This is what it’s like to lead Europe’s biggest study association at 21 years old

Eva Duin, Chairman of STAR

Being the chairman of a study association is often a full-time job, juggling budgets, members, committees and events. And at the head are students that eat, sleep and breathe their organisations for the duration of a year. How do they manage being board members and all the responsibilities that come with the job? We go around campus and take a look at the people that run these associations. Next in this series: chairman of the largest association at the EUR, Eva Duin of STAR, the student organisation of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

She just turned 21 this summer and is now at the head of Europe’s largest student-ruled study association. How does that feel? ‘When I became chairman I truly realised how big this organisation is and how many options there are with the means we have.’ But she is not constantly thinking of the responsibilities they have: ‘With a lot of the decisions it’s just a matter of getting it done.’

‘The biggest advantage that we have is that we are literally educated in the field we as an association are working in. Running a company is what we are studying for.’ Eva Duin has been active at STAR since she started her bachelor degree in Business Administration at RSM. The first year is an important year, she explains, because a lot of members build their social network at STAR. ‘I like to include the social aspect as much as possible. In this way it actually becomes a combination of a study and a student association. There are no obligations for members like student associations have, but I noticed that I myself ended up going to our get-togethers weekly anyway, just because I loved going.’

Being an inspiration

Eva did not apply for the position of chairman right away: ‘because I didn’t think my strengths lay in making tough decisions and being strict.’ That’s why she applied for the secretary position at first. But in the application process she realised that although that position would have been great, she might not learn as much from it. ‘Specifically, the toughness of being chairman is something that would challenge me the most. I think I didn’t have enough self-confidence at first to go for the chairmanship, but when I realised that that was the position that would allow me to grow as much as possible, I went for it. And I have already grown so much if I compare myself to the person I was a month ago.’ Is her hesitation in going for the chairmanship an example of women being too modest? ‘In the end it’s about quality, but I do notice that an increasing number of women are active as chairmen within our different committees. Two years ago the chairman of the board was a woman, but she was only the fifth in our 41-year existence. Now three of the four chairmen of our full-time committees and the board are female, so it’s definitely going in the right direction.’

Erasmus University definitely played an important role in shaping her self-confidence and ambition. ‘When I arrived here I was not very ambitious. But I became so inspired by the people around me and the professionals I met. And if you get up in front of a thousand first-year business students for a talk, you definitely realise you can be an example and inspiration for those students. And that of course comes with responsibilities as well.’

Is it never difficult, having such an important position when your job is also going to all these fun parties and get-togethers? ‘In case something happens I am responsible, I do realise that. So I make sure I’m always approachable in case something happens. But I’m also being myself on the dance floor, having fun. I think it’s very important to be accessible and to socialise with our members. Everyone should feel welcome at our events.’

 

Star Board 2018-2019 (Photo: STAR)

The board is busy making plans for this coming year. Central to the mission of STAR are three pillars: “Career start support”, “Development and Academic Support”, and “Social Interaction”. The social and career pillars – with two large recruitment events – are strongly established, but the academic-support pillar needs more attention, according to the 41st board. ‘The way people study changes,’ Eva notices. ‘People buy fewer books, attend lectures less often than they used to. We want to respond to this better. We want to attend to personal development, also with passive members. For example, by offering training for competences like leadership.’

Keep everyone together

Eva thinks many of the skills she’s learning as chairman will help her in her professional life. ‘I would love to do something with human resources on a strategic level. I think it would be great to see how you can help employees live up to their full potential.’ And that is something she is working on right now, as chairman of a board of nine people. ‘I am always concerned with how everyone is feeling, if they have enough challenges or too many. Every other week I have a one-on-one with everyone, both on a personal and a professional level. I feel like it’s important to have a strong relationship with all board members so they feel like they can come to me with whatever is on their minds.’ They are getting along well, also thanks to the time they had to get to know each other this summer. ‘I’m aware of my position on the board as chairman. You are both in and outside of the group, because it is my job to keep everyone together. When I’m annoyed with someone I will not complain to another board member.’ Keeping the board unified is very important, because they see each other more than the average colleague or friend: ‘The other day we realised we had been together for nineteen days straight.’

Running a company

At 21 Eva is practically at the head of a company. ‘We are working on our strategic plan, we have to manage our finances well and we are currently hiring for our committees. It’s comparable to a company where each year you fire everyone and then have to rehire for all the positions. We are basically starting from scratch with our operation. Luckily we get a lot of support from the supervisory board and RSM.’

Thankfully she gets a lot of energy from this work: ‘It gives me so much confidence that working life can be so much fun, as long as you do something that energises you.’ Does she have any advice for students who want to maximise their time at university? ‘Take every chance that comes along, even though it scares you. I was very nervous going for the chairman position of STAR, but I didn’t hide behind the fear that I would not get it. Everyone falls on their faces sometimes, but there’s always a new opportunity once you get back up again. And look back from time to time to see what you have accomplished. Be proud of yourself.’

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