Pauline Snoep has worked at the Law School for 29 years: ‘Students haven’t changed, their study conditions have’
Pauline Snoep has been an education coordinator at Tilburg Law School for nearly thirty years. She helps students bring structure to their studies, especially during difficult periods. ‘For some students, their studies are still the only normal thing in their lives, something to hold on to.’
Upon entering Pauline Snoep’s workspace, three things stand out: Snoep’s enthusiastic smile, the Feyenoord scarf draped over a chair’s armrest and the miniature version of De Kuip stadium placed on the windowsill. It is clear: not only an education coordinator sits here but also an avid Feyenoord fan. Pauline Snoep (1964) has been education coordinator at Tilburg Law School (TLS) since August 1994.
‘Back then that was called study advisor doctoral at the law school,’ Snoep says in perspective. After she herself studied law in Groningen and worked at the Dutch Bar Association, among other places, she applied to the Katholieke Universiteit Brabant (KUB).
‘I found the job posting in the magazine Banen, which was then a Saturday supplement of the Volkskrant.’ You can tell from her accent that Snoep is from South Holland. ‘When I applied for this position I did think: Pooh, all the way in Tilburg?’
Snoep resides on the ninth floor of the Montesquieu Building, opened in 2005 by Prime Minister Mark Rutte who was then Secretary of State. There, she overlooks Tilburg’s fast-growing skyline, nothing compared to Rotterdam’s, of course.
‘I sat looking at a certain tower for a long time, wondering exactly where that building was. At one point I asked a colleague from Tilburg,’ Snoep says with a laugh. On the magnetic board behind her desk, you can see a drawn portrait of Dordrecht, Snoep’s current hometown. ‘This is very obviously Dordrecht, right?’ She got the portrait from a student.
Students can come to her if there are circumstances that make it difficult for them to study, Snoep says. But ‘An education coordinator is not the same as a dean of students,’ she adds emphatically. And ‘Students are always responsible for their own studies.’ Nor is she the one who decides whether to make exceptions to Education and Examination Regulations; that is up to the Examination Board.
‘Students sometimes assume that we make decisions in this. That is not the case. I can, however, explain the Examination Board’s policy and whether it makes sense to submit a request. Students ultimately decide for themselves whether to submit a request or not.’
‘Some choices don’t matter much at all in the end’
‘In addition, I can help with their planning, their choice of a minor, or just show them that some choices don’t matter that much at all in the end.’ Her door is also open if there are personal circumstances. ‘Students dealing with illness or the death of parents or other loved ones.’ It also happens that a student is pregnant: ‘Then I can give tips on what to look out for in terms of study planning, among other things.’
Studying as something to hold on to
Snoep continues: ‘A study program provides structure. I meet students who have so much going on at home that their studies are the only normal thing left in their lives, something to hold on to.’ She is silent for a moment. ‘Some students report only after a long time. After asking a few more questions, it turns out that they lost a parent during their studies and that this still comes back. Boy, you could have come forward with that earlier, I say. But the most important thing is that they come forward because only then can I help as an education coordinator.’
It is not the students who have changed over the past 29 years but the circumstances in which they study, Snoep believes. ‘Students used to be busy with their full-time studies and some related things. Nowadays, everything has to be done at once and a study program is done as an addition to a 24-hour job. Then I don’t consider it strange that students knock on my door.’ The cause lies with changing society and the introduction of the loan system, Snoep suspects. ‘And with parents who have sky-high expectations of their son or daughter.’
During the coronavirus period, Snoep interacted with students in other ways. ‘By phone or through Teams. Then you also have a good conversation with each other, but I still prefer to see people in person.’ There are students who started their studies during COVID-19 and are, therefore, used to having digital contact with the university. ‘Still, I was sometimes called by students during that time, just to have that personal contact with someone from the university.’
As an education coordinator, she does not necessarily need to feel a click with the person sitting across from her. ‘Of course it’s nice if we do, but for the content of the conversation it doesn’t play a role.’
‘I kind of know what type of people you find here’
Sometimes a story touches her personally, though she prefers not to show it. ‘I had colon cancer myself. Then, when a student sits in front of me telling me that his father has colon cancer, I do think: pooh. I am touched when someone like that ends up passing a course.’ Snoep gets emotional and reaches for a paper handkerchief. After a brief pause, ‘I’m genuinely happy for them then.’
Meaning something to others
What qualities do you actually need to have as an education coordinator? ‘There is no real training for this profession, but you have to be a good listener, have an interest in people, be able to think practically, and be able to organize: what is important and what is not.’
‘Life experience, you build up as you go along. It’s an advantage that I’m a jurist myself, I kind of know what type of people you find here’, Snoep says with a laugh. ‘The best thing about my job is that I can be meaningful to others.’
Paper study guides
As education coordinator, Snoep not only assists students, but she also deals with the education side of the School. For example, she contributes to drafting changes in the Education and Examination Regulations (EER). She also used to create the paper study guides. ‘With the lecture schedules and the private addresses and phone records of all School employees in them.’
Privacy concerns aside, another disadvantage of paper study guides sometimes became painfully obvious to her. ‘Then that guide was finally ready to go to the printer, it turned out to have another typo in it. Then the entire layout had to be changed manually. No, not everyone was happy about that,’ she says, laughing.
More mental problems
Over the years, the number of students who turn to her has remained about the same, Snoep concludes. ‘What is striking, however, is that students report more often with psychological problems, with depression, for example. These students, unfortunately, I cannot help. I understand that it is incredibly difficult that the waiting lists in the mental health system are so long.’
‘One of the things that the university offers its students and staff is the e-health platform Gezondeboel. If you’re struggling with mental problems, you have to do it yourself either way: whether you’re with a counselor or already working on your own online. For some problems, you might benefit from this platform.’
A Rotterdam native, Snoep’s father was a Feyenoord supporter. ‘He was a fanatical but critical supporter.’ Snoep herself ended up at De Kuip after a colleague with season tickets was unable to attend once. ‘I went instead,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I’ve had a season ticket myself for years now. My regular spot is box QQ, in the second ring, on the north side of the stadium. There’s a very nice mix of people there, from young to old.’
She does not have a favorite Feyenoord moment: ‘Because there are so many wonderful moments.’ Snoep shows a YouTube video on her computer expressing historic club love for Feyenoord. ‘This gives me goosebumps; this is so beautiful! I just get moved by it.’ When will she be there again? ‘Tonight, against NEC. Pooh, it’s going to be cold in the stands.’
Without support staff, there is no university. Univers is looking for the people who have been making sure for years that the university keeps functioning.
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Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel