UCU Alumni Officer performed interviews with several UCU Alumni: Hanneke den Ouden '02, Floortje Bijleveld '04, Eugenia Boutylkova '06, Willem van de Riet '09, András Kupecz '00, Jojanneke van Dongen-Dirkzwager '05 and James Wangu '11. Read the full interviews below.

Floortje Bijleveld, Class of 2004

International Category Leader Foodservice at Friesland Campina  
UCU: BA, Social Science 
After UCU: Erasmus University Rotterdam; LLM, International, European and Comparative Law 
Erasmus University Rotterdam; MSc, International Economics and Business. 

Was applying for UCU a logical choice for you? Well, to be honest, ….no it wasn’t . I was raised in a small village called Borne in the east of the Netherlands. Most of my classmates went to study nearby, and my parents expected me to do the same.  But for me the grass was greener on the other side and I felt the strong need to broaden my horizons. By coincidence I joined a friend who went to an open day at UCU and once on campus I came across people that I had met before during the Model European Parliament competition I participated in while at high school. My first thought was: this is the place for people that want to make something out of their lives: I want to study here!  

What subjects did you choose? Before I went to UCU I always had plans to study medicine and I even had a spot to do so. However I first wanted to try what UCU had to offer and since the liberal arts and sciences program offers such a variety of subjects, I became so enthusiastic that I decided to let go of the medicine plan. Eventually I did a Minor in statistics, and a Major in political science, law and economics. For me it was very interesting to learn how to look at certain themes from different angles. At the time I started my studies in 2001, the Bachelor-Master system didn’t yet exist so I took the risk that if I wanted to continue studying after UCU in the Netherlands, I had to start from zero. But fortunately the Bachelor-Master System was introduced the year after. 

How would you describe your years at UCU? It was a time of endless exploring. I grew from being a “girl from the province” to someone with an international focus. I went on exchange to Melbourne which was absolutely an eye-opening experience for me. My time at UCU was like a roller coaster: in a short period of time I learnt a lot and soaked up as much knowledge as I could. One of the best features of UCU for me was all the support from other students, professors, and (of course) a tutor. My tutor Patricia Post challenged me to do subjects that I never thought I would do and she gave me a lot of confidence. Also my international law professor Ige Dekker had quite an impact on me. He said: ‘If you are not going to study law after UCU, it would be a real shame!’. 

So did you follow his advice after graduating from UCU? Yes I did follow his advice and he helped in a great way by writing a letter of recommendation for me to enter the Law program at Erasmus University. Back then, it took all of my convincing skills to get into the pre-Master program as the admittance committee didn't really know what to think of the UCU bachelor. After I finished my Master in Law, I proceeded with a Master in International Economics and Business. For me the combination of Law and Economics was perfect: not only because of the content, but it also further strengthened my analytical skills and ability to make connections between different areas. This helped me greatly when I was a consultant for McKinsey and it is what I’m actually still doing at Friesland Campina: building bridges by looking at topics from different angles and connecting the dots.  

Was studying at Erasmus University purely an intellectual experience for you? Not at all. What I really needed after UCU, was to escape ‘the UCU bubble’. During my studies at UCU I had mainly been focusing on developing myself intellectually. Now it was time for me to also start developing socially and emotionally. So I joined a student association and moved to a student house in Rotterdam. A whole new world opened up to me. At UCU I never really had to go the supermarket as all the food was supplied on campus. Having to go to the shop when you’ve run out of milk or keeping a household account to keep track of where the money goes, were new aspects in my life. Normal stuff everybody should know really!  If there had been the option of living off campus in your 3rd year, like I believe there is now, I would have certainly done it and I would recommend it to everybody. 

