Funded Projects 2021

With the aim of promoting equal educational opportunities students and staff of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) are encouraged to submit their own project proposals to Building New Blocks, the grant application programme of Connecting Our Future. A review committee, chaired by chief diversity officer prof. dr. Semiha Denktaş, selects projects that substantially contribute to the aims Connecting Our Future and show good potential for institutionalization at EUR. Below are the eight awardees for the 2021 call.

Community-oriented Action-based Real-world Education

CARE (Community-oriented Action-based Real-world Education) is a 2-part action research programme combining a university student educational programme with a VMBO and MBO research programme. In the educational programme student teams research socially-relevant educational challenges from primary school to university, then build educational interventions to address these. During the research programme, researchers investigate educational choices and educational experiences of VMBO and MBO students. Connecting the two programmes, CARE aims to build and implement a VMBO experimental education programme(s) grounded in the experiences and needs of these students and their communities. 

CARE is a 2-part action research programme combining a university student educational programme with a VMBO and MBO research programme. The university student programme “Experimental Pedagogics (XP)” ran from January to May 2021. In XP, student teams research socially-relevant educational challenges from primary school to university, then build educational interventions to address these. To support the projects, an Education Track provides a broad educational training, with inputs from cognitive psychology, education history, philosophy, technology, psychodynamics, environmental education and critical pedagogy.  XP stimulates transformational learning through experimental pedagogies like problem-based learning, jigsawing and design-based learning. A Reflection Track grounds students’ learning through journaling, peer-reflection and workshops. Due to COVID, the entire programme was done online. Five student interfaculty groups developed exciting education innovations, from “decolonizing history education in Dutch high-school history teaching” to “queering sex-ed”; four of these projects were implemented or are in the process of being implemented.

The research programme in VMBO and MBO schools was postponed for a year due to the pandemic closing of schools. At the time of writing, we conducted nine interviews with VMBO and MBO students. Efforts to recruit more student participants are underway, however, new COVID restrictions on schools are making it once again difficult to access students. Early analysis of the interview materials suggests that most VMBO students come from working class backgrounds. The main reasons behind their choice to not attempt academic studies after VMBO / MBO are: a) difficult experiences in school (bullying, poor teacher feedback, traumatic personal events at the time of the CITO), b) no family experience of academic education, c) the system makes it too difficult to transition to academic education (too expensive, takes too long), and d) poor pedagogical practices creates an aversion for academic knowledge in students. Connecting the two programmes, CARE aims to build and implement a VMBO experimental education programme(s) grounded in the experiences and needs of these students and their communities. 

Project team: prof. dr. Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens (project lead, employee), dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos (project lead, employee), Lorenzo Duchi (employee), Ruby Knipscheer (employee), Lois Kooij (employee), Patryk Jarmakowicz (student), Michelle Zaal (student), Vy Le (student), Mumbi Gachara (student), Camryn Litjens (student), Marianne Martins (student), Hong Nguyen (student), Lumi Pulkkinen (student), Romy Zhang (student), Anouk Rialan (student), Bo Brocx (student), Anne Fleur Hoctin Boes (student), Merel Bezemer (student), Hannah Vollebergh (student), Camilla Becker Bessa Mendes (student), Gergana Dobreva (student), Berdil Tosun (student), Elena Mataix Caballero (student)

CARE Program: Experimental Pedagogics

Information Provision and the Demand for Mental Health Support among University Students

This project consists of an information provision intervention aimed to promote the demand for mental health support and mental health seeking behavior among university students. The effectiveness of this intervention will be evaluated using a randomized controlled trial design. Furthermore, this project seeks to investigate how students’ backgrounds, mental health status, and beliefs affect support-seeking behavior. With this intervention, the researchers aim to ultimately improve mental health and wellbeing, and reduce inequalities therein, of university students.

Using a multidisciplinary approach that combines the theory from Behavioral Economics, evidence from Health Economics, and tools from Experimental Economics, this research project aims to study whether providing literacy information about mental health increases the demand for mental health support among university students. Additionally, this project investigates the interaction between information and the roots of low demand for mental health support. The project informs how students’ backgrounds, mental health status, and beliefs affect support-seeking behavior. The project provides evidence for policymakers on how to adopt information to increase mental-health care-seeking among young individuals. Additionally, the project aims at reducing socioeconomic inequalities rooted in mental health status. Individuals with minority backgrounds suffer more from mental health problems and are less likely to seek care for it. The intervention promotes a more equal environment in demand for mental health care and eventually university performance by investigating the role of information provision in reducing mental-health care-seeking barriers.

