Text: Majken Ravnkilde

Photos: BEST

Studying to become an engineer is usually focused on being rationally and logically thinking. It’s usually about being able to understand technical terms and using complicated math and programs. Although this is what is typically the focus of the student organisation Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) seems to have a very different and quite controversial approach to being an engineer student.

One of their core values is connecting people, employers and engineer students in Europe. The organization in itself is student based and quite spectacular since they not only have a wonderful and warm environment with a huge amount of teamwork and the cutest mascot ever, PANDA (pretty and awesome), but also focus on networking and developing soft skills as well as having technical debates. I’ve talked to two of their members about just this:
Studying to become an engineer is usually focused on being rationally and logically thinking. It’s usually about being able to understand technical terms and using complicated math and programs. Although this is what is typically the focus of the student organisation Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) seems to have a very different and quite controversial approach to being an engineer student.

Mathias Gam-Pedersen

  • Age: 21
  • Study: Bachelor of software engineering
  • Vice President of Public Relations
  • Member for 1 year
Vidthdyan Veeravakaran

  • Age: 25
  • Study: Bachelor of biotechnology
  • Vice President of Human Resources
  • Member for 1 year

Q: Why is it important for the engineering students to have social, networking events and exchanges?

Mathias: These courses that we have done are like complimentary education. For example, we had one of the best programmers who made an encryption for keeping codes and passwords secure come and teach at one of these courses. So often it’s super experienced lecturers we have at the courses which are also available for the external students, meaning that they are available for all AAU engineer students, even if they are not a member. Besides that, we also have other courses where we try to develop our own members who organize all these courses in regard to soft skills, like public speaking.

Vidthdyan: In example, I went to a summer course in Spain, where the main topic of the 12-day-course was biomedical imaging techniques. At some point, we sat down at a round table where 3 or 4 professors came and just spoke with us and gave us the opportunity to ask questions. In regard to the soft skills we teach at our courses, I think they are just as important as all the technical work because you can know a lot of things, but if you can’t explain it to people or teach it to them or give them some insight, then it’s almost useless.

Question: What have you gained from being in BEST?

Mathias: I have been travelling a lot, we counted yesterday, and I’ve been to 5 or 6 countries with BEST. All of them to events where you meet other members, so you get a huge network in regard to other engineer students from other universities. In example, one of the events were our general assembly where our 97 local groups around Europe each send two or more people, so we were around 250 people, and I got to talk with a lot of people and I had a huge cultural input to better gain some perspective on what we are doing here in BEST. From being a member, you get a different point of view and you get an appreciation of what we have in Denmark. On a deeper level, you also get some really great friends that you’re connected with even after you graduate which gives you the opportunity to work all over Europe.

Vidthdyan: I’ve been to two countries through BEST, and I’ve met so many people. When you go to a country it doesn’t mean that you only meet people from that particular country, you meet people from all over Europe. It’s insane how much you learn about other cultures and how they work, which gives you a different view on things. And these people I’ve met I get to meet them again. We all stay in touch, some through the organization and others face to face.

Q: How do you tackle the task of handling the HR and PR departments of the organization, when soft skills are not the focus of your education?

V: In general, my task is monitoring every member. I keep track of what they do, help them if they need some training, evaluate whether they are ready to go and contribute to the international board, or work at our other departments we have internationally. But also to try and keep up a good spirit here in BEST.

M: In general, my position as PR is promoting and making sure that local students know about BEST and the opportunities we offer so that they can have the opportunity to travel.  I go to events, do organizing work and Facebook promotions. In example, this summer we had 25 people coming from all over Europe to discuss higher education. So we had this symposium on education for 9 days, where they spent the entire time just discussing higher education which was then made into papers to be published. We as local BEST group Aalborg organized the logistics about the event, meaning that we were in charge of the social aspect in the evening, making sure that they had a place to sleep and a place to study. Our international department of education then took care of organizing the discussions and such.

Q: Do you think that working with people from different educational backgrounds would benefit the general workforce and the institutions in society?

Mathias: It would definitely be a good idea to work together, because in the real world when we go out to the companies we need to work together anyways. There are some things that engineering students are really good at, and some things that humanists are really good at, and if they work together and find the middle ground then everything turns out much better. When you combine different educations, you get a group of perspectives and more interesting discussions, so it’s not just one type of discussion going on. Often, at times in engineering it can maybe get a bit logical and we often want a certain structure on everything, where I think humanists are more philosophical in regard to approaching things, so a combination of the two is really great so you get both perspectives instead of just one. Here at AAU, unfortunately, we don’t have that many organizations that go across studies, we actually only have Studentersamfundet.

Vidthdyan: As I see it, the university right now is a bit split up, we have different locations for every department. Which gives them an opportunity to make a group themselves and mock the others a bit.

What I’ve witnessed, when encountering with this organization, is a surprisingly tight and warm place for engineers who want to be able to offer more than just numbers to a future employer. At a university where the faculties and studies are very separated and not many cross-study activities take place, this organization really takes it upon themselves to enlighten engineers in what would be qualified as a more humane approach to education, and thereby doing their part to closing the gap of ignorance and mockery between faculties.