You worked for McKinsey for 4 years; how did you get introduced to them? After graduating in Rotterdam, I found out about the National Think-tank. This is a 3-month program for recent graduates and PhD students in which you work with 20 others, all from different backgrounds, on a case related to a problem affecting Dutch society. We received the assignment to look at issues related to Education in the Netherlands and were asked to write a report and a plan of implementation. Getting the opportunity to analyze a problem and to work with people from so many backgrounds was just my cup of tea. McKinsey supported the National Think Tank with daily coaching and after the project they stimulated me to apply, so I could do these kinds of projects all the time… 

What was your time at McKinsey like? It was hard work but I enjoyed it very much. The first two years you work as a fellow after which McKinsey sponsors you to do an MBA at INSEAD for a year. You come back as an associate and continue to work on consulting projects.  I wouldn’t have missed this experience for the world; I did projects for such a variety of companies like freight ship transportation companies, train builders and insurance companies in a variety of countries like Kuala Lumpur, Sydney and Houston. Next to the different companies and countries, you also need to develop a variety of functional skills. For example, I’ve done procurement assignments, introduced work efficient (LEAN) tools in teams and guided mergers where you have to find consensus between two parties that are  not allowed to talk to each other directly. I liked all types of projects because all were challenging; you don’t only need to be analytical but you also need people skills because in the end you always work with people. Particularly during a merger, people are vulnerable and scared about what the future might hold.  But of course working for McKinsey also has a downside: you never stay at a company for a long period of time because as soon as a project is finished you move on to the next client. Some people love this, and at the start of my career this gave me the opportunity to see many companies in a short time and learn a lot. However, after a certain time I noticed that I wanted to stay on after I finished projects to help with implementation challenges and work with the people I met in those projects for a longer time.

Was that the reason you moved to Friesland Campina? Yes it was and so far it has really lived up to my expectations. Currently as the category leader for Foodservice, I’m responsible for products you won’t find in the supermarkets and that consumers will never see directly, only on their plate! My products are for instance the giant cans of whipped cream or desserts, or the 10 kilogram boxes of butters and are being used in restaurants, airline companies and bakeries. I manage a team of 4 category managers and 2 category assistants and together we manage the Foodservice portfolio for 20+ countries. Next to the link between Research and Development and Sales in all the countries we sell in, we determine the strategy of the full portfolio of products and are responsible for the innovation funnel: which products we are launching and which products can be innovated further. I absolutely love this job because it enables me to build bridges between teams and to coach people, while at the same time looking at the overall strategy for the coming years. A next step after this role would be would be a different management position and since FrieslandCampina is such a big international company this can be within Foodservice or a completely different department.  As long as I can build something up with a team and use my analytical skills I am happy to go take on a new challenge!

Last time we met was at a UCU open day in November, where you were with a prospective student that you are guiding through the ‘Giving Back’ program. Tell us about it! Giving Back is a great program that aims to create better guidance towards higher education for talented high school students in the Netherlands with a disadvantaged background. Guidance is being offered in a 2 year [it changed this year, now it’s a 1 year] mentor program where a young professional volunteers to coach a promising high school student during the period when they have to choose what they want to do after high school. Parents of these students usually don’t have the background to guide their children because they simply are not aware of all the options. As a mentor you are matched to one high school student, which makes it possible to really build up a good relationship. High school students that want to participate must have good grades, but also have to show that they’re committed by writing motivation letters and doing interviews. The organization Giving Back organizes workshops that high school students have to attend, focusing on talent development and personal growth. Students are also given the opportunity to join company visits, such as to Philips or law firm Allen&Overy, but they also get to meet local politicians at the municipal home. As a mentor you can choose to join these activities, but the main contribution lies in the one-on-one coaching: the mentor introduces the mentee to new activities, networks, and informs the mentee about different subjects you can study after high school. Mentor and mentee can also meet each other on an informal basis, like going to the cinema or having dinner together. My mentee and I have weekly contact via What’sApp and we met up for dinners or attended open days like the one at UCU. She recently got her diploma with flying colors and will apply for UCU in October. It is very rewarding to see her developments over the last 2 years and I highly recommend all UC Alumni in the Netherlands to sign up as a mentor! Find out more about Giving Back

Would this idea of Giving Back also work between UCU Alumni and UCU students and would you be willing to help? Yes, I definitely think it would work. I think Alumni are usually very willing to share their expertise with a student or young Alumnus. A structural coaching agreement might not be necessary as there is already a world of information available on campus and there is a tutor system in place, but if a student would like to know more about master programs that I’ve done or what it is like to work in strategy consulting or at FrieslandCampina, I would be happy to help them. A company visit could also be interesting; it would be great to have a group of students over and to tell them about the work we do at Friesland Campina.

