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A talented improviser who kept spirits up during COVID-19

A talented improviser who kept spirits up during COVID-19

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UM exams co-ordinator Anja Ronken wins employee prize

MAASTRICHT. No, she doesn’t make the exams herself and she doesn’t transport the piles of paper to the MECC either, but for everything else that has to do with exams in one of the large halls, you need to speak to Anja Ronken. She is the central exams co-ordinator at Maastricht University and obviously she does that so well that it earned her one of the employee prizes 2020. 

Yes, she has worked hard this past year: “We had to start all over again, rethink everything. I could never have done it without all the people around me. They worked just as hard. I am really grateful for that.” Those people include the exam co-ordinators, (head) supervisors, hall managers, in short: everyone who ensures that testing in the MECC even during COVID-19 runs smoothly and safely. Partly because of Ronken’s efforts, the jury report states, students have had as little delay as possible in their studies in these difficult times. She is praised for her talent to improvise (quick, skilful and reacting adroitly to the completely new situation caused by the pandemic), her flexibility (new insights? Let’s include them!), her modesty and her tremendous sense of responsibility. Moreover, and not unimportantly, she managed to keep spirits up during this difficult time, the report says.

400 students maximum

In addition to other tasks, Ronken has been responsible for the exams in the MECC for the past ten years, but in march 2020 the smoothly running machine grinded to a halt. Everything was cancelled. It wasn’t until 23 September that students showed up there again to take exams. During the time in-between, Ronken was not idle, far from it. “We started writing scenarios, what can we do when we can get started again? What will we need so that things can run smoothly?” She called in the help of an agency that had acquired expertise at the university of Hasselt in spring. “Why would you want to reinvent the wheel yourself? You can come up with most of the things yourself, but it was nice that they could give us a push.” She sums it up: fewer students in the hall (not 1,800 at a time but a maximum of 400), for hygienic reasons no three exams but two each day, and those may last a maximum of two hours because students are not allowed to use the toilets during exams, pedestrian routes, sufficient facemasks, tables far enough apart, a large screen that lists again (everyone receives an e-mail beforehand with the rules) all COVID-19 rules, et cetera, et cetera.

High-risk group

In all this, Ronken had but one goal: having everything run as safely as possible, for both the students and the employees. “Initially, there were people who felt that the measures were very extreme, but afterwards, when it appeared that nobody had become infected, even though there were students present who had no symptoms but were contagious, they were very glad. It motivated people to be even more attentive.” And that is necessary, because Ronken has noticed that it hasn’t got through to all the students what exactly the risks are. “So, you do all in your power to avoid infection inside and then you see them hugging each other outside after an exam. I do understand, they are happy that it is over and done, but still.”

Ronken is “extremely happy” with the prize. “It feels like recognition for that which we achieved together. I am proud of that. It wasn’t difficult, but it was a lot of work. I have a busy job, with eight to nine peaks a year. Normally, I can manage it in 32 hours, but not this year.”

The UM employee prize is awarded every year to two people who have been nominated by their colleagues. The prize consists of honour, a certificate, flowers and a meal voucher worth 500 euro. The presentation did not take place during the New Year’s drinks party, as is customary – the event being cancelled because of COVID-19 – but at a later time.

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