Birgit Boogaard was proclaimed the best university professor in the Netherlands. This is the first time this honorary title has been bestowed upon a teacher from WUR. Her acceptance speech was a statement: ‘There is still so much to be done regarding inclusion in education.’
All of the nominees gave a mini-lecture on their field of expertise during the finals in the Utrecht city theatre. Boogaard’s lecture on African philosophy was the one that convinced the jury. It is this lecture that Resource attended at the beginning of this year. She opened her address with the word ‘sawubona’, literally: I see you; you matter. She also used different dialogues to enable everyone’s voice to be heard and to unlock ‘the group’s wisdom’. These approaches are also known as liberating structures.
‘You could hear a pin drop during her mini-lecture, and the master of ceremonies sighed that her lecture could have been much longer’, says study advisor International Development Studies Evelien Meijs. ‘I am super proud that Birgit won, but I’m also delighted for our students with the recognition she has received. What she does is exceptional and sets an example worth following.’
Fellow teacher Eva Meijer, who joined Boogaard in Utrecht for support, agrees wholeheartedly. ‘Students feel seen and heard in her lectures. I know that Birgit invests a lot in designing her lectures in a way that makes all of her students feel safe and welcome, enabling them to contribute without feeling held back. She manages to create a learning environment that is truly inclusive and safe for everyone, including students from the Global South. And, that is sorely needed in higher education.’
Boogaard’s students concur. ‘She is a deserving winner. Birgit is an extremely inspiring teacher. Hopefully, this award will encourage WUR to be open and committed to decolonisation and inclusion’, say Eva Sarolea and Marijtje de Vries, third-year students of International Development Studies. Dean of Education Arnold Bregt, also present in Utrecht, is of a similar opinion. ‘The fact that Birgit won this election is fantastic. Both for this excellent teacher and for the impact of her message on our education. More carefully considering our knowledge, arriving at a richer perspective on society, is very important for university education as a whole.’
The newly proclaimed national teacher of the year was delighted to be awarded this honorary title. ‘This is such a powerful voice for what today’s education needs. I am moved because there is still so much to be done in terms of inclusion. This award is very welcome. Not so much as a motivator for me personally, but for a broader group of people who are committed to this goal’, she underscored during her acceptance speech.
The honorary title comes with a sum of 25,000 euros to be spent on education. Boogaard is considering applying the funds towards a more structured system of exchanges with teachers from Africa and the Comenius Network. ‘But I have not given it detailed thought yet; I did not expect to win’, she says.
Boogaard was selected as a finalist for this ninth edition of the National elections after she had already been proclaimed Wageningen teacher of the year by the WUR Jury last autumn. Other finalists were Ed van Beeck (Social Health Care teacher, Erasmus MC), Erik-Jan Broers (Legal History teacher, Tilburg University) and Jim Portegies (Mathematics teacher, TU Eindhoven).
The National Teacher of the Year election is an initiative of the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO) and the Comenius Network. The latter is a network of teachers committed to rewarding inspiring and excellent teaching in higher education. ‘It may sound cliché, but I hope that this will make teachers aware of the impact they have’, said ISO chair Terri van der Velden in an interview in the daily newspaper AD.