Meet the winners of this year's Student Awards

Best Master's Thesis Award goes to domestic violence study

studentenprijzen 2023. Foto: DUB
The 2023 Student Awards. Photos: DUB

The winners of this year's Student Awards were unveiled this Monday by UU's Vice-President Margot van der Starre, during the ceremony that marks the official beginning of the academic year. In addition to the Best Master's Thesis and the Exceptional Extracurricular Activity Award, the ceremony included the unveiling of the Vliegenthart Thesis Award. This is the first time that the latter is announced at the same time as the two others.

The Best Master's Thesis Award went to Anouk van Veldhoven, who graduated from the Multidisciplinary Economics programme. She will receive 1,500 euros as recognition for her thesis Interventions that disrupt the peace: intimate partner violence when edutainment is targeted at men, women or both. In this research, she studied ways to intervene in domestic violence cases. Between 30 and 40 percent of women around the world have been victims of violence in intimate relationships.

studentenprijzen 2023 Anouk van Veldhoven

Anouk van Veldhoven giving a speech after winning the Best Master's Thesis Award. Photo: DUB

Societal relevance
Her thesis analyses the impact of an "edutainment" intervention in Pakistan, a country ravaged by domestic violence. A theatrical performance was used to tackle the problem, and each performance was followed by a discussion between its makers and the audience.

She studied whether the impact of the performance changes if it's presented only to men, only to women or to a mixed audience. As it turns out, violence actually increases when the play is performed only to women or to couples. When there are only men in the audience, that doesn't happen.

According to the panel of judges, which was led by the Professor of Political History Christianne Smit, Anouk's thesis covers "an important topic with huge societal relevance and implications in terms of policy."

"This study underscores how important it is to take into account that interventions or development initiatives that focus on women can have unintentional negative consequences for them," says Van Veldhoven.

Although she's finished her thesis, she is surely not done with the research topic, which is why she is currently pursuing a PhD. As a PhD candidate, she will be expanding her research to include similar interventions in other countries, some of them in Europe.

The cholera epidemic of 1866
The two other nominees for the 2023 Best Master's Thesis Award were the History student Nelleke Tanis and the Educational Sciences student Sisi Chen. Tanis wrote a thesis about the financial consequences of the cholera epidemic faced by Utrecht in 1866, when more than 1,700 people died. She shows how the local community helped families during the outbreak and offered financial support to orphans and families who had lost their main breadwinner. According to the panel of judges, this thesis “is an exploration of society's ability to use existing social and financial arrangements to cope with a major medical and economic crisis.”

Socioeconomic status
The other nominee, Sisi Chen, wrote a thesis about how ethnicity and socioeconomic status influence the formation of bonds among people in the same age group. Most previous studies only focused on ethnicity, but Chen shows that socioeconomic status is more important than ethnicity when it comes to the formation of bonds. Kids with high socioeconomic status  – so, those with rich parents – are more appreciated by their peers. Teachers can also influence this popularity. "The stronger the bond with the teachers, the more the kid is considered cool by their peers," explains Chen.

studentenprijzen 2023 Sisi Chan Foto: DUB

Sisi Chen is the winner of the Vliegenthart Thesis Award. Photo: DUB

Chen lost the Best Thesis Award but she did get another prize, the Vliegenthart Thesis Award, a new addition to the Opening of the Academic Year. This isn't a new prize, it just used to be awarded at another point of the academic year. The Vliegenthart Thesis Award was created in 2004 to mark the retirement of Professor Hans Vliegenthart, who used to chair the Utrecht University Funds. Conceded yearly, it is meant as a recognition of outstanding Master's theses in the fields of life Sciences, humanities, natural sciences, the hard sciences or social sciences. The winner gets 2,000 euros.

A total of 35 Master's theses were running for the Best Master's Thesis award this year — a significant increase in relation to last year, when only 26 works were submitted. Most applications came from the Faculty of Science (11), followed by the Faculty of Social Sciences (9), Medicine (6), Humanities (6) and Law, Economics & Governance (3). No theses from Geosciences and Veterinary Medicine were in the running this year.

Exceptional extracurricular activity
The winners of the Exceptional Extracurricular Activity Award were also revealed today. This is a prize for a student or students who help tackle or solve social issues thanks to their extracurricular work.

According to the panel, the since-graduated Psychology students Angeliki Gianniou, Yashna Pande and Isabel Dahmen exerted the most societal influence with their project. They founded support groups for students who feel lonely (ConsciousConnections) and who are grieving the loss of a loved one (Good Mourning).

Both are peer-to-peer support groups and the founders participate in them as peers as well, holding intakes with interested students and directing them towards professional help when necessary. They also collaborate closely with UU's Wellbeing Week and share their experiences on a podcast. Thanks to these activities, they have managed to help 50 students.

"This initiative has had a significantly positive impact on students' mental health at a time when more and more students are struggling with mental health issues. It has played an essential role in creating an environment in which students can support and guide each other," said the panel of judges, to whom the project "contributes to a healthier and stronger student climate."

studentenprijzen 2023 Isabel Dahmen Foto: DUB

Isabel Dahmen takes the stage to accept the Exceptional Extracurricular Activity Award. Photo: DUB

The other nominees for the 2023 Exceptional Extracurricular Activity Award were VetInvolved, Van Hier Naar […] and Emperiod. The interdisciplinary platform Van Hier Naar […] is a collaborative work involving students from The New Utrecht School. It researches and analyses societal health issues such as the expansion of the healthcare system and the treatment of heart attacks.

Emperiod is a project that makes reusable menstrual pads in collaboration with local homeless shelters in Utrecht and the surrounding areas. Their goal is to combat period poverty in the Netherlands. As for VetInvolved, it is an initiative in which Medicine students organise discussions about topics that are relevant to doctors.