Project team: Francesco Capozza (employee), Vahid Moghani (employee)

Francesco Capozza Vahid Moghani


The Diversiteit en Inclusie StudentenCOmmissie (DISCO) aims to contribute to a more inclusive student community and a more inclusive curriculum for students of the medical faculty of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. More specifically, the current project proposal calls for a continuation of existing activities and an extension of the project with new activities, e.g., introduction activity for new students, diversity & inclusion training for multiple stakeholder groups, an inclusive communal room, and inclusive promotion material for the introduction week, making sure that all students feel at home at the medical faculty.

The Diversiteit en Inclusie StudentenCOmmissie (DISCO) is committed to promoting a more inclusive study environment; the medical faculty of the Erasmus University Rotterdam should be a place where everyone can feel at home, regardless of our differences. Commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, ECHO (Expertise Center for Diversity Policy) has awarded DISCO a grant to enable the start of activities in the field of diversity and inclusion within the medical faculty. With financial support from Building New Blocks, DISCO can be further optimized, expanded, and made more sustainable over the next two years.

Our committee has two subcommittees: Charter & Education and Student Unity. The Charter & Education subcommittee is concerned with promoting diversity and inclusion medical education/ the medical curriculum and with the tasks described in the Declaration of Intent. In the Declaration of Intent, the student organizations that are active at our medical faculty and the medical faculty itself promise to do their utmost to promote an inclusive learning climate in which collaboration is central. In addition, various diversity & inclusion training courses are provided to the board members of the student organizations, to the year representatives who evaluate the medical education, and to all interested medical students.

The Student Unity subcommittee will work to increase the connection between and the sense of belonging of medical students. For example, we organize the Introduction Hour, the very first hour of the medical study program. By sharing personal stories of senior students and teachers and interactive assignments, we provide the first impetus for a sustainable, meaningful meeting between fellow students. We also organize events such as 'Eating at the Physician’s Table' where students get to know a physician and their fellow students better in an informal setting.

Project team: Yassine Ben Brahim (project lead, student), Ewout Lauwers (project lead, student)

D&I within Erasmus MC

Connecting Through Voice

This project consists of the development of a story-based educational learning tool for educators at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Through sharing their experiences, historically underrepresented students will be given a voice, and educators will be provided with educator professionalization opportunities within a diversity & inclusion context. With this educational tool, educators are stimulated to adopt a more student-centered approach in their classrooms. 

This project address three key, inter-related issues present in higher education. First, the need to better understand the challenges, barriers, and life worlds underrepresented students experience in their transition to higher education. Second, the need for university educators to better understand the experiences put forward by these underrepresented students. Third, that a potential danger exists in collecting stories perceived as end-point in themselves, which is not only tokenistic but, unless there is institutional learning built into such a project, there cannot be the assumption of learning or change.

Project team: dr. Sonja Wendel (project lead, employee), dr. Iris Casteren van Cattenburch (employee), dr. Laura Mazzoli Smith (external associate), dr. Teti Dragas (external associate)

Sonja Wendel Iris van Casteren van Cattenburch Laura Mazzoli Smith

By building on our expertise in the fields of narrative learning, marketing, professional development and narrative ethics, we aim to integrate an innovative, pedagogically embedded story-based learning tool into higher education. The aim of this learning tool is to develop narrative competencies, of which interpretive capacities and meaning-making through stories used in dialogue with each other, stand central. The key learning processes through which this is fostered are reflective and transformative learning. We will foster these competencies through two workshops.

The first workshop will focus on digital stories created and told by underrepresented students. Students will get the opportunity to tell a story about important events that they perceive have supported their journey to higher education. In a story circle they read and share their developing story with the other fellow students, so that through a process of peer reflection and learning they can hone and develop this story into a final draft. The facilitators support the students in the use of the software needed to bring their own images and music to the script, so that they have created a short digital story by the end of the workshop.

Subsequently the researchers will give educators a voice, by supporting them to engage in dialogue with each other through the interpretation of the students’ digital stories. This places the students’ meaning, as conveyed in their stories, at the center of the dialogue and ensures that educators better engage with the life worlds of their students. The aim is to provide educators with a disposition that is fostered through narrative competencies, which promotes the systematic adoption of deeper listening and more dialogic communicating and contextualizing of what the researchers call ‘narrative knowledge’.

