Dominik Mahr is the programme coordinator and contact person for all PREMIUM students at the School of Business and Economics (SBE). “In this role you have to be the face of the programme. Personal contact and enthusiasm are crucial, otherwise you don’t get enough resonance,” he explains. “But it’s not difficult to be enthusiastic, because working with these students is rewarding. They’re very motivated, ambitious and smart, and PREMIUM provides them with extra skills on top of the ones we already teach.”
Mahr feels that the most valuable experience for the students lies in their personal development: “These very clever students find themselves working in small, multidisciplinary groups where, for once, they’re not automatically the best, the leader. They start an entirely new project, together with equally smart people who speak a different professional language. They have to step out of their faculty comfort zone and present their ideas to other students who don’t share the same background.”
Graduate feedback shows that SBE alumni are very good at their jobs once they start working, but it takes time before they are fully able to communicate professionally with clients. “We have to reduce this gap,” says Mahr. “Through PREMIUM they learn to better organise themselves and to improve their communication with clients of all backgrounds.”
The PREMIUM students at SBE have worked on several challenging projects for very different clients. For example, they developed an app for Statistics Netherlands (CBS) to help the organisation connect with young people. The question was ‘How to reach Generation Y?’, and the students were tasked with coming up with a communication strategy to reach people born in the eighties and nineties. The app they created raises awareness among young people of the importance of fact checking and the work of CBS.
“We always try to select assignments that fit the age group of our students,” Mahr explains. “This job was perfect for them. At the end, they presented their results to a large audience, and did so in a very credible way because they themselves are the target group.”
Another successful, interdisciplinary project, commissioned by the Maastricht cultural marketer Mikos Pieters, was a business plan for a novel crowdfunding platform. The aim of the platform is to help artists in the Meuse-Rhine Euregion secure funding for their cross-cultural projects. The students detailed ways to break down mental, physical and legal barriers between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, and designed a plan to fuel the Euregion’s cultural and creative sector.
For ARION, an innovative regional healthcare company, a team of SBE students investigated the opportunities for expansion to eastern Europe. Mahr explains: “The company wanted to introduce its new product – for hygienically ‘washing’ patients without using water – in central and eastern European hospitals and care centres. Over several months, the students collected and analysed data to gain a deeper understanding of the healthcare markets in these countries. Based on those findings, they were able to give ARION’s business developers concrete recommendations for expansion. In general, we try to connect our projects to regional companies and organisations. A local network is very important for the students.”
And PREMIUM has one further advantage, according to Mahr: “Students benefit, clients benefit – but our staff also benefit. Before we coach the PREMIUM students, we receive coaching ourselves. From next year, we’ll even have certified training in competence coaching. This type of training is extremely inspiring and valuable. I consider it employee development.”
This article originally appeared in Engaging excellent students: Reflecting on five years of SIRIUS.