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Home@House of Connections: the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health

05 June 2023
Inside the House of Connections
Inside the House of Connections

Four Schools for Science & Society and the University of the North (UvhN) will operate from the House of Connections — part of the Groot Handelshuis — at the Grote Markt. Who will they collaborate with, what will they tackle first, and how will the House Of Connections support them to achieve their goals? This time: the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health. Eight questions for the managing director Frederic van Kleef.

With whom else will you collaborate at the House of Connections? And what kind of collaborations are you looking for?

The Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health is already closely tied to the Northern Netherlands via all sorts of networks, projects, and regular meetings. However, we are always open to new encounters with researchers and initiatives. We like to invite them to our work meetings, for instance. Most recently we received a visit from the Dutch Care Authority (NZa). We will also receive a visit from a researcher who recently obtained their PhD and will start working with the GGD Drenthe. Curiosity is at the core of our work. Internationally we are seeking partnerships with universities who, like us, aim to make a concrete impact on their region. There aren't so many of those, which surprised me. In that sense, the UG is a trailblazer with its Schools for Science & Society.

What will be your first focus after moving into the House of Connections?

Most important to us is that researchers and students find their way to the House of Connections. We really want to invest in that. In my experience, societal parties are easier to engage in creative talks and innovative projects than members of the academic community. Impact needs literal space to exist. Fortunately, the House of Connections provides such space.

How do you think that the House of Connections helps to reach the goals set by the AJSPH?

Our mission is: more healthy years for everyone. In order to realize that, collaboration between science, practice, and policy is essential. Such collaborations need a neutral space, where parties can get to know and trust each other on equal terms. I think the HoC will contribute to that trust, because it shows that the UG has invested in the meeting.

Frederic van Kleef
Frederic van Kleef

What do you look forward to most?

I'm always looking for the extremes of possibilities, also for such a building. Could we host a health film festival marathon deep into the night? Could we construct a temporary kitchen to cook healthy dishes according to current dietary advice? Could we bring in buses full of primary school pupils so we can introduce them to health science? These are all matters I would like to see tested. The first test will take place on Monday 26 June. We will be hosting about 200 participants for the Hackathon More Healthy Years. And yes, there will be dancing as well.

For what purposes can researchers turn to AJSPH?

We are happy to help researchers with an intrinsic curiosity for other fields and society. And we do love a slightly rebellious approach.

What makes you proud when looking at the previous year?

That's a trick question, as there is no single right answer. But all right then: I am very proud of the development of the minor which we organize in collaboration with vocational education institutions and universities of applied sciences, the so-called Expedition Healthy North (Expeditie het Gezonde Noorden). And our health festival in Leeuwarden, which attracted a thousand people, was a grand success. Much smaller but just as cool are our interdisciplinary and inter-professional meetings about oral health, youth care, and soon also women & academia, among others. The fact that we are also writing a chapter about health for the Groningen National Programme is certainly noteworthy in the context of impact. Finally, I can't leave the European Researchers Night and the awesome installations about food and sleep unmentioned. Have a look at our year overview, for example.

What would you ideally achieve in the coming years?

More healthy years for everyone. Health is divided very unequally. We partly know why this is already, but we must keep repeating it, substantiate it, and provide fresh insights to hold against it. In that sense, we are very close to climate science. Personally I would like to see more effort from our knowledge institutions in the relation between the agricultural industry and public health. I am concerned about the way in which crops are grown, but also about the nutritional value of those crops. Recent European research into pesticides has shown that the blood of Groningers and Frisians contains residues of 170 types of pesticides, even if they are living in the city, far away from the rural areas. We still know far too little about the long-term effects of those stacked toxic substances in our living environment. To increase awareness of the matter, we are constructing a public installation and an educational programme covering it.

When will the House of Connections be a success in your eyes?

If the larger public, including researchers, will find their way to the House of Connections with the same ease as the LaPlace restaurant on the opposite side, the House of Connections will have succeeded in my eyes.

Last modified:13 June 2023 08.42 a.m.
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