As a final product, driven by the outcomes of the workshops, an E-learning platform will offer the blueprint, a ‘How to guide’ for a workshop on story-based learning for educators. Beyond the added value of connecting the voices of these students and educators, this project offers an ethical outcome at the institutional level, the Erasmus University Rotterdam. This results from the focus on the holistic well-being issues pertinent to all learners and so supports engaging forthcoming generations of students.

Connecting Our Classroom

Connecting our classroom is a continuation of an ongoing intervention, i.e., random student working groups, with the addition of a new intervention, i.e., a workshop on inclusive group work. The intervention(s) will be evaluated using both quantitative and qualitative assessment methods. The aims of this project are to prepare students for working in a diverse multicultural society, i.e., increase opportunities for labour market entry and performance, and to increase interaction, sense of belonging, and networks for historically underrepresented students at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

A central aim of the EUR Outreach programme ‘Connecting Our Future’ is to decrease inequalities in access to higher education, namely, by reducing barriers faced by historically underrepresented groups such as those with migrant background and low socioeconomic status. Meeting that goal will further increase the diversity of backgrounds of the EUR student population. Exposure to such diversity may affect all EUR students, regardless of background. Research has shown that interpersonal contact between individuals from different groups can reduce prejudice, promote friendships across a social divide, and aid inter-group relations. Therefore, a more diverse student body could improve further the opportunities that underrepresented student groups will have in society and in the labour market. However, these effects will depend crucially on the degree of actual contact between students from different backgrounds. If students self-segregate into homogeneous groups and have little meaningful contact with those from other groups, then many of the purported benefits of a diverse campus may not be realized.

There are reasons to believe that EUR students are currently indeed missing out on the full scope of the benefits listed above because of lack of contact between those from different backgrounds. This hampers the ability of the university to benefit from its diverse student body and to arm students with the necessary skills in an increasingly internationalized and multicultural labour market. Furthermore, lack of student interaction impairs integration and opportunities of underrepresented groups, as these are less likely to have a network at EUR. We believe that connecting the future of our students requires connecting them in the classroom.

An ongoing educational intervention at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) - random working groups - aims to increase the diversity of students’ interactions during group work. Random groups facilitate diverse interactions but also create challenges. This project will: continue and expand the ongoing intervention, while introducing a new one aimed at addressing its challenges (a workshop on ‘inclusive groupwork’); perform qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the interventions; and make policy recommendations for scaling them up at ESE and other EUR schools.

Project team: dr. Teresa Bago d’Uva (project lead, employee), dr. Pilar García Gómez (employee), dr. Tim Benning (employee), dr. Max Coveney (employee), MSc Daphne van Helden (employee)

Teresa Bago d’Uva
Pilar Garcia Gomez smiling at the camera
Erasmus School of Economics

Dutch Caribbean Association

The aim of this project is to establish the Dutch Caribbean Association (DCA), a student association for Dutch Caribbean students and students who have an interest in Dutch Caribbean culture. The association will address various barriers Dutch Caribbean students encounter when making the transition to studying in the Netherlands and improve academic and wellbeing outcomes of these students. It will do so by organizing various social, cultural, and professional activities aimed at increasing and engaging a safe and inclusive student network at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Every year the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) has a big influx of Dutch Caribbean students. For most Dutch Caribbean students, moving to the Netherlands is a challenge, both culturally and academically. Even though the EUR has a lot of Dutch Caribbean students, it does not yet have a support group or community specifically tailored towards Dutch Caribbean students. The eight founders of the Dutch Caribbean Association (DCA) see the big necessity for such a community on campus. A student association geared towards Dutch Caribbean students specifically would give Dutch Caribbean students a safe space where they can be vocal about the problems they face with people they can relate to.

Considering there are many Dutch Caribbean students in Rotterdam and on campus, we want to be the bridge between our members and the Dutch Caribbean culture. Regardless of our focus on the Dutch Caribbean, DCA aims to be an association who accepts members irrespective of their nationality. We believe there is a need for an association that gives students the opportunity to get familiar with Dutch Caribbean culture. Therefore, we want to provide any student who has an interest in the Dutch Caribbean culture, the opportunity to join the student association. 