Willem van de Riet, Class of 2009

Policy Officer Northern Africa and Middle East Department at Dutch Ministry Of Foreign Affairs
UCU: BA (International Relations, Politics, Law and Economics)
After UCU: London School of Economics and Political Science;  MSc (International Relations)

Do you come from a ‘Diplomat’ family? “No, not at all. My father works in Mental Healthcare and helps and treats people with addictions and my mother works in Youth Care. My sister is studying medicine. So with my background in Law and Political Science I’m a bit of an exception. I went to school in Venray and most of my classmates went to University in Nijmegen, Maastricht or Eindhoven. But after 18 years in Venray, I was ready to move a bit further away.

Why did you choose to go to a University College? Well, like many UCU students my interest wasn’t limited to one certain area; I liked economics but I also liked philosophy, Greek and Latin. Besides that the idea of living on a campus as well as in Utrecht really attracted me. I had heard that UCU offers high level education and that you had to apply with a motivation. After visiting the open day, I was sure UC was where I wanted to go.

How would you describe your time at UCU? Mainly as a very happy time with a lot of possibilities to develop yourself. I felt at ease on Campus fairly quickly. What immediately struck me was the fact that everyone around me was motivated to study hard; people all wanted to get the best out of themselves, whereas in school you were there because you had to. Of course there was pressure, especially around the finals, but we were all in it together.

So, was it just studying? No, there was of course the bar and a social life too. And I joined several committees. I helped reviving Politics Co, that was more or less a sleeping committee when I joined. We invited Greta Duisenberg to come over to the campus to talk about the Israel – Palestine conflict. The auditorium was packed.  At the time we had quite a few Israeli students at UCU so you can imagine they were having a vigorous debate with her. I also joined Debate Co, which really taught me lot about public speaking. Danique van Koppenhagen was my debating partner and together we went to tournaments in Leiden and Oxford. Eventually we won the Interuniversity College debating tournament in Middelburg. The previous year UCU had also won and some of our students had taken away a painting from Roosevelt. They sent a letter to the Roosevelt Student Association that they could get their painting of President Roosevelt back if they would just admit in their Student Newsletter that UCU is the best. A letter returned, saying that we could keep the John Maynard Keynes painting… The year that Danique and I participated in the tournament in Middelburg, the paintings were all stuck firmly to the wall and there were also guards around….

What did you do to burst the bubble? In my third year I went on exchange to Sydney. It made me realize that there was so much more outside the Campus. It was here that I decided to apply for a Masters at London School of Economics. But first, after my third year I joined the UCU in Africa program. I went to Mtakuja, close to Moschi, Tanzania, and together with Renske, a fellow student, conducted a research for a Dutch NGO on the discrepancy within the Mtakuja community between their level of education, the profession they chose and the actual needs for these professions. I learnt a lot in Tanzania; I learnt how to be more flexible and patient. It was quite a culture shock initially and dealing with ‘African time’ was not always easy. People could come two hours late for an appointment because they were having lunch with family that lasted longer than expected…

What was studying at LSE like compared to studying at UCU? Applying for LSE required sending a letter of motivation and a list of grades. I was very glad I got admitted and I was impressed by the level of education at LSE. It was a tad tougher than studying at UC and the level of students was quite high. It was really cool to get taught by Professors that wrote the books that we used to use at UCU. I did International Relations and I wrote a thesis based on literature research on the foreign policy of the US towards Iran.

