VU New Year's Gala 2020

Students and teachers take home awards at VU gala

Proud students and lecturers received their awards during the Hollywood-themed New Year’s Gala on 23 January at VU Amsterdam. We have listed the winners for you below.

Gasten arriveren over de rode loper

The winners

Winnaar van de VU Bachelorscriptieprijs 2020 Harry King

Bachelor’s thesis award
The theses of William Harry King (Faculty of Science) and Sem Duijndam (Faculty of Science) were the chosen university favourites out of 18 Bachelor’s theses and 11 Master’s theses respectively. Harry King developed a kernel for an operating system that automatically resolves its own errors and could contribute to the security of computer systems. An exceptional achievement for a Bachelor’s student, as the only comparable kernel was developed by specialists with over twenty man-years of combined experience. Advalvas interviewed the winner (in Dutch).

Winnaar van de VU Masterscriptieprijs 2020 Sem Duijndam

Master’s thesis award
The economic assessment Sem Duijndam performed on the Simson Bay Lagoon in Saint Martin is currently being used to determine the island’s environmental policy. According to the jury, his work shows that it is possible for students to have an impact on the world around them. Advalvas interviewed Sem Duijndam about his thesis (in Dutch).

Scriptieprijsgenomineerden 2020 v.l.n.r. Romy Kooiman, Wing Hee Fung, Graziëlle Eind, Maartje van de Koppel, Harry King en Sem Duijndam

All nominees for the thesis awards: from left to right, Romy Kooiman, Wing Hee Fung, Graziëlle Eind, Maartje van de Koppel, Harry King and Sem Duijndam

Winnaar van de StudenTalentprijs 2020 Dymphe Mensink

Student Talent Award
Dymphe Mensink (Faculty of Law) impressed the jury with her entrepreneurial mindset and drive: “The apparent ease with which she tackles new projects and brings together the right people for the job is nothing short of impressive. We are convinced that she will be able to achieve all of her goals in social law and legal tech”. Ms Mensink’s ability to combine social engagement, corporate entrepreneurship and excellent study results make her a wonderful example to her fellow students at VU Amsterdam.

Watch the video about Dymphe. Curious about the other nominees for the Student Talent Award? Meet Amel Labeab and Tamana Alozai.

De twee andere genomineerden voor de StudenTalentprijs, Amel Labeab (l) en Tamana Alozai (r) met winnares Dymphe Mensink

From left to right: Amel Labeab, Dymphe Mensink and Tamana Alozai.

Winnaar van de DocenTalentprijs Teun Zuiderent-Jerak

Teacher Talent Award
For the Teacher Talent Award, students get to nominate their teachers. Teun Zuiderent-Jerak (Faculty of Science) was selected to receive the award. This year the Teacher Talent Award intended to shine the spotlight on teachers who make a difference in the lives of students who, in this day and age, are expected to find their own way at their universities from day one of their study programmes. According to the jury, Teun Zuiderent-Jerak motivates his students to look beyond the boundaries of academia, relates to the world around him and links developments in and outside his area of expertise. He challenges his students to become more self-aware. Advalvas interviewed the winner (in Dutch).

Zainab Assy en Giulia Ranzini met winnaar Teun Zuiderent

Zainab Assy (2nd from left), Giulia Ranzini (4th from left) and award winner Teun Zuiderent, with the students who introduced them.

Innovation Award
The jury says the Startup Clinic introduces “a promising and unique method of cooperation that shows great potential for further development.” In this project, a course is set up in which law students advise startups on legal matters, under the supervision of law firms. The jury believes high praise is in order for the innovative nature of the project, and sees opportunities for a similar setup in other disciplines. These courses could boost entrepreneurship education through the inclusion of a community-service-learning aspect.  

Een opgetogen Kaylee Zournas, met collega's Marcelle Reneman en Jan Gooijer, ontvangt met team Startup Clinic de Innovatieprijs

A delighted Kaylee Zournas, together with colleagues Marcelle Reneman and Jan Gooijer from the Startup Clinic team, received the Innovation Prize.