The Dutch Caribbean Association aims to create a space where students, regardless of their origin, with an interest in the Dutch Caribbean culture can come together. We want to get our members familiar with different aspects of Dutch Caribbean culture, such as the food, dance, language, and holidays. We will achieve this by organizing a range of events for our members, which can be divided into social events, cultural events, and professional events. The main goal of this project is to establish a sustainable Dutch Caribbean Association at EUR.

Project team: Samantha Kruithof (project lead, student), Camille Blaaker (student), Yareth Kostons (student), Zabrina Maurera (student), Dominique de Jong (student), Shuhainy Serberie (student), Kirsten Soleana (student), Darren Hernandez (student)

Introducing DCA

Campus Area Network

The aim of the student Campus Area Network (CAN) is to provide all EUR students with the opportunity to network in a meaningful and efficient manner across faculties at EUR. This is especially for important for historically underrepresented students, e.g., first generation students, for whom university-based networks may be less evident than for other students. The project proposal entails various activities centered around four areas, i.e., university offerings, CAN member offerings, CAN alumni network and CAN team. CAN will actively focus on reaching out to and recruiting historically underrepresented students for these activities. With this project, CAN hopes to get established as an official student organization at EUR.

The project “The Establishment of Campus Area Network (CAN) Rotterdam” is centered around supporting CAN Rotterdam, a recently formed student association, to become a long-term, institutionalized student association at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). CAN aims to make it as easy as possible for all students at EUR regardless of their background, gender, and education of their parents to create a meaningful network across faculties. All students can then join the labor force well equipped, knowing that they have made the most of their time at university. We strive towards this goal by providing opportunities for students to interact and network with their fellow peers. We have found that the benefits of networking and having networking-related events have largely been neglected at EUR, with few associations hosting events explicitly focused on this. CAN was created to change this.

To fulfill the primary objective of CAN, we began by hosting weekly online Speed Networking events. So far, we have hosted 20 iterations of this event with an average of 25+ attendees at each event. Furthermore, we were able to grow our LinkedIn community to over 650+ members in the same time span. This was our proof of concept: Clearly there was a need for such networking-oriented events at EUR. Based on this initial success, we directed our focus toward improving and expanding our Speed Networking events. At the same time, we also looked to diversify our activities to provide students with different events and contexts in which they can meet new people. Consequently, CAN Coffee talk and CAN Dinners were launched.

Despite the growth of our events and range of activities, we believe that there is further potential for CAN to improve the student experience at EUR. We recognize the importance of inclusive network opportunities for historically underrepresented students, e.g., first generation students, for whom university-based networks may be less evident than for other students. With this aim, CAN will actively focus on reaching out to and recruiting historically underrepresented students for our networking activities. Furthermore, we have a variety of ideas that we believe would bring significant benefits to students if they were to be implemented. Financial support from Building New Blocks can turn these ideas into a reality. This will not only help CAN become an institutionalized association at EUR, but it would also be significantly beneficial to all students who are looking to form a strong student network that will give them a head start on their professional careers.

Project team: Paul Prottung (project lead, student), Konstantin Pörschke (project lead, student), Konstantin Pörschke (project lead, student), Maria Francesca Burger (student), Anika Mishra (student), Victor Popa (student), Sara Kaczmarek (student), Dimitra Melikidou (student), Sofia Jileaeva (student), Zoë Flaemink (student), Gitta Boros (student), Tania Negrau (student), Doga Ultanir (student), Andreea Dedea (student), Mihaela Lozan (student)

CAN projectteam

Period Poverty

Prior to starting this project, the team held an EUR wide questionnaire on the issue of ‘period poverty’. Results showed the topic to be important for both employees and students of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), underscoring the need for this project. Period poverty is often understood as having two main components, i.e., the financial inability to acquire menstrual products on a routinely basis and a general lack of knowledge about menstrual health. Period poverty can lead to several problems, such as an inability to attend or drop out from education, sense of alienation, and various health risks. The aim of this project is twofold. First, we aim to address the financial barrier of period poverty and make menstrual product freely available on campus. Second, we aim to run a menstrual health education pilot on campus through a masterclass provided by menstrual health experts. We will evaluate this project with team members and partners of the project, including the executive board of the EUR.

Project team: Tamara Gerhardt (project lead, student), Max Wagenaar (employee), Maria Carmen (employee), Yara Dixon (student), Anna Uribe Sandoval (employee)

Presentation of the Period Poverty project. Two women are standing in a lecture hall and are posing for the picture.

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