And then… working life? Yes, even though I had only studied for 4 years, I felt it was time to explore the world of work because I had no idea what that entailed. I considered working for a bank or a consultancy firm. Through a friend of mine I got in contact with Groupon, the daily deal website. At that time nobody knew Groupon and it was a small startup in Amsterdam Noord. I worked there partly as analyst and partly as Relationship Manager to get to know the core business. It was a very commercial job and I think it was good for me because I’m not commercial by nature. After 9 months I became head of Partner Support, managing a team of 14 that was responsible for all back end processes. When I was asked by my manager to work as a project manager in Istanbul I didn’t have to think twice; l missed living abroad. Here I became responsible for projects in 8 countries in the region and focused on streamlining all processes for these countries. In Istanbul it was the time of the heavy riots as a protest against the government’s authoritarian behaviour. The riots took place close to my house and I realized I was still fascinated by politics. Therefore I decided to apply for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic Training at the Clingendael Institute.

What does the diplomatic training at Clingendael consist of? It’s an intensive program for which 20 people get accepted per year. It involves theory on themes like Human Rights, International Law, Economics and the Middle East but you also practice skills like debating, presenting, writing speeches, dealing with the media and crisis management.

And now you work as a policy officer for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; how will your professional career for the Ministry develop? After Clingendael, you get a 7 year contract. You subsequently work in The Hague for 2 years, abroad for 2 years and back in The Hague for 3 years. I’ve worked for Foreign Affairs since July 2014 and I currently work on the Syria and Iraq dossier. It’s extremely interesting and the more I learn about it, the less I understand the whole picture. I’m very interested in the crisis areas and I would very much like to work in Jordan, Lebanon or Israel. What I like about working in the diplomatic arena is that you get to focus on the content of political issues and that you can really have an impact on foreign policy.

Do you still feel UCU Alumnus and if so, in what way do you want to stay connected to UCU? Yes, I still feel very connected to UCU and I made a lot of friends for life during my time on campus. Staying connected to UCU is very important to me and what I envisage is an online platform where Alumni working in different sectors can meet. Also, I’m convinced there is a lot of goodwill amongst Alumni to give back and it depends on everyone’s personal situation or phase in their professional life how or to what extent they want to contribute. Personally I really enjoyed giving a talk during the open days and telling prospective students more about my work. I’ve also been back on Campus with a few of my colleagues to tell students what’s it’s like to work for foreign affairs. I would also like to share my ideas on fundraising amongst Alumni to contribute to the UCU Curriculum. I envisage for instance using these funds to hire a specialized professor to give classes here during 2 semesters on a specific topic (Iran Studies?). Although I realize that fundraising is a difficult topic in the European Culture, I do believe we should make a start with it. The Alumni population is growing steadily and as a group we gradually start to earn more so we could give back more.”

Eugenia Boutylkova, Class of 2006

Consultant at Impact, Under Construction (Founder)
UCU: Bachelor of Arts (Political science and History)
After UCU: University of Amsterdam; MSc (International Relations)
Radboud University Nijmegen: Advanced Master in International Development (AMID)

What made you decide to apply for UCU? “During high school I already developed a broad interest and I knew I wanted to follow an education in English. My initial plan was to study Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Unites States. But I decided to also explore Dutch Universities. One day I was on my way to the Utrecht University open day, sitting on the number 12 bus to the Uithof. A few stops before the final destination, quite some people got off the bus. When I asked them where they were going their reply was: ‘There is a liberal arts and sciences college here called University College Utrecht…’ I didn’t hesitate and followed them and I immediately felt I was in the right place. After a tour over the campus and a ’Mock- Class’ taught in English in Locke I knew I wanted to study here. So in a way it was a bit of a coincidence that I came across UCU, but on the other hand it was a logical decision for me to apply for UCU.

How do you look back on your time at UCU? My time at UCU was a unique experience. What I really liked was having the enormous network of people around me and doing lots of activities together. I think it was fairly easy for everyone to find his or her place and to feel at home. It was great to meet people from different cultural backgrounds and different years. Being born in Russia during the Soviet Union era and having moved to the Netherlands when I was 6, for the first time in my life it wasn’t strange to not have just one nationality. The level of education was high and I felt positively challenged to get the best out of myself. Take for instance  the ‘Political Theory’ course during my first semester, taught by Maiolo and Locke. For their class I had to write a 2 pages paper every single week; I don’t recall writing as many papers for a course as I did then.

