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Meet the Dean of EEMCS

From a town on the outskirts of Amsterdam to the rural campus of Twente. Joost Kok has made many steps to lead up to his position as Dean at the EEMCS faculty of the University of Twente. We were able to ask him some questions to shed some light on his flourishing career and what is to come for the EEMCS faculty.

After he is asked to give a small introduction, Joost Kok takes us back to his youth:

“I grew up in a small town of Muiderberg. It is on the outskirts of Amsterdam. It is the Dutch gateway to the polder of Flevoland. If you drive from Amsterdam to Almere, you will cross a bridge. On that corner you will find Muiderberg.”

In this small town which is right next to the IJmeer and the Gooimeer (two lakes), there was plenty of for Joost Kok to work on his aquatic skills. He practised many water related sports from windsurfing to water polo.

The new Dean went to primary school here but went to high school in the larger town of Bussum. Here he went to the same school as Dutch celebrities such as Ron Brandsteder and …. After this came a tough decision, namely which University to attend.

At this point, Twente has definitely crossed Kok’s mind, “but then I had to visit Enschede to find a room, so then I thought lets live at home for a year and study in Amsterdam which is how I ended up at mathematics.”

So, mathematics in Amsterdam?

“Yes, Computer Science did not exist, so all you could do was Mathematics and a specialisation in Computer Science. The first time you could study Computer Science in Amsterdam was in 1981.”

We hear you previously worked in Leiden, what did you do in the past?

“I have lived a year in Finland after which I moved to Utrecht. Before I moved to Twente I have worked for 23 years in Leiden.”

You have worked for 23 years in Leiden and you have been working in Twente for half a year, are there large differences between the two universities?

The University of Leiden is a diverse University, one with many different studies. So it is what you could call a comprehensive University. Twente is more technical although we cannot really give it that name. The scope is smaller here when compared to Leiden. In Leiden they educate 28.000 students whereas here in Twente there are ‘only’ 12.000 students. So Leiden is twice as large.

What is your opinion on the sizes of these Universities?

In Twente, some things are definitely smaller, but you could also name it more transparent. In Leiden the University buildings are scattered around the city whereas Twente has a true campus.

What are the advantages of having a campus?

Well, it is not that small. Although I have the feeling that you are more closely connected to what is going on. I have the feeling that this University plays a large role in the area of Twente. The University has much contact with companies in the region. Many of these companies largely depend on the University and it’s students and staff. This connection is far less strong in the Randstad.”

Could you elaborate on this?

The University of Twente shows more passion, they are still strongly connected to the region of Twente than they are in Leiden. Leiden focusses on the world. They have been sending students to China for the past 200 years.

Does this ‘local’ vision clash with the vision the Executive Board of the University to become more international?

I do not believe the Executive Board focusses on that. Internationalisation is an important focus point but if you look at the relation with German Universities, there is a large difference. The closest University to Twente is the University of Munster in Germany, which is significantly closer than any Dutch University. This creates interesting opportunities to work together. If the Brexit continues, the collaboration between the Netherlands and Germany becomes more important. Twente is on the border of both countries and can provide an interesting angle.

Would you say interesting developments are a brew, especially in the Twente and Ruhr regions?

Yes, I believe collaborations will become more intensive. We will be working together on many things. Especially regarding energy, this does not stop at the border of a country. Being on the border it becomes interesting to create ‘Energy test gardens’.

Are there any plans in development yet?

No, this is still something we have to work out, but we are working on starting up these kind of projects. We are in a luxury position at this moment. The number of students is growing. There are sectorplans which allow us to invest in fundamental research. This combination provides a good vantage point as we are continuously growing and we can decide what we want to invest in.

So you have the freedom to work on these kind of projects?

For us this is a major opportunity. Sometimes I compare our situation to Eindhoven, they set them selves up close to Philips. Here, companies are setting up around our University.

Hearing this answer it seems there are no worked out plans yet?

“Well, we are very much thinking about this. It is a two-sided affair. For these kind of projects research groups have to work together. This can be extended beyond faculty borders. It does not only involve Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science. There are numerous topics such as; energy and data science which you cannot simply place with one research group but with the expertise of a number of research groups. It is demanding on the faculty to be able to complete such tasks.”

After looking closely at the similarities and differences of Leiden and Twente we were also interested in the difference between the new Dean and the predecessor, Peter Apers. Apers was in charge until the 1st of February when he passed on the responsibilities to Joost Kok and could enjoy his emeritus. Are there things in the past few months that have drawn your attention or were disappointing?

I have developed a strong admiration for Peter Apers because he was able to manage things fantastically. The Natural Gas Revenues (Aardgasbaten) project is something that has given the whole Computer Science scene in Twente a boost which has been flourishing since.

After my appointment this new dynamic situation started in which we have a lot of freedom to invest. We are able to meet goals a year before they are due. It is the foundation Apers built upon which I can build. It is a special kind of situation that we ended up in.

It became clear that the transition in the faculty provided a great platform for change an innovation. One could name many different examples as to what the faculty can improve upon. In the long run however, this continuing growth will cause problems because of the limited space. We were interested to see if the faculty is already anticipating these problems.

Are there any plans to expend and make more room for the growing faculty?

We are working on this and are looking at the future moves. Research groups will move from Carré and to the new Techmed Centre. This might be the perfect opportunity to claim more space for Electrical Engineering labs. At the same time we should look at improving the efficiency and utilisation of the already available labs. For this we need to cross faculty borders. An example would be data science, this is a growing field which needs to be tackled by multiple faculties. How would you like to see these fading boundaries?

You can already see a change with some chairs, they are already crossing the borders of research groups and even faculties.

It seems like TOM could play a role in this.

“This is part of the philosophy of TOM. It is a unique feature that we have hear in Twente. Besides this there are some limitations to TOM. It is a discussion I follow closely.”

With this final piece of information we see that Joost Kok has great plans for the future. The boundaries between faculties should be removed to make way for the seemingly unstoppable grow that has currently taken hold of the EEMCS faculty. To conclude we asked him what role the students should play in this puzzle. What is a last piece of advice you would give to the students?

The students must realise that Electrical Engineering has an enormous potential. The knowledge of your subject is exactly what the world needs now. Electrical Engineering has reality on the one hand and the limits of nature on the other. Something you could call the ‘Wisdom of Nature’. The combination is something very interesting. You should realise the power that is in your hands with Electrical Engineering.