Watch the Startup Clinic video and the videos of the other nominated teams, United against loneliness and the team that developed an app to identify students who are suffering from stress.

Tribute to the supporter
In addition to students and teaching staff, support staff Behzad Harampanahi and Abdeslam Buharouk also got a moment in the spotlight. According to their colleagues, they deserved a tribute and presenter Ernest van der Kwast did the honours.

Abdeslam Buharouk

Read the tribute to Abdeslam Buharouk (in Dutch)

Behzad Harampanahi

Read the tribute to Behzad Harampanahi (in Dutch)

The red carpet photos made during the event are available at

Photos: VU Amsterdam/Marieke Wijntjes

Thousands of students sweat over thousands of theses every year. But whose theses are the best? Emeritus lecturers at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam choose the winner from three nominees for each prize. The winners each receive €2,000. 

The nominees for the Bachelor Thesis Award are:

Wing Hee Fung
Wing Hee Fung
Biomedical Sciences

'Mitochondrial Dysfunction of the Blood Brain Barrier in Multiple sclerosis'
Harry King
Harry King
Computer Science

'Development Tools & Techniques for a More Robust Operating System'
Maartje vd Koppel
Maartje van de Koppel
Political Science

'Patriots or party loyalists? The influence of national and party group affiliations on voting on Russia in the European Parliament'

The nominees for the Master Thesis Award are:

Sem Duijndam
Sem Duijndam
Environment and Resource Management

'Managing coastal lagoon ecosystems in the Caribbean'
Grazielle Eind
Graziëlle Eind

'Intersectionaliteit binnen de Europese richtlijnen: Een onderzoek naar de erkenning van het hebben van meerdere identiteiten
binnen het Europese recht'
Romy Kooiman
Romy Kooiman
Business Administration, Leadership and Change Management

'The Role of Labeling in Employee's Absenteeism Duration'

Education at VU Amsterdam would be impossible without the help of support staff, who all keep the university running on the basis of their own expertise. Two of these support staff members will be put in the spotlight by writer Ernest van der Kwast during the New Year's Gala. They will also receive an award.

Students from each faculty have nominated their best young teacher for this prize. The nominees have a chance of winning the €4,000 prize, to be spent on education at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. 

The nominees are:

Zainab Assy
Zainab Assy, Dentistry, Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam
Students tend to hang around after Zainab's lectures to ask her more questions. Her positive energy is contagious. Students describe her as a "very passionate and unique lecturer" with a tremendous drive to provide perfect and highly educational lectures every day. Zainab is always up-to-date with new developments, which enables her to properly link her field of expertise to current events.
Giulia Ranzini
Giulia Ranzini, Communication Science, Faculty of Social Sciences Giulia always puts her students' needs first and adapts her lectures accordingly. She makes her lectures even more appealing by empathizing with her students and discussing topics from their point of view. Giulia allows plenty of room for interaction and dialogue, before, during and after her lectures. She inspires students and pushes boundaries.
Teun Zuiderent-Jerak
Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, Global Health, Faculty of Science Teun offers students a different perspective on reality, for example by spontaneously sending them out to do fieldwork. Learning from each other and applying best practices are central to his teaching. He inspires students to see health in a broader context and to look beyond their own discipline. Teun's approach is all about collaboration, innovation and making contacts.

The Student Talent Award is presented annually to a student who not only achieves great marks, but who also demonstrates an ability to put the concept of ‘academic development’ into practice in a ground-breaking way. The winner receives €4,000.

The nominees:

Dymphe Mensink

Dymphe Mensink
Bachelor's student of Law

Dymphe has enormous willpower and the ability to push boundaries. And she not only uses her talents for VU Amsterdam – other people are equally important to Dymphe. She teaches students on behalf of Amnesty International, for example, and has founded the Student Idea Network, where students from different universities support organizations with organizational issues. Dymphe is a true entrepreneur: she was partly responsible for the Payly app – a payment system that allows you to use your phone to pay in a restaurant without first having to ask for the bill.