How did you prepare for ‘life after UCU’?  From my second year onwards I did one or two off campus courses per semester to broaden my horizon a bit. Since I didn’t go on exchange during my studies at UCU, I decided to study abroad after UCU for a year and I enrolled for Middle Eastern Studies and Hebrew at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This enabled me to take some distance from the Netherlands and to think about my future. It was here that I decided to do a Masters in Political Sciences at the UvA (Amsterdam).

How did you experience studying for your Masters compared to studying at UCU? For me doing my Masters was relatively easy compared to studying at UCU but it enabled me to do research. Besides that I could start working  for Professor Dr. Frans van Waarden  (Social Sciences) as Research Assistant. It was a great being able to combine my own research with learning from Frans.

Could you tell us something about the start of your professional career in International Development? A week before graduating from UCU, I met my husband, Anne Poorta, also a UCU Alumnus. At a certain point Anne went to do his Masters at Columbia University. I decided to move with him to New York and here I got accepted for an internship at United Nations.  After the internship they asked me to stay and I became human rights adviser at the European Union Delegation to the United Nations. At the end of 2010 we returned to the Netherlands.

And how has your career developed since then? We stayed in the Netherlands for four years and during this period of time I worked for two organizations. I was admitted to a program called AMID at Radbout University(Advanced Masters in International Development) which implied studying for one day a week and working at an organization in International Development for four days. I was placed at PSO, an organization that focusses on capacity development in developing countries and I worked there as Program Officer.  My next job in International Development was at NIMD (Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy), where I worked as coordinator Planning,  Monitoring and Evaluation.  A very challenging position in which I was responsible for the planning, monitoring and evaluation of 25 Country-programs. Within NIMD I was the only person that had experience with monitoring and evaluation and I was given the opportunity to also work in the field on a regular basis, evaluating the impact of the programs with local partners. I worked a lot with storytelling and auditive mapping which I really enjoyed.

What do you find really important in your work? I’m passionate about helping organizations with great ideas and visions with defining the most effective road towards making their impact. That’s the reason I founded my venture ‘Impact, under construction’ in August 2014. I support my clients in mapping the resources that they have within their reach and I advise them on how to seek collaborations and partnerships in order to reach their maximum impact. My clients are usually nonprofit organizations but also social entrepreneurs. For instance I helped a startup that provides arts education for underprivileged children, to evaluate, increase and sustain their impact. In two years they grew from one public library to 14 libraries.

What brought you and Anne back to New York? My husband, Anne Poorta, got the offer to work as diplomat at the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations. Since I can do my work anywhere in the world we decided to grasp this opportunity and to move back to New York. Since February I’ve been working as Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator at the Dutch mission to the UN on an interim basis. We really enjoy living in New York and I am currently discovering the many co-working places New York has to offer, and have joined the dynamic Center for Social Innovation.

How would you like to stay connected to UCU? For me it would be really valuable to know who of my fellow Alumni are living here in NY. Of course I could search Facebook or LinkedIn but it would be more practical if UCU would have a tool that could provide us with a complete overview. As for giving back, I’m always available to be a UCU Ambassador at recruitment events here in New York. Furthermore UCU students can liaise with me if they want to know more about working in the field of International Development. I think the trend that Professors invite Alumni over to give a guest lecture is a very positive one. Fundraising amongst Alumni will probably be a challenge within the Dutch culture, but you can also show Alumni that giving their time and sharing their ideas is just as valuable!”

Hanneke den Ouden, Class of 2002

Senior Researcher Neuroscience at Radboud University
UCU: BSc (Life Sciences)
After UCU: Utrecht University; MSc (Neuroscience)
University College London: PhD (Cognitive Neuroscience)

Becoming a neuroscientist, has that always been your dream? “Well to be honest, no…In high school I was never able to choose what I wanted to do because I liked so many subjects. My father was a physics teacher though, and he certainly did instill a love of science and for trying to find out how things work. When I finished I did know I wanted to do something international and that I would love to go abroad. As a kid, I never really travelled a lot; we used to go to France during the summer holidays and before I came to UCU I had never travelled by airplane! I didn’t even know studying abroad was an option, so I applied for UCU, which seemed the closest to getting abroad I could get, and I could go on studying all sorts of interesting topics. And that’s where I fell in love with neuroscience.

