Stories#042 Bolanle's drive to improve

#042 Bolanle's drive to improve

The story of Marijke's eye for different backgrounds is a story of Bolanle's drive to improve

Marijke Stehouwer is involved in international affairs and education. And in inclusion. As a former study advisor, she is always interested in students’ lives and stories. It is hard to think of a more interesting conversation partner for her than Bolanle Idowu, a highly motivated international master’s student with great ambitions for improving lives. ‘Why wouldn't I take action? It's just about making up your mind and starting.’

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Friday 30 July 2021

A perfectionist's view on improving people’s lives

Marijke: ‘We haven’t met, right? I am Marijke, I work as the coordinator for international education at the Faculty of Engineering Technology. I’m also involved in the Shaping Expert Group Inclusion, focusing on students and employees with a disability. And who are you?’

Bolanle: ‘I am Bolanle, a master’s student in Public Administration. I wanted to learn about policy making and how governments can improve people's lives. I love to have a positive impact on people’s lives, and talk to people about how they could improve. That’s what I am good at.

‘Before I came to Twente, I went to university in Nigeria and the UK, and I worked at a telecommunications company for about 15 years. I am married and have three children, all boys. When I came here in 2018, to do my pre-master's, I left my kids back in my home country.’

Marijke: ‘Wow. Are your children with you now?’

Bolanle: ‘Yes, they are with me now. I'm glad, because I had some health issues. I have lupus, an auto-immune condition which can cause aches and fatigue. I have had it for almost eleven years now, and have been able to manage it well. But last year I was really ill. I had to stop writing my thesis for about six months, because I couldn't remember things. That was a shame, because I love learning. If I have the chance, I will keep learning for the rest of my life.’

Marijke: ‘Yeah, go for it! When you were introducing yourself, you said that you want to have a positive impact on people's lives. How do you go about that?’

Bolanle: ‘I mentor about 150 women. In my previous job, I chose to get to know the staff of about 500 people, even though I didn’t have to. I felt that connecting with them would help them improve. And as they improved, the company would as well. Other people may think: this person is not good enough, but they probably didn’t really try to find out what the person is good at.’

Marijke: ‘But 150 women! You must be on the phone all day!’

Bolanle: ‘I’m on the phone a lot, yes. But I don’t mind.’

Marijke: ‘What did you learn about yourself from all your coaching and mentoring?’

Bolanle: ‘I’ve learned that I expect a lot from myself and from others. I’m a perfectionist. I want to excel at all times. It took me a long time to realise that that’s not possible. I think I've accepted that now.’

‘May I ask you a question? You said something about the Shaping Expert Group Inclusion. Can you tell me what that is about?’

Marijke: ‘We are one of six Shaping Expert Groups in the Shaping2030 programme. The group consists of students and employees from all faculties and backgrounds. We try to define where the UT stands regarding inclusion and what kind of mindset we expect from our students and employees. And we try to create awareness. Depending on who you talk to, the level of awareness differs a lot. How has your experience at UT been so far?’

Bolanle: ‘I’ve always felt welcome. I did struggle a bit when I started my pre-master's. In my class I was practically the only person of colour. So obviously, when I would walk into class, I was very self-conscious. But after a week, I got used to it, and it was fine. Actually, I told my eldest son to go to UT after he finishes his International Baccalaureate.’

Marijke: ‘That must mean that you feel at home at UT.’

Bolanle: ‘Yes, I think UT has positively impacted my life. And I have already tried doing something back for new UT students. I joined a committee that works on improving the wellbeing of students.’

‘I don't want other people going through the same difficulties I went through regarding my health issues. When I came to the Netherlands, the student insurance would not cover medical expenses for students with a pre-existing condition. That doesn't make sense. You can't tell people that, because they are diabetic or have high blood pressure, the insurance will not cover them. People shouldn't be punished for what they did not bring upon themselves. I was excited to see that for the next generations of students, this has been fixed.’

Marijke: ‘Do you feel that projects on student wellbeing should be introduced everywhere? For example, at your alma mater in Nigeria?’

Bolanle: ‘Well, I left that university a long time ago, so I wouldn't know if they have a programme regarding student wellbeing. But every school in the world should care about these issues. When students do well, the school will do well. I do hope that someday in the future the schools in Nigeria will do more. I sometimes speak about it to people who work in education there. They often say: “Oh, Bolanle, why would you bother?” But why wouldn't I bother? If this is happening in other parts of the world, why can't we do it? People talk to me about the stress I would endure. But there's no stress, it's just about making up your mind and starting from where you are. That's it.’

Marijke: ‘I think we should finish on that note. It is something many people should take to heart, also at UT. Instead of talking for too long, we just need to start taking action.’


studied in Groningen and Newcastle (United Kingdom) and started her career in education as an English teacher - first in secondary education, later in higher education. She has been working at UT since 2009. She started as a study advisor and bachelor coordinator at TNW and, after various positions at UT, has been the coordinator of International Affairs with a focus on education at the Engineering Technology faculty since September 2020. She is also part of the Shaping Expert Group Inclusion.

Bolanle Idowu MSc (1975)

is a master’s student in Public Administration with corporate communication – her third master’s degree after an MBA in Human Resources at Lagos State University and an MSc in Service Management at the University of Buckingham. Before coming to UT, Bolanle worked at MTN Nigeria for over fifteen years as a Senior Customer Relationship Partner. She is married and has three children. Next to her studies, she runs a coaching business and a female fashion accessory business.