Friday was our final day in Germany and the Netherlands, and it seems our hosts may have saved the best for last. This morning, we visited QConcepts Design & Engineering in Doetinchem, Netherlands. The owner, Jurian Rademaker, founded the company as an expression of his passion for boat racing and integrating solar systems into boats. The company is involved in developing better materials, solar electric systems, and speedier boats. Each year, student teams develop a newer solar boat to compete in a solar boat race. Mr. Rademaker is also the founder of IIME, Innovatie in Mobilitieit en Energie, the organization with the purpose of creating opportunities for young people and recruiting talent to this particular area of Netherlands.
QConcepts offers internships to students that are nearly identical to the German apprenticeship system, and similar to the U.S., a student may work toward an associate or bachelor degree.
Another presenter was Tinus Hammink, the Managing Director of SEECE (Sustainable Electrical Energy Centre of Expertise at Han University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem. Tinus stressed the need for students to have opportunities to work in multidisciplinary teams and for systems of higher education to work seriously toward creating better opportunities for interdisciplinarity in studies. He says that the answer isn’t in creating new programs but in creating better collaboration between existing programs. The best-prepared students will not be mechanical or electrical engineers but those who have a combination of these skills, as well as communication, teamwork, and others.
The final presentation of the morning was my favorite. We were introduced to Suat Nguyen, an electrical engineering student from Vietnam. Mr. Nguyen came to the Netherlands to study solar engineering to help his village at home. In his home village, he explained that there isn’t constant electricity, and the electricity will regularly shut off without any notice. He also explained that his parents are paying for his education, and because it is too expensive to live close by, he lives 100 km away. This means he wakes up at 4:30 each morning and travels 2 hours by train to reach his internship site.
Mr. Nguyen gave us a personal tour of the area of his work, including showing us the model boat, which is quite a bit smaller than the final project, and the final electrical boxes that he and his friends created, which will be placed under the solar panel on the finished boat.
Suat Nguyen with the electrical boxes
I was impressed with the commitment the QConcepts firm shows toward developing young minds and improving the future of its home region. This experience also reaffirmed what my research has been telling me about the way forward for higher education: increased collaboration with industry, increased practical application for students, and increased interdisciplinarity.