Can you tell us something about your experience at UCU? At the time I started at UCU (in 1999), there were not that many tracks yet. I started with earth sciences, neurosciences, developmental biology, psychology but I also chose art history just for fun. Especially for Neurosciences UCU provides a very good basis, because the field is so interdisciplinary. You get subjects like psychology, biology, chemistry and pharmacology. At least 6 of my fellow Alumni have eventually pursued a scientific career in Neurosciences. Also, from a social point of view I had a fantastic time at UCU. By meeting so many different people from all over the world, studying at UCU really broadened my horizon. It really stimulated me  to travel and live abroad. My best friends now are still those that I met at UCU.

What triggered you to continue in the field of Neurosciences? During the cognitive neuroscience I took at UCU, we had to set up our own experiment. We had a lot of fun making people wander around blindfolded in the cellar of the dining hall, and then our project turned out to be so successful that our professor asked us to present it at a Neuroscience conference in Spain. I figured that neuroscience was apparently easy and fun, and so doing my masters in this field was a logical choice. I then did internships at University College London and Harvard University, subsequently got accepted for a PhD Program at UCL. And I still find neuroscience really fun, though I’m not so sure about the easy anymore!  

What was your research about? The overarching theme of my research has been how our brains help us to we make decisions and adapt to a continuously changing world. During my 4-year Wellcome Trust PhD I looked at how surprising events are encoded in a group of nuclei called the basal ganglia, deep inside our brains. I then investigated how the basal ganglia redirect the information flow between other parts of the brain when we see or need to do something unexpected to measure brain activity, we used an MRI Scanner and analyzed the data with mathematical models to estimate the connections between brain regions.

And what does your current research focus on? It feels like we are in control of our actions and make decisions rationally. At the same time, many of our responses are strongly influenced by emotional and affective biases. Most of the time, these biases allow us to respond rapidly and effectively, so they provide something of a computational short cut to making decisions. However sometimes they get in the way of our long-term goals (for example in addiction), and then we need to be able to overrule them. In my current work, conducted at both New York University and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour in Nijmegen, I research how these biases affect our choices and when and in whom they get in the way of our goals. I tackle this problem from many different angles: I measure brain activity (fMRI, EEG, intracranial EEG), and how this changes when we alter levels of various neurochemicals using drugs, I study patients (obsessive compulsive disorder, depression), and how individual people vary as a function of their genetic make-up.

How would you like to stay connected to UCU? It would be nice to know which Alumni that came after me have also built a scientific career in Neuroscience and it would be interesting to meet these people to exchange ideas. I’m completely fine with students or young Alumni contacting me if they want to know more about my work. 

If you want to know more about Hanneke den Ouden’s research, read the article in The Guardian or listen to the radio interview at the BBC Naked Scientist.

András Kupecz, Class of 2000

Patent litigator at Kupecz intellectual property, of counsel Simmons & Simmons LLP
UCU: Bachelor of Science (Biochemistry, Molecular Biology)
After UCU: Utrecht University; MSc (Molecular Biology)
University of Amsterdam: LLM (Private Law) 

Why did you choose to go to UCU? "I actually wanted to become a doctor but didn’t get through the lottery system. I then decided to start studying Biology at Utrecht University and it was during my first year that I heard of the initiative of Hans Adriaansens of founding a University College that would offer a pre-med track. I decided to seize this opportunity and applied. At UCU I discovered that medicine was not the only thing that interested me; there were many more interesting subjects and I became particularly focused on the biochemical and biological mechanisms behind disease.

How would you describe your experience at UCU? I’ve experienced a fantastic time at UCU. When we started in 1998, there was absolutely nothing; it was all sand and mud and some units ready for us to live in. We had to start the whole student life from scratch which was great. I got involved with the barco and helped found the college bar. I very much enjoyed the intensive social contacts. I experienced the level of education as very high, the teaching faculty very dedicated, and the fact that you could study a broad range of subjects was very attractive to me.

