Utrecht Co-challenges & Co-creates

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The collaborative efforts of the scientific world and the society have taken place in various areas of human life. The collaboration has proven to be more sustainable in case it happens at the interface of different scientific fields and including different stakeholders. The Utrecht Co-challenge course recognizes the importance of all-inclusiveness, and offers an opportune ground for students, governmental bodies and the corporate world to tackle the issues and see to the demands of today’s society. Launched in 2014 by Prof. dr. Harold van Rijen and ing. Michele Gerbrands, the Utrecht Co-challenge is an elective course open for talented youth of the University of Utrecht, HU University of Applied Sciences. It allows the participants to engage in fast-paced, information-rich, and collaborative forms of learning and application of skills to deliver solutions for the client organization.

What’s in the plan?

The goal of the course is to personally and professionally prepare participants for the world of work, with its emphasis on the development of relevant skills, including pitching, networking, intercultural communication, creativity, giving and receiving feedback, and business modelling. With this goal in mind, the organisation team, speakers and coaches of the program create a safe and inspiring learning environment where the participants learn to work in an interdisciplinary team and solve a real-world problem in co-creation with professionals from the educational and corporate world. More to that, the learners also get a chance to extend their professional network and brand themselves.

Though the programme is officially launched at the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU), to achieve an interdisciplinary approach to team building and knowledge generation, it is also open for students of all backgrounds from Utrecht University and HU University of Applied Sciences. The problems that students need to solve are not in the biomedical domain, but an opportunity for them to prepare themselves to the world of work personally and professionally. Such inclusion lets the participants work with their peers who come from various backgrounds.

What’s the Co-challenge about?

On average, 20-25 students attend the Co-challenge course every year, working in groups of five. The program is run in two weeks that are filled with a wide range of activities.

In the first week, the Co-challenge starts with a plenary workshop where participants get acquainted with their peers and form teams. After a series of inspirational sessions and workshops the teams analyse the identified problem and prepare an interview with the client. During the analysis process, students are supported by mentors, e.g. in case of the mental pressure problem, a student-psychologist shares his knowledge on the issue, a researcher shares the latest insights from an academic perspective, and an entrepreneur tells more on how to cope with mental pressure. The workshops prepare students to practice certain skills to develop a concept such as techniques to investigate the problem and create several creative solutions. In the mid-week, the teams pitch their concept at a networking event and receive feedback. The first week is wrapped up with student teams peer-reviewing each other.

The agenda of the second week is filled with workshops on intercultural communication and business modelling. The teams finalise shaping their working concept and create a team/individual elevator pitch that is video-recorded for the client. The activity is supervised by a coach who guides teams in preparing and delivering their pitch. Then they present the final concept to the client and a jury. The jury includes companies’ CEOs, municipality representatives, students who have started their own business, professors, and the clients of the projects. In the end, the teams draw up an advisory report for the client, and he can choose one or multiple projects for his use.

A new challenge is on the horizon?

Yes, it is! The new challenge of 2019 is about to identify interventions to prevent the impact of mental pressures experienced by the students who study in Utrecht as the city is one of the major student hubs in the Netherlands. Nationally, several studies about experienced performance pressure and experienced stress among students have been published and revealed unfavourable results that call to action. Thus, the goal of the Co-challenge 2019 is to understand and relieve some of the pressure before it leads to mental and physical problems. Provisionally, the stress levels can be tuned down by creating awareness, shaping a safe study environment, educating teachers and counsellors, and improving the types of targeted outreach. Hopefully, the Co-challenge 2019 will show more ways on how to tackle the problem.

This article is based on a case study originally written as a part of the UCITYLAB Project.

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