"This course helps students get more out of their board year"

How many TU/e students can say they have their own course? Ralph van Ierland can. He co-founded a new bachelor elective for student boards that will start in September - and earn students 5 ECTS. “This is fantastic. I hope it helps many students gain more from their board year,” he says.

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file photo Bart van Overbeeke

When Ralph was the External Relations Commissioner at the GEWIS study association, his fellow board members regularly dragged him out from behind his computer in the evenings. ‘Come, Ralph, time for a beer. That’s enough for today.’

“I worked long hours, something I saw others doing too. But I lacked a reference point: why am I doing it? I loved it, but I hadn’t set any concrete goals about what I wanted to get out of my term and hadn’t determined where my limits lay.”

Van Ierland, now an Applied Mathematics Master’s student, continues: “Most student board members don’t take enough time to consider that. They just keep slogging along, bumping into the same problems previous boards have encountered before them. I’ve seen many association board members drop out due to burnout. That’s crazy, especially at our age. I hope our Successfully managing your board year course can help student board members get a handle on the rest of their term.”

“It’s often only once you reach the end of your board year that you discover there was an easier way to do things. This elective will teach you, evidence-based, how to govern more effectively. Of course, it’s a fantastic experience to do a board year. You do it because you care about your association, but putting yourself first is also important. This course will give you the necessary knowledge about leadership, dealing with conflicts, motivating volunteers, and diversity and inclusiveness within your board. You also learn to negotiate when talking to companies.”

The plan

It has been a while since Van Ierland has served on the GEWIS board, and he wishes he had a course like this to follow back then. A few years later, he was a University Council member for the Group One student. There, he and fellow group member Anne Jenster (Industrial Design student) came up with the plan to make this course a reality.

They sent a survey to board members from different associations across different year levels and received 207 responses. “It showed that most of them would consider taking a course on governance,” says Van Ireland.

Thinking you would like a new course and asking the target group what they need is one thing. Designing a course is an entirely different matter. They were happy to leave the theory and subject knowledge to the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences lecturers. “Eva Demerouti and Sonja Rispens of the Human Performance Management group were immediately on board. They brainstormed with us from the very start, introduced the theory into the course, and made it a cohesive whole so that it’s also worth those five credits,” says Van Ierland.

If I’d followed this course in my board year, I could’ve tackled many problems before they arose

Ralph van Ierland
Applied Mathematics Master’s student and initiator of the board elective

“It's absolutely wonderful that this elective comes from the students themselves”

Sonja Rispens, associate professor in Human Performance Management (HPM) (Department of Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences), has been coordinating the planning of this elective for student boards’ from the get-go. “It’s absolutely wonderful for me, as a lecturer, that this elective originated with the students themselves; that’s tremendously energizing. I believe this course offers an invaluable experience for student administrators,” Rispens says.

Rispens says the HPM group has much to offer student board members: “We want to bring the science behind leadership into the Successfully managing your board year course. Our group has the expertise to teach students about leadership, personal development, collaboration, and conflict management. But also how to motivate volunteers and how to tackle diversity and inclusiveness within your board and association. They can apply this immediately during their year on the board, but, even better, we also prepare them for future leadership positions.”

The course is structured around a combination of theory and practice in the form of Challenge-based Learning. “Our whole group is creating knowledge clips that students can watch as preparation. And they’ve provided subject literature. So, we’re trying to get students started with small assignments like self-assessments or essays,” Rispens says. “We won’t be giving any lectures. It’s crucial that the students get to work using the knowledge they gain.”

That work begins on Monday morning during interactive team sessions, where student board members jointly work on challenges their organizations face. Ralph van Ierland and Anne Jenster identified these issues from interviews with current and former student board members. Two HPM professors guide and coach the groups.

Looking ahead

Van Ierland hopes this elective will soon fill up with enthusiastic future board members of the nearly 200 associations that exist at TU/e. “It would be amazing if, in a few years, this course is brimming with 300 students. And that, should I return to the TU/e campus in ten years, it will still be taught.”

Something for you?

Will you be serving as a board member for one of the TU/e’s associations or student teams, for a minimum of eight hours a week, in the coming year? Then you can register for the bachelor elective Successfully managing your board year (1JK30) via Osiris Student. The course will run over quartiles 1 and 2, and you will get 5 ECTS. You will be graded based on a group assignment (50%), individual assignment (30%), and active participation during the course (20%). Registration opened on June 15, and there is room for up to 50 students.

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