All you have to do is ask

“The New York alumni network is not new: it was very active for quite a while but petered out a few years ago. I have to be honest, it wasn’t my idea to revive it. A student asked UU about it while she was in town on an exchange semester, and Willemijn from the alumni office introduced us. We hit it off straight away and started brainstorming for activities.”

The added value of common ground

“Having spent 11 years at UU, Utrecht definitely feels like home to me. I have only good memories of my time there. Meeting people who share that common ground can really add value for alumni in the local area. When alumni arrive in the city now, I’m not sure if they are aware that there is an active network of UU alumni. We are working to change that, for example by announcing our events in the international alumni newsletter, through social media and by collecting more email addresses of alumni living in NYC. The more people we can engage, the more valuable the network.”

A strong foundation for growth

“Now that we’ve had a few events, attendance is increasing, and more people are becoming aware of the network. Attendees range from very young alumni who have just arrived in NYC to seasoned professionals who have been here for decades. And the beauty of it is, everyone talks to each other. The scale of the events at this early stage has helped with that; we see people bonding over the peculiarities of life in New York and reminiscing about their time in Utrecht.”

Little time, big impact

“After that first introduction, I really caught the organising bug. I love getting involved with this kind of thing. It doesn’t take much time, just a few hours a month. But those few hours really allow me to focus on something other than my postdoctoral research. And I am meeting great new people in the process: from the staff at the Dutch consulate where we host some of the gatherings, to the alumni who come up to me after events to tell me they would love to bring another alumnus along next time. It’s good for my network, but I also simply enjoy the social aspect. Donating my time makes me feel energetic and inspired.”

The sweet spot for events

“One of the main challenges in rebuilding the network is finding the right type of events to really engage the alumni. We mix it up to keep things fresh and increase our reach. As a result, we’re always looking for topics and activities to suit a wide range of interests. On top of that, we want to give people the opportunity to chat and catch up, preferably at a nice or meaningful location. For example, we’ve had New Year’s drinks, a panel discussion on digitisation, and a very accessible lecture from a visiting professor and a team of UU students on biomedical science.”

Building a thriving network

“Right now, the alumni who attend our events are mainly Dutch, but everything we do is in English because we want to build a truly international and inclusive network. All UU alumni who live or work in New York are welcome, as are exchange students (to and from NY) and guests, as long as they have some connection to Utrecht University. I would love for the network to become the go-to place for alumni in New York to find like-minded people, take a break from their work commitments – which tend to be pretty intense here, and feel at home away from home.”