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#048 Bé's attention to 'the person' behind the job

The story of Theo's soccer metaphors is a story of Bé's attention to 'the person' behind the job

As the dean of the school of Behavioral, Management and Social Sciences (BMS), Theo Toonen would like to see people from 'his' social faculty collaborate more with the technicians at UT. Today he interviews project manager Bé Meerman, who embodies that connection to a T. Starting out as a hardcore IT person, he now enjoys the social side of his job, as project manager of educational innovations. “Ultimately, it's about people, not technology.”

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Monday 13 September 2021

IT is human work

Theo: ‘Where does the name Bé come from?’

Bé: 'I was born and raised in Groningen and my Christian name is Berend. In Groningen everyone is called Berend Bé. That's just the abbreviation. Only my passport says Berend, I always use Bé myself.'

Theo: 'How long have you lived in Twente?'

Bé: ‘I have lived in Enschede since 1983, because my wife got a job here. You live where you earn your living. Within a month after we moved, I was able to start working at UT as an IT administrator.'

Theo: 'All I found online about you was a brief LinkedIn profile. You are also not on Facebook. Is this the experience of an engineer who does not trust the system?'

Be: ‘Haha, well, no. I'm just not that active on social media. And my LinkedIn doesn't even mention that I was in the army for six years, with a NATO unit in Germany - before my time at UT. I worked in an Air Force missile unit. We had to keep 'the red menace' (The Russians) at bay in case they flew in with bad intentions. I had to leave due to a reorganisation.’

Theo: ‘Sounds like you thought that was a shame?’

Bé: 'Yes, I had a lot of fun in those six years. I am quite athletic, and there was often little work, so I had a lot of time to fully indulge in sport.’

“During an ultrarun you sometimes get a glimpse into someone's life. Those are very special moments”
Bé Meerman

Theo: 'Are you also the trail runner who ran 200 kilometers in Portugal in 2019? I came across that tidbit in my Google search.’ 

Bé: ‘Indeed I am. I have run over a hundred marathons in my life. Many ultramarathons (races of more than 42 kilometers) and in recent years mainly trails. Next September I will walk across the Pyrenees in Spain in seven days.'

Theo: 'Where does that passion come from?' 

Bé: ‘Well, call it an addiction. I have been running since I was 22 and especially enjoy the physical challenge. I also enjoy training. To push your limits every time. Fortunately, my body can handle it well.’ 

Theo: ‘What do you think about while you’re running?’

Bé: 'The great thing about running is that you can daydream, so my thoughts are all over the place. In addition, when you get tired, you become more emotional. This sometimes results in very special encounters and stories. During ultratrails, I regularly meet up with complete strangers on stretches where you have to hike because of the steep, rugged terrain. People sometimes tell very personal things, you get a glimpse into someone's life. Those are beautiful moments.’ 

Theo: 'What do Bé the trail runner and Bé the project manager have in common?'

Bé: 'I think trail running mainly has similarities with how I do my work. For example: social contact and persevering are both also important in my work. When I’m working on a project, I keep the goal in mind, just like on a trail. Even within projects, the route is not fixed in advance and you need to have an eye for other people.'

Theo: 'What is the challenge in your work?'

Bé: 'In my team (Technology Enhanced Learning Teaching (TELT)) we support lecturers with educational innovations. Nowadays they often have an IT component. A lecturer will often have a wild idea and a nice tool from the internet. But how can you make such a tool applicable for teaching purposes? This involves a bit of tech, but you also have to listen carefully to what a lecturer exactly wants. What is the thinking behind it?’

Theo: 'Shouldn't we just abolish lectures and put nice slick videos online? That also worked during Covid-times.’

Bé: 'That could work. But professors and lecturers have told me they miss giving lectures. I think because of the interaction with the students. Lecturers are scared that if the lectures are only online, students will scroll through them too quickly. I also found it remarkable that management wants to abolish lectures, but those in the educational field really want to keep teaching that way.'

“It's about people, not technology. So, make sure you can always get along”
Bé Meerman

Theo: 'What is the most important lesson you have learned during your career?'

Bé: ‘In the end, everything revolves around people, not around technology. Everything is human work. Make sure you understand each other well and that you can always get along, that's my motto. Especially important when things get heated, and opinions differ.'

‘During Covid-times I have personally experienced that informal contacts are as important - if not more important - than formal ones. If you pop by a colleague in person to ask a question, you get a lot more information – not only in terms of content, but also on a personal level.’

Theo: 'Traditionally, the distance between central services and the faculties has been pretty big. How can you improve this?’

Bé: 'What would help is if people from central services work in a faculty for a while. That way we can, as educational support staff, better understand how teachers work and what they struggle with. On the other hand, there is more understanding from the faculties for central services and what obstacles they run into.'

‘I think the collaboration between central services and the faculties has already improved considerably, but it could be even better. Because of the Acceleration Plan (39 universities and Universities of Applied Sciences are working together on opportunities that digitisation offers for higher education in the Netherlands), we now see each other every month, which is a good start.'

Theo: 'Or should we all go for a run?' 

Bé: ‘That would be great – under all circumstances. For everyone.'

PROF. DR. THEO TOONEN (1952)

studied Political Science and (economic) Public Administration at Radboud University Nijmegen. At the invitation of the later (2009) Nobel prizewinner Elinor Ostrom, he wrote most of his dissertation (Erasmus University, 1987) in the United States. He was professor and Dean at the Technical University of Delft and Leiden University. He was also policy advisor, among others for the Ministers of Home Affairs, Social Affairs, Education and Science, and the Dutch Water Authorities. Theo became the Dean of the BMS Faculty at UT in 2015.

Bé Meerman (1957)

studied technical business administration at Saxion University of Applied Sciences. He has been working at UT for 31 years. He started working in 'hard IT' as a server administrator and slowly moved into project management. While he used to concentrate on bits and bytes, he mostly works with people now. As a project manager, he supervises projects to improve educational support. He is also coordinator of the Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching (TELT) team that supports teachers with educational innovations.