U!REKA SHIFT Brussels Kick-Off Meeting

6 Mar 2024 17:10 | Communication

Koen Van Damme, Engagement Leader of U!REKA European University, reflects on two days in February in Brussels to kick off the U!REKA European University project.

Starting the journey towards fully-fledged U!REKA European University

When you immerse yourself in a brand-new project, it can go one of two ways: either you immediately engage and derive energy from it, or your energy doesn’t align with the purpose and goals of the project, and you find yourself sitting it out, making the best of it.

The two-day meeting to kick off the U!REKA European University project with our executive committee started with informal talks over pizza and drinks on Sunday evening. It set the tone for what would become a genuinely connective process over the following couple of days. Getting acquainted with one another that first evening involved jokes, laughter, some Leffe, and a brief but clear insight into the two-day program ahead.

U!REKA European University is a funded Erasmus+ project officially launched at the beginning of 2024. Six European Universities of Applied Sciences unite with 26 associate partners to co-create an inter-university campus. The main goal is to foster challenge-based, collaborative learning, advancing the transition towards climate-neutral and smart European cities. In shaping the U!REKA urban professional of the future, we aim to reflect the European identity and values of inclusion, freedom, equality, rule of law, and human rights.

Crucial for the quality execution of a project this size is a clear and mutual understanding of the main objectives and work plan, translated into practical tasks, milestones, and deliverables. But even more crucial is the quality of the team behind it. Stepping in or not heavily depends on how cohesive the atmosphere is and how much trust and willingness everyone involved wants to invest. The engagement and commitment of the people responsible for the execution determine the level of cohesion throughout the project and its impact on all involved parties (students, staff, external stakeholders, citizens).

Building the U!REKA European University is an ambitious project, no doubt. After one day of meetings and informal gatherings, we already found common ground on our project approach as an executive committee by establishing the values as a collaboration of work package leaders. We addressed unclear concepts and KPIs in the initial proposal, discussed strategies to foster engagement throughout execution, and considered communication and branding tactics.

Thanks to the splendid organization of the Helsinki EU Office (thanks @rosakotoaro) and the insightful program design by the main coordinator @monaroman and her smart @Metropolia team, we were able to achieve significant progress on day one. Day two was truly motivating. We met inspirational people who are already on board towards a sustainable Europe, making a difference and eager to share best practices openly, reaching out to collaborate. Impressive individuals who truly believe in what they do (thanks @errin @eitclimatekic @eciufoundation @olgawessels @zeronetcities @eurashe @johnedwards @eurocities).

There was a genuinely collaborative atmosphere that grew stronger with each passing hour, but above all, we felt that as humans, we were on a mission to be of service within a purpose that is much larger than us. Realizing that with this project within the European higher education area, we can build a more sustainable and collaborative Europe. That sense of community is what we need the most, from within, outwards. It starts with genuine networking, evolves into mutual understanding, and culminates in a shared commitment to the belief that we will make this work, for ourselves, our students and staff, our regions, Europe, and the next generations to come.

Koen Van Damme
Engagement Leader, U!REKA European University