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Junior lecturers and The Incubator's impact at VU Amsterdam

Interview with Ana Clara Cassanti, junior lecturer in Sustainability at VU’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)

The Incubator is a key player in cultivating and supporting the development of junior lecturers, also known as the jewels. Ana Clara Cassanti, junior lecturer in Sustainability at VU’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), tells us everything about it. “The incubator goes beyond workshops for innovating education, it’s also a space where jewels can think about their personal development and to truly connect with each other: it's powerful to find like-minded people who inspire you to be your best version.”

From vision to reality: where did it all start?
The Incubator: a platform for junior lecturers to exchange ideas, collaborate on projects, and draw inspiration for their teaching practices. A welcoming space, even for low-key conversations or impromptu moments of inspiration. It sprouted from the Development programme for junior lecturers: a four-year initiative, marked by certifications and professional development, with a two-year ‘Pioneers of Education programme’, dedicated to innovative projects in teaching. It empowers jewels like Cassanti to innovate teaching and lead their own education projects, with support and resources for evidence-based contributions to education to improve the broader educational landscape.

Later on Janneke Waelen, director of CTL, along with Maiza Campos Ponce, associate professor and education specialist, and Marieke Parijs, education specialist, transformed their idea into what is now known as: The Incubator. Brought to life with the assistance of Cassanti and other junior lecturers. “The jewels played an important role in shaping the incubator's vision, brainstorming its structure, workshops, and overall functionality. Although not officially leading the project, they actively contributed to its development, showcasing the collaborative and innovative spirit of junior lecturers at VU Amsterdam. The Incubator is really a testament to the proactive and creative approach that they bring to education.” says Maiza.

“Truly by junior lecturers, for junior lecturers,” adds Cassanti.

A woman with glasses in a black outfit, smiling and sitting on a green chair in an office environment

Jewels bridging the gap
Cassanti reflects on her path from environmental engineer to educator: as she closes the gap between industry and academia, “showcasing a unique perspective shared by many junior lecturers” she says. Cassanti highlights this strength, saying, “Jewels can look at what's out there, bring it to education and make it more approachable to the new era of teaching. Make good use of these jewels as ‘resources’ for innovating education: that's where our expertise lies, and it's our shared passion.”

Cassanti shares an example of a workshop she joined at the Incubator with her colleague, an assistant professor, with the intention of exploring VR in their education. “The workshop was given by junior lecturer Tess Dekker, from Human Movement Sciences. This shows how the Incubator attracts a diverse audience, also including for example more senior lecturers who are seeking innovative approaches to teaching, led by junior lecturers and their innovations.”

In discussing the current educational landscape, she states that “we’re in this unique moment of education, in which we’re seeing a switch from more theory-type teaching to really teaching the skills for our students to become citizens.” A transformation that underscores the role of educators in shaping not just academic knowledge, but also essential and broader life skills for students.

The Incubator's impact
Cassanti’s team recently received the VU Education Innovation Prize for their impactful project within the Pioneers of Education programme. The awarded project focuses on enhancing diversity and inclusivity in the Global Environmental Change and Policy (GECP) track of the Earth Sciences master's programme through a mixed classroom approach.

It’s clear that The Incubator is not merely a physical space but a mindset that empowers junior lecturers to redefine teaching practices and have a supportive educational community around them: “A space where you're free and safe to think about how to inspire your students, colleagues, and yourself."

Interested in learning more about the Incubator? Contact

“A space where you're free and safe to think about how to inspire your students, colleagues, and yourself."

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