‘Givers never lack for anything good’

Recent MSc graduate David Oyediran was honored last month by the university for his outstanding contri-butions to TU Delft’s internationalization process. The winner of the 2009 Rector’s Prize for Internationalization reflects on his time well spent at TU Delft.

David Oyediran made great sacrifices to pursue his professional dreams, none more so than having to leave his wife and two children behind in Nigeria for two years while he studied in Delft. But buoyed by his strong faith in God, Oyediran not only preserved but excelled both inside and outside the classroom.
Last month the university honored him with ‘2009 Rector’s Prize for Internationalization’. Oyediran (38), who began his MSc program in microelectronics at TU Delft in August 2007, was involved in an impressive array of international activities during his MSc studies. He now works as a teacher in the electronic engineering department of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Oyediran was one of 25 African students to receive scholarships sponsored jointly by TU Delft and the Dutch government, as part of a fellowship program to commemorate TU Delft’s 165th anniversary in 2007. The program’s theme was ‘Access to Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa’.

What were some of the international activities you were involved in while studying at TU Delft? “I was a mentor to new international students, which was a great experience – meeting new students from all over the world and helping them settled down properly in their new environment. The mentor program works well, but I’d suggest that they extend it by an additional two months and also include more social activities during meetings.”

You were also a board member of S4S – students for sustainability. “Yes, students for sustainability help promote sustainable development in poor, developing countries by sponsoring project proposals that directly impact people and the environment. I was also member of the EEMCS faculty’s internationalization committee, which advised the dean on how to enhance the faculty’s international outlook and also give international students a greater sense of belonging.” 

And you were also honored for your work in ‘Energy for All’ project. What did this involve?“‘Energy for All’ expresses the Dutch government’s conviction  that sustainable energy is imperative for achieving sustainable development and poverty alleviation through investment in clean energy and development. The Netherlands decided that one way to achieve this goal was to engage in capacity building at the TU Delft and fund students like myself. It was expected that we’d be trained and gain skills and experience that will benefit and contribute to capacity building in our home countries upon our return.”

What did your project involve?“I initiated a joint-project on provision of renewable energy sources in Nsukka, Nigeria, between TU Delft and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. My graduation thesis project focused on solar cells. That we’re richly blessed in Africa – the sun is always there – was the genesis of my solar energy project, which strives to start pilot projects in Nigeria that supply select  high schools and communities with solar energy, thus boosting their academic and economic power and thereby alleviating poverty. If we succeed, we hope to expand this initiative to other communities in Nigeria and beyond. TU Delft is helping to educate and train people about solar cells, which creates awareness and manpower. The project is in the advanced stage and we’re presently looking for funding.” 

Any luck yet?“My colleagues and I were in Nigeria last May to identify the project site, and we’ve written a project proposal based on our findings. We’re looking for funding from whoever believes in this initiative; we’ve contacted Oxfam Novib and CICAT is also studying our proposal. We hope to make more contacts.”

Extra-curricular activities do take time away from your studies. Did your grades suffer?
“Not at all. I had more than enough ECT credits in the end. It was difficult to balance my extra-curricular activities and academic studies, but it’s possible with good planning. I’m also a devout Christian and was involved in weekly church activities.”

Some people argue that belief in God and belief in science are incompatible? Do you agree? 
“I don’t agree. Being a believer, I believe everything written in the Bible: it’s the word of God. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be a believer. I try as much as possible not to allow my education to influence my belief in God. God made everything and scientists are only making discoveries. There are many things documented in the Bible that are around us today, the Middle East, man and his environment, the role of increased knowledge in science and technology in the end of time. If you’re a Christian, then you’ll understand me better.”

What are your plans now that you have graduated? “Returning to the University of Nigeria, where I’m currently working to impact the knowledge gained as much as possible. As a teacher, the students will benefit. Teaching and research go hand in hand, so I’ll try as much as possible to influence my society with the knowledge gained. And I say ‘as much as possible’, because it’s difficult right now to make changes in a society where only the rich and the politicians dictate the pace.”

What advice do you have for the new international students just now starting their MSc programs? “Make good use of all the opportunities provided here. Open up to people, offer yourself to help when needed, as this opportunity could make you known positively in your society. Think less of what you can gain and more about what you can give because givers never lack for anything good, as you are bound to be served as well when in need.”