How did your career develop after UCU? After UCU I proceeded to do a Masters in Biology, with a focus on biochemistry and molecular Biology. After obtaining my MSc I decided to move away from research as I felt there was a world out there besides the world of science, that I wanted to explore. I started to train and work as patent attorney, representing clients before patent offices in several technical fields, including pharmaceuticals and medical devices. At a certain point I became acquainted with legal procedures and lawyers and to be able to represent clients in court appealed to me. Soon afterwards I decided to study private law and to pursue a career as a patent litigator, which I did at Freshfields and Simmons & Simmons. 

Why did you decide to start your own business? Through the years I’ve developed myself as niche specialist in patent law. There are maybe 30 others in the Netherlands who do the same work as I do - and within this niche I’m even specifically focused on pharma and biotech. I found that clients specifically turned to me and in order to service them as flexibly and optimally as possible, starting my own practice was the best thing to do. I still work with Simmons on a frequent basis as of counsel, which is beneficial for both of us. I represent clients in patent litigation proceedings in the Dutch courts and the European patent office. I also provide clients with strategic advice when it comes to their intellectual property issues. So I come in when there is an issue regarding a patent or when a client expects an issue to arise. What I don’t do anymore is helping clients draft and file patent applications.

Running your own business, isn’t that a lonely adventure? In a way, every litigator is an individualist; you are the one that has to solve problems for your clients and ultimately presents their case in court, even if you work for a large law firm. 

However I’m never lonely because in my daily business I always collaborate with specialist teams. I work with my colleagues at Simmons, foreign lawyers, experts and clients. So I have to be a team player. The fact that I work independently is a big advantage in the niche industry in which I operate: it enables me to create flexible specialist teams on an ad hoc basis, depending on the case I do.

What has the impact of UCU been on your personal and professional life? In my work I benefit each day from my academic (scientific) background which was based at UC. When working for international law firms like Freshfields and Simmons, it was further a great asset to have a UCU background, as I was used to interact within an international setting. Also, my clients and the cases I handle are by definition international. Personally I learnt a lot from the intensive social interaction on campus. A lot of friendships made at UCU are still alive. And last but not least… I met my wife at UCU. 

How would you like to stay connected to UCU? It would be nice to occasionally have an event with alumni, maybe in combination with an interesting talk being held by an alumnus."

Jojanneke van Dongen-Dirkzwager, Class of 2005

Head of support services at Royal Netherlands Navy Fire Department
UCU: Bachelor of Social Science (Economics, Psychology)
After UCU: Erasmus University Rotterdam; MSc (Economics of Markets, Organizations and Policy)

During high school Jojanneke Dirkzwager already developed a strong interest in mathematics and economics. “During my studies at UCU I became fascinated by the combination of Mathematics, Economics and Psychology and I’ve been focusing on this combination throughout my studies and career”. As a result of this interest Jojanneke , once graduated from UCU, decided to do a Masters in ‘Economics of Markets, Organizations and Policy’ at Erasmus University Rotterdam. After finishing her Masters, she was well grounded in theoretics but she felt she still needed to work on her personal development. 

Being admitted to the Ormit Management Development program, she was given the opportunity to develop her people management skills, working in different roles and organizational cultures varying from Consultant Contract Management at Ericsson to Team leader at ANWB.  “Working for Ormit strongly reminded me of my experience at UCU. As a management trainee I received continuous small scale intervision, training, feedback and personal coaching. I learnt a lot about myself and discovered that a combination of managing a team, using my analytical skills and working in a semi- or nonprofit organization was the right thing to do for me”. 

Following her managerial aspirations, Jojanneke successfully applied for the position of operational manager at the Professional Fire Department of the municipality of Hoorn and became responsible for 20 repressive officers. This experience was not without challenges, being a female manager in a ‘man’s world’ in an environment not open to change. “I learnt that I needed to change my approach and way of communicating. I was business oriented and efficiency minded. That creates resistance working with people who are pretty much driven by their passion”. 

