"If you want to have a meaningful impact on your study, it is the perfect place to enact that change"

In this episode, we speak with the 2022 GMD Student Board about their work, what prompted their initial interest in the Board, and their biggest accomplishments this year. 

By Vanessa Ntinu

BoardThank you, Eva, Gabriela, Francesca, and Mo for sitting down with me today! What initially attracted each of you to join the GMD Student Board?

Mo: Well, for me, it was mostly because I started a new master’s and was very unfamiliar with the city of Rotterdam. I wanted to see whether I could contribute to the development of this program in some way. When I heard about the opportunity to join the Board, I was immediately interested because I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to work with others and form connections, but also to familiarize myself with my new master’s student reality.

Gabriela: Yes, for myself, coming from South Africa, I was mindful that I was coming to a university in Europe and knew that there might be fewer of us in terms of representation from the so-called ‘Global South'. Therefore, I thought it was important to have a voice from someone from this different context, especially when making crucial decisions about curriculum and course material. This was something I challenged myself to do. I have sat on boards before, but I have never done so in a student environment, and I was interested to see how it was going to work out. I am incredibly glad that I did because student voices are very important and need to be out there.

Francesca: For me, the motivations to join are very similar to what Mo said. I am one of those people that usually signs up for everything and saw this opportunity as something extra to do alongside my studies. During my Bachelor's, I was in a university where there was a strong community feeling, with a lot of societies and activities. Therefore, I was used to always being at university and around fellow students. I grew to appreciate the beauty of familiarity amongst classmates and organizing events that could be experienced and enjoyed together. So, when I arrived at a big university like Erasmus, I thought it would be nice if we could have our own space as students where we could organize things.

GabbyGabriela, as Chair, what were some of the responsibilities you took on? For example, how was it opening our conference and leading a panel?

Yes! Well, the term "Chair" is a big word and can make one feel quite intimidated! I was quite hesitant to take on the role because you oversee everything, and it feels like people look to you in terms of leadership and all the responsibility it entails. But I mostly organized and coordinated the Board. In addition to this, I shared and elaborated on the collected feedback from students on their experience in the program with the different professors at staff meetings. I also sat in on the Academic Executive Board (AEB) meetings as well, which link the Board to different opportunities and events taking place within the LDE GMD Centre.

Participating in the conference was quite the experience! I am very glad I got the opportunity to not only open the conference but also lead a panel. The experience, once again, pushed me out of my comfort zone. This was momentous because this is something you usually do in your professional career in development and academia, not when you are a student. What I focused on during the conference was not only the value of the migrant and the scholar's voice but the student's voice as well. As students, we come with different perspectives and from different backgrounds. We may not have twenty years of experience, but our input is valuable. Of course, I was nervous about leading the panel, but I felt incredibly safe, and the semi-formal roundtable format helped.

As a Board member, you're really in charge of being the bridge between the students and the program. In addition to that, you are also a bridge between the academics and the students. We largely act as mediators between these two entities, which is important because it eliminates the power structures that you see a lot in academic institutions, and in life in general.

As a Board member, you're really in charge of being the bridge between the students and the program. In addition to that, you are also a bridge between the academics and the students"

Can you each tell us about your biggest accomplishments on the Board this year?

Francesca: For me, it has to be organizing the alumni event. It wasn't huge at all, but it was the first time I was personally reaching out to speakers and alumni. I was also in charge of thinking of an agenda, the desired format of the workshop, and the operations of the day. Organizing this event came with a lot of responsibility that I had not had before - so seeing the event come to life from all our hard work as a team, was a big accomplishment for me!

Gabriela: I think as a Board we've been very successful in convincing everyone, from staff to students, that students deserve a say in things, to take up space and that their opinions matter. Since we've been here, you've seen how excited professors have become at the eagerness of our involvement in the different activities running parallel to the center.

Mo: I think as a Board, we did not have the most advantageous start. We started in the middle of a semi-lockdown when learning was partly online. Despite this, we were still able to organize activities as the year progressed. We felt that the students valued these events and activities a lot, which is obviously a great accomplishment.

Eva: I am really proud of how we were able to take the complaints of the students into consideration and generate change. For example, we were able to rearrange some of the courses to better align with the calendars of students. This is a change that will be enacted next year and a change the next cohort will really benefit from. Being able to do something for students, especially for the students to come, is a huge accomplishment!

Art piecesIs the Board something you would recommend to next year's cohort? How has being on the Board enhanced your skills and profile?

Eva: I would definitely recommend being a member of the Student Board. Personally, it was a great experience as it enhanced my organizational and administrative skills. Working in groups, being able to adjust your schedule, cooperating with others, and finding solutions for common tasks are fundamental skills I take away from this experience. I was also able to find my current job through the experience I acquired through the Board. During the interview, they asked me about the Student Board and about my day-to-day tasks. They were really impressed with how this student-run initiative was able to achieve so much within a year. I think it's also important to appreciate that the Board brings people from different tracks closer. Had I not been on the Board, I probably would have had a harder time forming connections with students from ISS by virtue of our scheduling. I am really grateful to the Board for providing that space for us!

Gabriela: Eva summed up everything wonderfully! Your CV is something you are thinking about towards the end of your Master's. In that respect, I would recommend the Board as it gives you tangible experiences that you can translate into work experience for your CV. Beyond that, the experience is challenging and equips you with skills you may need in the future. You also get the opportunity to network with people within the field you are studying in. I would tell the next cohort to definitely go for it, you won't regret it!

Francesca: Being part of the Board added a lot to this year, in a positive way. Being new to Rotterdam, it was not that easy to find your people and your groups. Joining the Board was a really easy way to make friends and connect with others. Some of my closest friends this year have been from the Board. Beyond the skills it equips you with, being part of the Board was fun! You get to organize events you like and share that with your fellow students. Similarly, if you want to have a meaningful impact on your study, it is the perfect place to enact that change.

If you want to have a meaningful impact on your study, it is the perfect place to enact that change".

Any advice you would give to the GMD Master's curation of the Board program?

Mo: I really liked that we had you! I think having someone that is as sweet and kind as you to guide us in our work has been super helpful. This was particularly useful in the beginning when none of us had an idea of what we had gotten into. Simply having that link with you made everything seem a lot easier and more manageable. This should stay the same.

Eva: I completely agree with Mo. Having a person that acts as the link between the professors and the Board is incredibly important. We really loved you and your role was incredibly important to facilitate this collaboration. In the future, it might be worthwhile to get staff input when we are trying to persuade students to attend a certain event. Having more official support and "stamps of approval" on our events might encourage more students to attend.

Francesca: Very grateful to you! The number of emails and WhatsApp messages I sent to you is a lot but thank you for always replying. Sometimes, however, it felt like we were being asked to do a lot of things, including setting up different types of events, for example, a "Well-Being Week", without any sort of training or preparation. I think in the future, considering most people who join the Board would have never done it before, it might be worthwhile to provide them with a little bit of support to get them off the ground. I remember there was a training for the Confidentiality Persons in our team, that might be something we can invest in for the other Board members.

Gabriela: I think it is fundamental for next year's cohort to have representatives from each track. It is difficult managing the schedules within this collective program so having a representative from each track is quite important. This can also help foster smaller, more natural, and more convenient events where it is not possible to come together as an entire GMD group.

Some parting words? Just enjoy it! As Francesca said, it is hard work, but it is also light and fun. Enjoy every moment of it.