Jeroen van Lent likes to end his presidency of the EIT Digital Alumni Foundation with good news

Meet our alumni: Jeroen van Lent

For the first time, the EIT Digital Alumni Board has appointed the same president as the period before. Jeroen van Lent, the re-elected president feels a mission to build a strong EIT Digital Alumni Foundation: “I am not done yet”.  Let’s meet Van Lent, whose core themes in his daily life are IT and digitalisation of Higher Education, about his ambition for the alumni foundation for the next two years.

The EIT Digital Alumni Foundation established a new board this summer. Van Lent is the first president that stood for election twice. “Due to the corona pandemic, I feel that the community is not in the best possible place right now. Looking back, I did not feel satisfied being locked down for the last 1.5 years. It is important to have continuity to get out of the situation stronger than before. I feel I have the experience to do that and I also feel it is my responsibility to finish what I started. I like to end my presidency with good news, with a strong EIT Digital Alumni Foundation.”

EIT Digital Alumni foundation

The EIT Digital Alumni foundation started in 2014 when the first cohort of EIT Digital Master School students graduated. The first president of the board was Nicholas Tenhue, who studied the EIT Digital Master School programme Human Computer Interaction and Design (HCID) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and University College London (UCL). He was followed up in 2015 by Germán Leiva who also studied HCID (Université Paris-Sud which now is called Paris-Saclay University and KTH) and is Assistant Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark. In 2016 the presidency was in the hands of Borče Stojkovski who completed his HCID cum laude (Université Paris-Sud, and University of Twente) and now works as a doctoral researcher at SNT, interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust. The Italian HCID alumnus Francesco Bonadiman  (Université Paris-Sud and TUB) was Van Lents predecessor from 2017 to 2019.

Jeroen Van Lent

Van Lent graduated from the EIT Digital Master School programme Internet Technology & Architecture in 2017 (now: Cloud and Network Infrastructures). His first university was KTH, “I fell in love with Scandinavia”, and his final year he studied at the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB) “interesting city to live in”. He now works as IT Project Officer at the European University Foundation (EUF) in Brussels. “This is a project manager position”, he says. “The EUF aims to modernise higher education. Universities by default are good in research and innovation they often struggle to apply the same mindset internally. I think there is a lot of room to digitise the administrative processes, that is what I try to do. I lead projects that develop digital tools to help students, like the Erasmus +app, digital online learning agreements, and tools to digitally exchange student records between universities. I can do this job well, because of the different aspects that the EIT Digital Master School has offered me. These are the entrepreneurial aspects like understanding of how to bring an idea into a product, and several soft skills like managing different tasks, meetings, and giving presentations.”

How did you experience the EIT Digital Master School?

“The EIT Digital Master School is a perfect opportunity to meet like-minded international people. It is such a great thing to be surrounded by people who come from all around the world, who are smart and have great ideas. Everyone has great stories. And all of them were, as I was, foreigners in the same city.  We met a lot at the EIT Digital co-location centres. We spend our days there, worked together, learned together. It was really a nice time.”

Why did you want to be the president of the EIT Digital Alumni Foundation?

“After graduating, I got elected for the Board of the Erasmus Student Network in Brussels and I was not involved with the EIT Digital Alumni Foundation so much. I did meet the former president regularly though, and I hosted some alumni gatherings in Brussels. When I heard the foundation was looking for a new board, it sounded like a nice opportunity to get more involved in the community. And I could use the external experience that I had gained with working and living in Brussels. I have no regrets so far.”

How do you look back on your first two years?

“Being a president is a great opportunity. Although, the first half-year was definitely better, I have to admit. We could travel to places, organise events, meet our alumni members, and could do everything that the non-COVID world would allow. During those months, I learned a lot to better understand the needs of the community. I also met new friends, made interesting trips and got the opportunity to moderate the graduation ceremony of 2019.  I don't think many people have that opportunity in their career. These things were all unforgettable experiences and I hope we can get back to some of that in the coming two years.”

What impact had the corona pandemic on the Alumni Foundation?

“The pandemic hit us hard. We were in the middle of preparing our annual meeting which had to be cancelled due to the restrictions. On average, we attracted about 150 people at our annual meetings. In the online equivalent last year, not even twenty per cent of that attended. That is quite a decrease in terms of engagement. Naturally, I believe the engagement will come back when we can host physical events again. I think what we did not realise, is that joining an online event is not always an obvious choice for the members.

We need to show everyone that we still have what it takes to organise events, that we are not just online, but that you can also meet alumni in person.” 

What are your main achievements so far?

“I think our biggest achievement is that, despite the pandemic, we have managed to organise various events. We were able to quickly adjust and come up with new online formats we had no experience with before. We hosted, for example, a successful online hackathon and launched the concept of Tuesday Afterworks. These are online events with interesting speakers to learn from and network with fellow alumni. The online meetings are not the same, but it was interesting to try new things. We have seen that online meetings attract people from other continents than physical events. In the future, we will combine offline and online events to reach all our alumni who are living around the world. This is one of the steps towards a new vision of the EIT Digital Alumni Foundation.”

What is your vision about the EIT Digital Alumni Foundation?

“We are going to work on the vision in the next board meeting with the rest of the new Board, so I want to leave room for them to contribute as well. The foundation is relatively young and we still have the opportunity to learn from the community itself.  I think as alumni we have a role to fulfil as industry experts. We all have interesting careers and we can help each other with the expertise that we have gained. Furthermore, our people work in fields that may be new to EIT Digital’s ecosystem.  We can give back to the community and share our experiences. We have opportunities to talk with organisations that EIT Digital is not in touch with, like our alumni group in China. Furthermore, we hope to expand to new locations where we do not have a presence yet to expand our reach. It is interesting to have people in places that go beyond the natural reach of the EIT Digital ecosystem.”

What are the challenges for the EIT Digital Alumni Foundation?

“We have an interesting group of people at hand. The oldest members graduated seven years ago and each year the community is growing with more members. With that, the organisation needs to become more sustainable. That goes beyond the concept of being just a group of friends. We need to find ways to properly serve the needs of all members, where young and old alumni can mingle and help each other in their careers. That is the major challenge for us in the years ahead. The key now is to re-engage with the members and make sure people know about our events; bringing the engagement back to the pre-corona level. The second priority is to onboard all new graduates of the EIT Digital Master school.” 

What does it take to be a president?

“I think it takes the willingness to sacrifice free time. That is the case for all board members. For the president, it requires an understanding of how EIT Digital functions. I often talk to various stakeholders to discuss the role of the Foundation. I am responsible for the overall strategy of the Foundation, which consequently requires a little bit of strategic vision. It also takes team leadership which means to be supportive of my team. I try to make sure the rest of the board can do its work and is comfortable with the tasks. It is all about the willingness to make a change to lead this community.”

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