Once her mission, creating a self-steering team, had been accomplished,  it was time for her to move on. Currently Jojanneke works as Head of support services at Royal Netherlands Navy Fire Department. Now that she has worked as tactical manager for several years, she aspires to grow to a strategic management position at macro level in the near future.

“I look back on UCU really positively. I learned how to present and debate and I was more than prepared for my masters. I wasn’t afraid of standing in front of a classroom during my job as Student Assistant. I’m not in frequent touch with my fellow alumni these days, absorbed by work and family life – I have two small children. However, I would like to stay connected to UCU. It would be great to have a homecoming day with my fellow alumni of my graduation year. As for giving back I would be very willing to give a guest lecture on leadership and creating self-steering teams”.

James Wangu, Class of 2011

Research Coordinator for University Utrecht Research project Maasailand Kenya
UCU: Bachelor of Social Science (Anthropology, Human Geography)
After UCU: Utrecht University; MSc (Sustainable Development)   

Where were you raised? "I was born and brought up in a small village at the foot of Mount Kenya. Most people in the region are subsistence farmers, including my mom. I attended a day primary and secondary school in the village where during the weekends and holidays, I assisted my mom with the farm work.
What made you decide to go to UCU? Joining UCU was never an opportunity I dreamt of, especially being from a rural community where information on studying abroad is non-existent. It was a lucky coincidence. I first learnt about UCU in 2007, a few months after completing my secondary school, while working as a research assistant in the village for Canadian University researchers who also happened to work as directors for the UCU in Africa programme. From them, my colleague Evans Kirigia and I informed them of our interest to study abroad.  

How would you describe your experience at UCU? I would describe my experience at UCU as both mixed: challenging but rewarding. Coming from different cultural background and education system, it took time for me to get things used to things at UCU. The Dutch meals, particularly bread for lunch was not familiar. Class participation and regular presentation were quite challenging at the beginning, especially because I was not used speaking English habitually during my secondary school. In fact, this is what led me to taking the performing arts courses to improve my personal presentation. My life at UCU got easier by the year as I gradually got integrated into the campus system and the great social life at UCU. I left UCU strong academically, and rich socio-culturally. 

What work experience and skills have you built up? Participation in three successful research internship projects at different non-governmental ‘development’ organizations in Kenya and Tanzania (within the past four years) has exposed me to various critical development issues in Africa. 

Through the internship research processes I have also been able to develop a strong set of analytical skills: preparing proposal, data collection and analysis, and final reports/theses writing. 

Having lived and studied in an international setting, where I also worked as a Kiswahili Teacher at UCU, I have a gained strong multicultural skills and international working experience. Presently, I am working as an independent consultant: research coordinator for a research fellow at Utrecht University who has a research project in Maasailand, Kenya. I coordinate research activities on the ground - managing a small team of three local people, engage in some field activities, develop databases, keep financial records among other tasks. 

What are your plans for the future? About future plans, I would very much like to enroll in a PhD programme if an opportunity presents itself. I am also actively searching for job opportunities with international institutions and organizations engaged in international development, particularly those that an environmental oriented – climate change related.  

What has the impact of UCU been on your personal and professional life? An opportunity to study at UCU has had great impact on my personal and professional life. A combination of having studied at UCU and living Netherlands, has significantly changed how I perceive society. I have learnt to be open, yet critical about various aspects in life especially on contentious issues such as abortion, religion, sexuality, politics, drugs (particularly alcohol) et cetera. Before UCU, I learnt to view these issues from a single direction that limited the way engage in topics, debates, or even personal involvement in the actual issues. The Liberal Arts and Sciences programme offered at UCU whereby one combines various disciplines taught to me approach nearly all matters from a multidisciplinary angle. This was a very important tool for my Master studies.  I am very glad I did my bachelors at UCU.  

How would you like to stay connected to UCU? As an alumnus I would be very happy to contribute to UCU as a mentor for other African students. Often, such students are afraid or not sure how to approach the college hall or even tutors about issues. Also, in terms of school work, it takes time to get in to the system. Having someone who has already gone through the process can be really helpful!"