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Student dean Romke Biagioni: ‘I like it when people are different’

Student dean Romke Biagioni is committed to help students have an easygoing and pleasant time during their studies. She assists students with disabilities, looks for solutions to problems such as housing issues and counsels students with social or financial problems. For MSc student Computer Science Ruduan Plug, who has an autism spectrum disorder, Biagioni is a tower of strength during his studies. 'Whenever I have a problem, I know I can always go see her.'

'I have been a student counsellor at the University since 2004 and I still find it very enjoyable and fascinating,' says Biagioni with a big smile. 'I deal with all the problems students face. These are not only study-related issues, but also problems in their social life. In fact, everything that happens in society can also be found at a university. Such as the influence of the corona crisis, dealing with functional limitations, financial problems, the housing crisis, and legal difficulties.'

Connecting the world of therapy and the university

Biagioni's position is in between that of the student psychologists and the study counsellors. 'Actually, I am a bit of a link between the world of therapy and the University. I often work together with the GGZ and a therapist, though I focus more on practical issues. For example, I am also on the urgency committee of the DUWO student housing foundation.'

Biagioni herself is mainly specialised in psychological problems. At the University there is a large group of students with AD(H)D, autism, dyslexia or other disabilities. 'These students face different problems than others. Together, we look for ways in which the student can gain and maintain control of their own life.'

'No problem passing exams, but not easy to find connections'

For Master student Computer Science Ruduan Plug, who now also teaches at the University, Biagioni has been a trusted confidant throughout his studies. Because of his autism spectrum disorder, making contact with lecturers and fellow students is often more difficult. This makes him feel isolated at times.

Because it takes a lot of energy from him, it is difficult to be present at all classes and University activities. 'You become a bit isolated. And you're more likely to go through the materials at home instead of going to University. I never had problems passing exams, but I did miss the commitment and the motivation.'

Ringing the bell in time

To help Ruduan find his way, Biagioni taught him how the University works at the beginning of his studies. He was also given a 'buddy' from his studies. In addition, she assists him personally whenever there are problems. 'There was this moment when the communication within my study programme did not run smoothly at all. Luckily, Romke rang the bell in time. Otherwise I might have got stuck and considered going to a different university.'

An evening in the AD(H)D café

Biagioni organises a weekly café for students with AD(H)D. This is a disorder which often makes you easily distracted, over-stimulated, and makes it hard for you to keep overview. 'In the AD(H)D café, there is special attention for the social aspect,' says Biagioni. 'By talking to others in the same situation, you learn how others deal with it. Interchanging advice can offer a lot of support.'

After years of experience, Biagioni has become highly specialised in the problems surrounding AD(H)D. Together with these students she searches for ways to strengthen themselves and get the best out of themselves. 'People often think that AD(H)D is easy to solve by just planning better. But I see that these students often come in with an enormous baggage of negative feedback from their youth. They do not fit into the mould of the educational system and try to get around it while adapting as much as possible. It is especially necessary that these students learn what works for them, instead of constantly focusing on what goes wrong.'

Discuss worrying behaviour at the Advice Point

To ensure that study advisors and student counsellors also learn how to deal with abnormal situations, one of Biagioni's tasks is to advise these employees. She also joins the Faculty consultations of FWN. 'One of the things I do, is giving advice on which adjustments we as a

University can make to make it easier for students. For example, we are now looking at how we can continue the central project 'Barrier-free studying’ within the faculties.'

Besides that, Biagioni is also part of the Advisory Point for Concerning or threatening behaviour (AZG). 'When staff or students see that things are really not going well with a (fellow) student, they can get advice from the AZG. Especially when that student's behaviour is a threat to safety of others. For example: radicalisation, stalking, but also confused behaviour. These are often complex situations in which the institute and AZG can discuss the possibilities.'

'The group I work with is highly motivated'

The diversity of her job as student dean gives Biagioni great  satisfaction. 'I always like it when people are different. We are a large organisation in which not everyone fits into the same system. I find it interesting to see what we can achieve together. The nice thing about the target groups I work with is that they are often highly motivated to get through their studies. It is very nice to be able to contribute to that.'

Students appreciate her commitment enormously. There are even students who keep in touch with Biagioni after their studies or who want to do something in return out of gratitude. 'Recently, there was a student who had been in my AD(H)D groups. Now he gives coaching himself and wanted to give a free workshop about it to university staff.'

'If something is bothering me, I don't have to figure it out on my own'

Ruduan has also had a close relationship with her for years. 'I can easily go to Romke with all my problems. Her assistance is always very personal and profound,' he says. 'When she sends you to another person with a problem, she always asks afterwards how it was and if she can help with anything else. I appreciate that very much. And above all, the fact that I don't have to figure it out on my own when I have a problem.'

Ruduan therefore feels that he has grown tremendously in recent years. 'I now even go to events and conferences very often. That is certainly thanks to the positive experiences and support from the people of Plexus and Romke. They gave me the support that allowed me to grow, to get to know more people and to have many more opportunities that I didn't have before. Now I make sure that people are connected. And I approach people more often, to ensure that others don't feel left out.'

Picture and text: Inge van Dijck

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