In search of the X-factor

The brand new Outreaching programme trains up 50 ambitious Bachelor-degree students to become ‘the leaders of the future’. Being very ambitious and having a strong personality are probably more important than excellent grades. Is the Outreaching-student still an academic?

Bart Smout & Lieke Steijvers

“Look, that’s them.” Kim van Geijn, coordinator of the Outreaching programme, proudly presents the face book of the 50 participants. “There is such a creative and positive power about this group. You can tell the X-factor is here.”

In September, the first group of fifty students started the Outreaching programme, a two-year, public-service-oriented programme of excellence for second- and third-year bachelor-degree students from all courses. The entry requirements: an average score of 7 in the first year and 60 ects, an English essay of 1500 words, an English language exam and a letter of motivation. As a comparison: to participate in the Honours programme, the other University-wide programme of excellence at Tilburg University, students must average 7.5 in the first year. Why the difference?

Van Geijn:” In the Outreaching programme we are looking at a student’s personality, their motivation and their reasons, in addition to good grades. However, they still have to be good students.”

Programmes such as the Honours- and the Outreaching Programmes came into being at the request of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences, as a way to promote higher education. The Honours programme has been around for seven years now and is particularly suited to good students with excellent grades who don’t feel academically challenged enough by the regular course. By participating in interdisciplinary master-classes they can gain more in-depth knowledge of their studies and prepare for a possible career as a scientist.

The Outreaching programme is based on a completely different principle whereby students are guided on their way to a top career in international business, in the government, or in social organisations. The Outreaching programme is far more focused on the time after graduation than the Honours programme.

Leadership, personal development, innovative thinking and networking, in conjunction with the job market, these are qualities and skills that students on the regular course aren’t, or are insufficiently, provided with.

Students are taught in ‘outreaching labs’. As a team they learn to apply scientific knowledge in practical situations. For example, in the lab held by Professor Gerard van Oortmerssen they have to design a ‘holistic’ business-model for KPN, whereby students have to ‘market’ the internet to various groups in society, including the elderly, and under circumstances such as the financial crisis.

On top of that, students gain work experience in a company or in public office. Part of the course hasn’t been filled in yet. “Intentionally”, says Van Geijn. “We want to confront our students with empty paths instead of a tightly planned programme; because that’s the way it is in real life. Students need to have a pro-active attitude.”

“Very confronting”, student of Personnel Management Sciences Carmen Nillesen calls this freedom. “In the beginning it made me feel very insecure, I didn’t know what was expected of me.

According to Nillesen, the programme shows you different sides of your personality. “While role-playing, I was given the role of CEO but I was only focused on the social side of the role. This shows you how you operate and what you need to improve.”

The programme’s motto “Leaders of the future” appealed to Nillesen. Not that she necessarily pictures herself as one of them, but she wants to investigate which qualities she possesses. Without any hesitation she opted for the Outreaching programme over the Honours programme. “I wanted to train my skills, not increase my scientific knowledge.”

Do Outreaching students still have enough time to acquire in-depth knowledge after having networked, developed their personalities and dreamt up creative ideas? Is there time left to acquire a scientific knowledge? “Obtaining the best grades isn’t Outreaching’s main objective”,

Van Geijn agrees. “We look equally at EQ, emotional intelligence. At all times, an IQ is required to graduate in the first place, without the Bachelors degree students can’t obtain the Outreaching diploma. We demand high intelligence levels; we are talking about the best students after all.

Bachelor-degree students Academic skills such as analytical thinking and arguments are trained in the labs and during lectures. But in the end, EQ is what will land you that great job. You can be ever so clever but if you don’t have enough social skills, or your management qualities aren’t up to scratch, you will never make the top.”

“A good network is essential to reach the top”, says Reinout Vriesendorp, Professor of Private Law at the Tilburg University and together with Joop Vianen, Professor of Entrepreneurship (FEB) leader of the programme. Small groups of five to seven students work together with a Professor who has one foot in the scientific field and the other foot in the public sphere, for four separate semesters.

On top of that, they gain job-experience and meet each other regularly at meetings. “Over the two years, close contacts are formed “, says Vriesendorp. “Some students will continue seeing and helping each other after graduation and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, with respect to the content, the Outreaching programme goes far beyond being a place to network.”

According to Bart van Elderen, coordinator of the Honours programme, the curious and more academic type of student is more likely to choose for the Honours programme. “Honour students really want to know how science works and how the various disciplines relate to each other.

They want to get to the bottom of things and analyse them at a higher meta-level. They follow the programme to enrich their studies and to use their brains. I get the feeling that the Honours students are less concerned with the future. They want to suck up all the knowledge now.”

Honours student Kayleigh van Oorschot subscribes to this. “Plans for the future or building up a good network weren’t reasons for me to sign up for the Honours programme, although you are considered one of the better students when you are an Honours student. I do hope it makes a difference later on.” Van Oorschot has her doubts about the Outsearching programme. “I feel that a Bachelors’ course at a research University such as Tilburg University should primarily focus on scientific knowledge. This doesn’t mean to say that other skills aren’t of any value.”

Sometimes, the future-oriented goals of the Outsearching programme are in conflict with the here and now. Out of the first group, one student had to pack it in because her studies were suffering under the workload of the programme. Her intention was to obtain the highest grades possible so she would be admitted to Harvard, and enhance her chances of making a top career with such a prestigious degree.

”The programme’s workload is a problem for some of the students: they may well get lesser grades in the regular course”, Vriesendorp admits.”This needs looking into”. Some students are actively trying to improve the programme. “Of these students who, after a month and a half, start to get seriously involved with it all, we can clearly say that they are the leading figures of the future.” [[Translation:Charles Peter]


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