Blog Roeland Kooiman: Get the maximum out of it

Roeland Kooiman is currently president of the Federation of Study Associations Eindhoven (FSE). Last year he was the co-ordinator at the Study Association of Chemical Engineering, T.S.V. Jan-Pieter Minckelers, or Japie for short. Based on his intense contact with companies last year and on his own experiences and those of his fellow students, he feels professional skill development is of utmost importance for students. In this blog he reflects on his experiences and what he has learned!

Get the maximum out of it

From the very first year of my Bachelor studies, older students increased my enthusiasm for becoming the board of Japie, the study association of the department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. Three years later, I actually became the board of Japie and I was installed as the coordinator of external affairs, being able to facilitate orientation on the labour market and future career of more than 350 members of the study association.

But first, let’s go back to where it started: what made me leaving my studies and made me focussing on this ‘voluntary work’ for a whole year? Older students, including my student mentor, promised me that committee work or being the board of an association would add value to my curriculum vitae and companies would consider it as a great advantage. Without being aware of what these advantages exactly were, I decided to go for it and intended to get the maximum out of it.

Okay, it is true: being the board of a study associations involves a lot of partying and joining (in)formal drinks. What is it then, what justifies the fact that you hardly study for a full year? Let’s focus on two important skills: presentation skills and teamwork skills.

Expanding your ‘comfort’ zone

Apart from giving several presentations during my Bachelor’s, I was not really experienced with presenting to big audiences. During my board year, I constantly further expanded my ‘comfort zone’. While in the beginning I focussed on being able to give a presentation to a big audience with self-confidence and not in my native language, later on I focussed on how to make my presentations more interesting to listen to, for example by use of humour and personal examples. And yes, I felt it was getting better and better at it the more I practiced. Working on skills involves practicing, expanding your comfort zone, getting feedback from your fellows and each time creating small goals for yourself to achieve. I am sure there are lots of goals in for me to achieve in the near future.

Contributing to a group: working together

Being the board meant, in my case, working for 50 or even 60 hours a week with five other board members. In this group process, so many skills are required and challenged. Organizing more than 100 activities in a year requires organizing and planning, whilst at the same time your planning is expected to be flexible. Getting members involved in your study association by making them organize activities requires good communication skills to your members. In order to perform well as a board, you should be able to provide to and receive feedback from each other and your members. In meetings it is important to really participate, however ‘standing up for yourself’ does not directly mean being dominant and not (actively) listening to your team mates. And do you think, during a year, six board members do always agree on each other? No, of course you also deal with conflicts within a group and as a group you have to come up with a common decision.

The ideal engineer

I could go on with expanding all these skills which were challenged during my board year, but I think my message is clear. Personally, I think it is more important to work on these (and more) skills in order to develop your personality, rather than by improving these skills because it is a requisite for the industry. These skills will help you during the rest of your personal life and will help you becoming the ideal engineer, who is both capable and pleasant to work with in a team, which seems a noble pursuit to me!