Name: Lieke Schreel
Degree: Medieval Studies (Utrecht University)
Hey Lieke, thanks for sitting down with me. It’s a bit early to focus on what’s happened since LUC, so instead I’d like to focus in this story on how you experienced more than twelve years of LUC, all the way from its founding until April this year.
So how did it all start?
For me, LUC started with an opportunity. I had been working at UCU for almost nine years when I met Jouke de Vries. He was the scientific director of Leiden University’s Campus the Hague. In Jouke’s vision, part of this Campus was starting a University College. Of course, starting a new college isn’t easy, and they came to UCU to learn more about what it meant to run a University College. I saw this as my golden ticket. I knew the profile of Leiden University, and when I heard his plans, I knew I wanted to be part of it. So I spent two hours talking to the project leader. My aim was to explain how complex such a programme was, and that I would be fairly good at running it. Mission accomplished on both fronts when two days later I got e-mail, and I’m almost quoting verbatim: “Thank you so much for your time. It’s very useful. By the way, Utrecht probably doesn’t want to lose you, but would you be interested in helping us set up the programme in the Hague?”
I met with Jouke in December 2008, and within five minutes we knew for sure. We got along, and we could make this work. In typical Leiden fashion, it then took quite some time before they got any further.
Although Jouke and me got along, I still got an official interview a year later! I was in a room with Jouke, the vice-rector, the Head of Academic Affairs, and the project lead, , and they explained the curriculum they had planned so far. And I thought it was not going to work. It was, as we call it in Dutch, “polderen”. They had disciplinary majors, which were all different sizes. Think linguistics, science labs, law, etc. It was nice, but it wasn’t coherent, and wasn’t facilitating the Liberal Arts idea of students creating their own curriculum.
“So Lieke,” they said. “What do you envision?”
And honestly, I don’t remember, but I must have said some smart things, because they called me in the evening and told me I got the job.
So that’s how they found you. There was a lot to do before there were students, I imagine?
Yes. I started my transfer that December, and moved completely in January. Suddenly I was sitting in an attic on the Lange Houtstraat. It was me, Jouke, and his vision of a University College where students from all over the world study problems of Peace and Justice. The first thing I did was add sciences: Sustainability. We went through all kinds of curriculum committees, set up with people from all over the university. Being able to just play with a curriculum for a month was fantastic. No hundreds of e-mails, calls, whatever we have now, just focusing on what we thought would work best. I remember we originally wanted to focus the program on World Challenges, but the Faculty of Humanities was working on a programme called International Studies, which would have been too similar. So we went from World to Global. So that’s why it’s Global Challenges.
It’s interesting to think back now, and realize that most of what we thought of then still stands. There was a bit of an overhaul in 2014, but it’s still largely what we made in that attic.
Is there anything you did change, that you wish you would have changed sooner?
Global Citizenship. It’s always been the most changeful part of the curriculum, and I think what we have now is the best version yet. In the original curriculum we had an introduction to area studies, which was a really great course because it had different versions for different areas, with shared learning outcomes. We had the languages from the beginning, but that wasn’t quite it. Now we do many different projects that focus on integration and understanding, which is really cool. We’ll get to that again later by the way!
Aside from the Global Citizenship, we had this first year course Designing Academic Inquiry which as great on paper but not in practice. You want to do it early, but you also want people to be able see why it’s important to know and understand the intricacies of various research methods. It disappeared in 2014, And came back in 2019 as the Research Design courses, per major and at the end of the second year.
Then you had a curriculum, but that doesn’t make a college. What came next?
whole checklist. I’ll spare you the details, but we had to jump through a
number of hoops. One of these was getting permission from the government to
actually run your programme.
We got that permission on July 15th, the day after my birthday. I was on holiday in France, and the phone rang with the good news! From there, the Executive Board had to make an official decision. They did that on September 29th, which is why that day is the Dies. And then suddenly we had 11 months to make it happen.
Not even three weeks later we had the first Open Day, in the Pieterskerk. In many ways it wasn’t that much different from how we do them now, except of course that we had no students. It was just me, one colleague and a table. I went off and did the very first presentation for a fully booked room of curious students and parents. And when I came back, my colleague was surrounded by rings of people. We talked and talked, and explained how we saw the programme. We must have done a good job!
A few months later, we opened the application portal. That might have been the scariest moment. I’d been telling the whole university this was going to be great, and that was the moment of truth. I often think back to that first cohort. They’re special: they had to make everything happen and believe in something that wasn’t there.
And then we needed professors. We had an open call for academics. We had sociologists, two mathematicians, an international law specialist, international relations, a political philosopher and a literature professor. Some of them are still there. In that first call we got Daniela, Jay, and Patsy. We also borrowed professors from other faculties, which was always far more complicated than it seemed to be.
And then there was a college?
Then there was a college. The paint in the building wasn’t even dry yet, and the elevator at Lange Voorhout was already broken, but it was a college. That first year the students built everything: Fortuna, Beyond Arts, Act Aware. And it was funny, because we only had 120 students but more than 20 groups organizing all kinds of things. They wanted to do too much. Shout out to Georgina Kuipers here, who was in Fortuna for three years, then founded Evolucio, and is now in the Advisory Board!
In that sense, it was good when the year came around, and we doubled the students. Suddenly there were over two hundred, and that created mass for all these plans. The second cohort didn’t live in the same building as the first, and the university started to fill up. At that point we were developing AvB, as 600 students would definitely not fit in our temporary building on the Lange Voorhout.