Tamana Alozai

Tamana Alozai
Master's student of Medicine

Born in an air-raid shelter in Kabul under harsh conditions, 25 years later Tamana is now working on the last part of her medical programme. Tamana is a busy bee: in addition to her studies, she participated in the student outpatient clinic, took additional anatomy courses and volunteered for Afghan women in her area. She spends her weekends working as a carer in nursing homes. As a student assessor of the faculty, she played a significant role in the improvement and innovation of education.

Amel Labeab

Amel Labeab
Master's student in Sociology 

Amel has shown guts by working with target groups and discussing topics that others consider 'difficult'. She gave guest lectures on sexual diversity at intermediate professional colleges and was a career mentor for the National Vacancy Bank (Nationale Vacaturebank) for people with a distance from the job market. With the photo project she set up, Amel initiated a dialogue about identity and the experience of identity, thereby ensuring increased mutual understanding. Within VU Amsterdam, Amel is involved with [email protected] and [email protected] Amel goes the extra mile to actively engage and connect students.

The Innovation Award serves to honour a team of employees who have developed a project aimed at improving educational practice or giving innovative substance to the educational vision of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. This may also involve a collaboration between lecturers, supporting staff, students and social actors. The winning team receives € 50,000 to execute their innovation.

The nominated teams are:

TeamInnovatieprijs Beta

United against loneliness: an interdisciplinary Community Service Learning project
The initiators of this project have shown that interdisciplinary cooperation is a rewarding and productive strategy. In this collaborative venture involving the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Social Sciences, students from four different degree programmes joined forces with their lecturers and social partners last year to work on the same theme: loneliness. Uniting different perspectives generated more in-depth knowledge, greater insight and more effective advice. If the project wins the Innovation Award, the prize money will be spent on expanding the cooperation. This will reinforce knowledge exchange between the programmes and enhance the project’s value to society. It will also result in the development of a framework that can be deployed when addressing other social themes.

Team members: Geertje Tijsma, Marijke Visser, Laura Schaap, Peer Smets, Renée de Wildt-Liesveld, Nanon Labrie, Wim Haan, Nadine Blignaut-Van Westrenen, Marjolein Zweekhorst

Team Innovatieprijs

'Does the Bachelor’s curriculum in Medical Sciences prepare students for uncertainty?'
This was the question posed by Micha Wilhelmus, who came up with a neuroanatomical app that exposes students to various levels of uncertainty using a ‘serious game’. This first step in this approach to study-related stress is to analyse what makes students feel uncertain. The results help identify students who are suffering from stress, making it possible to provide them with individual counselling to reduce the risk of dropping out. If the project wins the Innovation Prize, this unique application will be developed, implemented and expanded with the support of a multidisciplinary team from neuroanatomy and the Faculty of Medicine.

Team members: Micha Wilhelmus, Benjamin Drukarch, Ysbrand van der Werf, Franciska Koens, Rob van Leeuwen

Team Rechten

The Startup Clinic: a practical course for enterprising law students
The Startup Clinic is currently being developed with the aim of giving students the opportunity to help startup entrepreneurs with legal questions, under the supervision of experienced lawyers. Through an intensive collaboration with lawyers, a unique coaching process is established. The students gain practical experience, use their knowledge to make a societal impact and is introduced to the job market. In addition to legal lectures, the students also attend masterclasses in entrepreneurship. Skill development is an important part of the curriculum. The model for the Startup Clinic is based on interviews with students, lecturers and stakeholders. The Innovation Award would enable the course to undergo further development and run as a pilot in 2020-2021

Team members: Marcelle Reneman, Jan Gooijer, Kaylee Zournas