These are the top five Teachers of the Year

The nominees for the Excellent Education Prizes have also been announced.
Arie Nieuwenhuizen Arie Nieuwenhuizen was elected teacher of the year in 2020. Photo: Guy Ackermans.

The five teachers in the running for the title Teacher of the Year (TOTY) are Harm Bartholomeus (Geo-information Science & Remote Sensing), Birgit Boogaard (Technology and Innovation), Ute Sass-Klaassen (Forest Ecology and Forest Management), Jet Vervoort (Nematology) and Jordi Vilà (Meteorology and Air Quality). Resource spoke to two of them. The winner will be announced on 11 October.

Most of the teachers on the shortlist are now on holiday and have their ‘out-of-office’ message set. Ute Sass-Klaassen is still here though. She appreciates the effort put into shining a spotlight on teachers. ‘It is really great to be interviewed by an enthusiastic student jury who are interested in how I teach and do research. I have had quite a few interviews for Teacher of the Year by now. I kind of feel like I’m turning into the Leonardo DiCaprio of WUR: I’ve made the final five quite often but I’ve never won the “Oscar”. Though DiCaprio does have one Oscar now.’

Giving inspirational lessons is really quite simple, says Sass-Klaassen. ‘If you ask students what they find important in a teacher, it comes down to dedication, enthusiasm, professionalism and motivation. I may not be young and fancy and I don’t use any amazing educational techniques but if you put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into teaching, students see that and it inspires them. Last year, we won the Excellent Education Prize again for our Forest Resources course, so this formula is clearly working. So I and my colleagues will continue this approach to teaching.’ But Sass-Klaassen does see challenges. ‘The growing student numbers are an issue and demand constant adjustments. That has been possible so far but it is still challenging to engage students in a course and keep them engaged. There is a task here for our education directors too.’


Jordi Vilà is also still at work, only in the Amazon. ‘I feel honoured the students have selected me for the top five. I teach quite complex but relevant topics such as “how clouds develop” and “what causes the weather”. Both topics are being affected by changes in the climate. That I have been chosen for the top five is recognition by the students that despite the complex subject matter, my lesson methods are successful in conveying knowledge and getting students to engage with these topics.’

Last year, the prize went to all the teachers and support staff in recognition of their dedication during the coronavirus crisis. The last regular TOTY was the biologist Arie Nieuwenhuizen. ‘It’s particularly nice to win because it’s a prize awarded by students,’ he told Resource earlier. ‘Your customers appreciate what you are doing and see the effort you put in. That is something I’m proud of and it is also an incentive to keep going with what I was doing.’

Excellent education

The Excellent Education Prizes will also be handed out on 11 October. Prizes will be awarded in four categories: for the best basic courseadvanced coursespecialized course and large course. The nominated courses per category with their associated coordinators are as follows:

Basic courses

  • Practical Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality, Miguel Lurling
  • Philosophy of Science & Ethics in Tourism, Trista Lin
  • History of Food Production, Guido Sala
  • Renewable Energy Technologies, Annemiek ter Heijne
  • Technology, Development and Natural Resources, Sietze Vellema

Advanced courses

  • Global Landscapes and Place-Making, Ana Aceska
  • The 4th Dimension in Earth Sciences, Jakob Wallinga
  • Water, Sociology & Technology – concepts and debates, Gert Jan Veldwisch
  • Data Science for Breeding and Genetics, Daniela Bustos Korts, Fred van Eeuwijk, Saskia Burgers
  • Research Methods Soft Matter, Thomas Kodger

Specialized courses

  • Business, Human Rights & the Environment, Nadia Bernaz
  • Agri-Environmental Law and Policy, Lucila de Almeida, Josephine van Zeben
  • Fieldwork in Conflict and Post-conflict Settings, Lotje de Vries

Large courses

  • Nutrition and Health: Macronutrients, Energy and Health, Sander Kersten, Merel Defour
  • Evolution and Systematics, Arjan de Visser
  • Water 1, Claudia Brauer

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