That’s a recurring theme for LUC: fitting everything into a building. I remember when Jos Schaeken came in for the first time, and he was like: “Which idiot designed the spaces in this building?”.
I guess that would have been me. (laughs) We just didn’t know then how the college would develop!
This was around the time you left LUC for a while, right?
Yes. As LUC grew, International Studies took off, and Public Administration came to the Hague. Jouke called, asking whether I would be interested in helping him build the Faculty in The Hague. At that point, I had been working in UC’s for twelve years, so I thought it might be time for a change. I moved to the faculty bureau, where I helped develop FGGA. It was an interesting time, but I did miss LUC from time to time even if I was still working on all kinds of policy issues for LUC.
Then LUC’s first accreditation was coming up. Nobody at LUC had any experience with it, and they wanted to hire an external. And I was like no. Because what will happen is they will then come and ask me thousands of questions and then I will have to edit the report, so I might as well do it myself. I got permission to go back to LUC for a month. That month was January of 2014, which Jos and me spend on floor Four. I was typing, he was editing.
February came around, and I would still come by to help prepare. We held a mock accreditation, and feedback sessions with students and staff. It helped me realize I wanted that contact with students, which I didn’t have at the faculty. Similarly, Jos realised he could use someone with more policy and educational management experience. It took a few talks with my supervisor, but I came back to LUC in January 2015, where I stayed for six more years until April 2021.
What are other moments that stand out to you?
There’s so many things I love about LUC. I am huge fan of all our traditions, such as the Pantomime, the Dies, and the Airband Battle in the intro week. That’s another thing that’s been there since the start, the introduction week. It’s always been one of my favourite moments. There’s this feeling of excitement in the air. So many new people, scared but also eager. Them and their parents, moving all kinds of stuff in, trying to share just three elevators. This year, I was so afraid during the introduction week—that it just wouldn’t be the same. I was heartbroken that first day: rather than having an auditorium tearing at the seams from the amount of people inside, it was just the five of us and a camera. It was all wrong!
But then at the end of the week, we held the Airband Battle on the terrace, with all the students in the common rooms. With the music going up and down the building, I knew that somehow the magic was still there. It was wonderful having that same experience during my farewell, with all the students chanting “Lieke! Lieke! Lieke!”
Speaking of chants, I loved it when LUC won the UCSRN. Our students organised it, and then won it too! That’s also when I realized that LUC The Hague makes a great chant. We had considered various names, but I am glad it became this! Nothing quite like hearing “L-U-C The Hague! LUC The Hague as we won the tournament.
Finally, there’s graduation. In the end, that’s what you do it for. To see all those wonderful students on stage receiving their diplomas.
So what made you decide it was time to move on?
The turning point came when we got first in the rankings. In 2019 we finally overtook UCM, by more than one point. That’s when I knew my job there was done. It started with a few of us in an attic, and now we were one of the best programmes in the country. It was time for something new. So when Twente called, it felt right.
So how is Twente treating you so far?
It’s great! I’m doing something similar, but it’s also completely different. It’s a beautiful and huge campus, real American style. I moved from one of the oldest universities in the country to one of the newest, and with that comes a big shift in culture and people. It’s a nice challenge in a new environment and I am learning a lot. I’m now in charge of the Centre for Educational Support, where we do many of the same administrative things I did for LUC, but I am now at a more strategical rather than operational level. Instead of seven people I supervised at LUC, there’s 175 people I’m in charge of now. And instead of 650 students, there’s 12 000. In my job I do many things, but basically, we do everything we can to make it easier for professors to teach and for students to learn. I do that mostly from home for now, but I love to go for walks when I’m on the campus.
Speaking of campuses, I see two pictures of AvB behind you!
Yes! That’s a little tradition for me. When I left Trinity College Dublin in 2000, they gave me two pictures of the campus to hang in my office. Ever since, I’ve held this tradition. They were joined by two pictures of UCU when I left there, and when LUC asked me what I wanted as a farewell gift, I told them I wanted two pictures of the campus. That wasn’t all of it though, there is another gift. I think many people already know, but when I left I asked that the rest of my personal budget was turned into a fund. It’s a fund to help students that want to travel for a Global Citizenship course but can’t afford to. I’d like to use this opportunity to ask everyone who’s reading that hasn’t donated yet to donate just a few euros to this cause. I don’t think your course selection should be decided by your financial status: everyone should get the chance to do what they think will help them grow.
That’s a wonderful gesture! Do you have any other final advice for current students and alumni?
I think the most important thing is that it’s important to strike a balance. One thing we never managed was to really reduce the stress on our students. They are all so ambitious and hard-working. Sometimes I just want to tell them that you don’t have to get that A+, or that fifth internship. Things will work out! It’s also important to take time with your friends. To develop yourself as a human being.
This is doubly so for the capstones. Of course, it’s challenging. It’s supposed to be! But it’s not the be all end all. Next year you’ll be in a Master’s, and what you’re writing there is probably bigger and better. And you’ll be growing for the rest of your life.
In line with that, everyone can help and contribute to a better world in their own way. Some of our alumni have become high school teachers. You want to make an impact? That’s the place to be! But also outside your career: you can make an impact in your volleyball team, at a political party, or by volunteering. What I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to be an A+ student to contribute towards a better world. If you get that A+, all the more power to you, but if you don’t, that’s okay too!
Thank you so much Lieke!
This post was part of a larger series of “portraits” of Alumni. Want to be featured, have questions for Lieke, or about alumni in general? Do not hesitate to reach out to Evolucio via our website, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org.