‘In the lecture halls you won’t learn what you learn by being active in your student association’

Robert Nieuwenhuis

Being the president of a study association is often a full-time job, juggling budgets, members, committees and events. And at the head are students who eat, sleep and breathe their organisations for the duration of a year. In this series we go around campus and take a look at the people who run these associations. Today: Robert Nieuwenhuis of Economic Faculty association Rotterdam (EFR) of Erasmus School of Economics.

This year, 22-year-old Robert would like to finish his bachelor in Economics and Business Economics, all while presiding over a board of eight people of the school association of Erasmus School of Economics. Robert does not know yet what master he will be pursuing next year, but he is hoping this year will help him figure that out. He’s not in a rush for his student days to be over, he says.

Since his second year at Erasmus University Robert has been a committee member of EFR, and has been active in many different committees: the charity committee (now named the social responsibility committee), the activities committee, and last year the Erasmus Recruitment Platform committee. When Robert was part of the activities committee, they were responsible for the debate that took place between Prime Minister Mark Rutte and PVV-leader Geert Wilders, days before the 2017 elections. It became an even more interesting event: because Wilders cancelled all previous debates in de lead up to the election, this was the only time he was debating Rutte. International press found its way to the event, which then became an even bigger success than anticipated.

This characterises the ambitions of EFR, which organises multiple large events every year. And this year, Robert is overseeing it all. He knew he wanted to become president when he applied: ‘I’ve never been the president of a committee before, so I thought I would learn the most from something I’ve never done before.’

EFR's 2018-2019 Board

Not solving everyone’s problems

Robert thinks that supporting the other seven members of the board is his most important task this year. ‘I am aware that I’ve never been in this position where I’m responsible for other members, so that’s a field I’m paying a lot of attention to.’ Robert talks to every board member individually each week, about ‘how they are doing personally, how the events they are working on are progressing and how the collaboration with the other members is. It’s my job to keep everybody satisfied, but to a certain extent. It’s not my job to solve everyone’s problems, so sometimes I just tell them to confront someone directly, or e-mail a company themselves, for example.’

Robert does not lie awake at night thinking about the responsibilities the chairman has: ‘Of course you realise you are responsible in the end, but you share the responsibilities with the other board members and I trust all of them with their share.’

Theory and practice

What does the 55th board of EFR want to focus on this year? Robert explains EFR has four pillars that are central to the association: education, orientation, network and development. Every year another pillar becomes the central focus, and this year it is development. The board wants to focus on how to support committee members outside of what they learn during their regular classes, for example with training.

Robert does recommend being active outside your studies: ‘Not only EFR but I think every association is trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice. In the lecture halls you will not learn what you can learn being active in a committee or a board. See what fits in your schedule and what you are enthusiastic about.’