Minor Sustainable Development takes students out of their familiar frame of mind

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Do students from Rotterdam and Delft take the train to Leiden to follow a minor? They do for the minor Sustainable Development where 'outside students' have been coming all the time for the past five years. They give both students from Leiden University  and teachers new insights. Ecologist Emily Strange leads the minor and explains how to get the most out of such a diverse group: 'You first have to create a safe space to ensure that ideas are shared that come from different backgrounds.'

emily strangeTherefore, every year the group of new minor students begins with a short stay at the Stay Okay in Noordwijk. Strange: 'Through this joint start at a different location, students and teachers get to know each other. As a result, students who come from other universities will feel more comfortable during the lectures and tutorials in Leiden. That safe space is important to get the most out of the group and the multidisciplinary education.'

   A safe space is important to get the most out of the group and the multidisciplinary education.'

Cheesy icebreakers 

Cleaning up plastic together on the beach and what Strange calls 'cheesy icebreakers' ensure that the group quickly becomes familiar with each other. It works, because she sees that numbers are exchanged, Whatsapp groups are created and over the course of the semester the students also seek each other out on their own. A network that can also come in handy later in their careers.

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Diverse backgrounds

Strange: 'We also let the students directly experience the added value of diversity in backgrounds. They are given a case and first deal with it with their fellow students. Then we mix the groups and they immediately see how this leads to other insights. For example, the topic 30/30: in 2030, 30% of the world must be protected nature areas. The biology students then mainly look at nature conservation and protection.'

   This gets the students out of their familiar frame of mind of this is right and that is wrong.'

'But then they suddenly find themselves at the table with students who say: let's also look at residents, businesses, who is going to pay for it, legislation and had you thought about technological innovations? Afterward we let group zoom in further to a local really existing situation, for example stimulating nature here in the city. Then again you see the discussion change, they learn to consider other interests as well. Guest lectures also help here. This gets the students out of their familiar frame of mind of this is right and that is wrong.'

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New insights

As third-year undergraduate students, they learn that there are also other questions, other arguments and other research methods. Strange: 'What they also experience is that the different approaches in a team are very valuable. One is used to reading a lot and dissecting articles quickly. Another has had to write a lot of essays, and a third is familiar with GIS mapping systems. In this way they can help each other.'


So there are many advantages to multidisciplinary education and a diverse group of students. But isn't organizing a minor in this way a lot of extra work for teachers? Yes, Strange acknowledges, the minor could not exist without all the enthusiasm and commitment of the lecturers and support staff involved. But this intensive set up also benefits the lecturers, namely other insights through the student group: 'I'm a biologist myself and it's fun to teach biology students, but I love even more the lively debate that occurs within a diverse group. It's big fun and really enriching to work with students from other universities and fields of study.'

The minor Sustainable Development is open and of interest to third year bachelor students from all degree programmes, and each year they welcome a diverse group. Some examples of the diverse backgrounds of last year's students:

  • Biology
  • International Studies
  • Urban Studies
  • Applied Earth Sciences
  • Arts Media and Society
  • Architecture
  • Biomedical sciences
  • Bio-pharmaceutical sciences
  • Architecture
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Entrepreneurship & Business
  • University College
  • History
  • Psychology
  • International Politics
  • International Relations & Organisations
  • Latin America Studies
  • Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Linguistics
More information:
Minor Sustainable Development

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