Are there any challenges unique to African or international students studying at TU Delft? “The fact that you’re viewed differently as international students, living separately from Dutch students. There aren’t enough opportunities to associate well with our Dutch colleagues. There’s a need to break that boundary, which will serve us all good. More integrated housing is a must, because when you live together, you play together, and this creates more understanding and appreciation of other people’s feelings and beliefs.”

Is there anything you learned from the ‘Dutch way of doing things’?“Simplicity and trust. Simplicity is everywhere here: I’ve not seen the poor or the rich in this society, and it’s difficult to differentiate when everyone is riding bicycles – students and professors. Also how the Dutch don’t hide their feelings, straight to the point, which I believe is synonymous to trust.”

What are TU Delft’s unique selling points? “How it combines theory with practical and state of the art academic facilities. Dimes for instance is a excellent TU Delft institute with great research facilities and staff. There are many places like this throughout the university.”

What would you change about TU Delft to make it better for international students? “The creation of opportunities for part-time jobs. I once went to the StuD job agency on campus and was told bluntly that they don’t offer international students jobs – only the Dutch.”

The design studios Border Conditions and Territory in Transit are part of the Faculty of Architecture’s department of Public Buildings. Within the faculty’s highly fragmented system, these two design studios – whilst both studying the city of Havana – approach architectural research in very different ways.
Border Conditions examines borders as an important instrument that shapes our perception, be they geographical, social, psychological or graphical. Territory in Transit, however, deals with the ‘large dimension’ through the lens of architecture. Through a three-step process of examining a site (survey), a system of operations, and an object or thing, the studio attempts to look at the large urban scale, while remaining in the realm of architecture.
Professors Filip Geerts, Olaf Gipser and Stefano Milani of Territory in Transit, and Mark Schoonderbeek and Oscar Rommens of Border Conditions, suggested combining and jointly researching various aspects of the urban, architectural and spatial nature of the city of Havana. The two groups conducted preliminary surveys on the city before departing for Havana in mid October.  
While there was some research overlap between the two groups, study topics varied greatly from student to student. Some students were interested in the phenomenon of urban agriculture, while others looked at how people perceive a city, especially as a tourist, as well as the effect of vacant building lots within the dense, historic districts of Havana.  
Upon arrival, many students realised that life in Havana is a far cry from the highly ordered life in Delft. A first-time visitor to Havana would be excused for doing a double-take as old Connexxion buses with destination boards reading Delft, Rotterdam or Alphen aan den Rijn roared down the potholed streets spewing out toxic diesel fumes. Old American sedans from the 1950s rolled down avenues alongside brand new BMWs with black plates, surely leased to the government. And many residents simply whiled their days away on the street, playing dominoes or football in one of the few parks, or just stared out their front doors, watching the passing by of people and time.
Unfortunately, this colonial city with centuries of history has started to fade into rubble as buildings are slowly torn apart by hurricanes and a lack of maintenance. Many lots remain vacant years after the colonial façades have been reduced to rubble. Without funds to rebuild, these sites are used as parking lots, informal markets, or remain half-occupied by neighbours creating unique interior/exterior spaces.  
The US trade embargo, in place for over 40 years, coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, left Cuba in a horrific economic collapse, which the central government quickly named the ‘Special Period’. Rationing of fuel, food and supplies caused the average Cuban to lose four kilograms in body weight, as food supplies quickly dwindled. Though the Special Period is technically over, scars remain all over the city, from the vacant lots and collapsed buildings to the piles of garbage lining the streets.
One positive result of this difficult period of transition has been the increase in the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown within the city limits. Faced with crippling food shortages, the government began a program of organic farming on old building lots and former state sugar plantations. Fourteen years after its inception, urban agriculture employs over 30,000 people while supplying virtually all the fresh vegetables for Havana’s residents.
Students from each studio examined the distribution systems of agriculture in the city, as well as the morphology of the actual farming sites, to form a base for their individual research. While agriculture now is considered to be ephemeral — a relic from the Special Period — it has also been hailed by many researchers as the future of sustainable urban planning. The challenge for the students is to now turn this research into valid and compelling architectural projects.
For the time being, Cuba is an island frozen in time, where one can experience a McDonald’s and Aldi-free landscape and where violent crime is virtually non-existent. As with all academic architectural projects, the results from these graduation studios will most likely be too abstract for practical implementation. Unlike other TU Delft faculties, many architecture faculty student projects have only an academic relevance. Nevertheless, this excursion to Havana broadened the students’ architectural horizons, which will lead to exciting – if, for the time being, only theoretical – built solutions to the city’s urban fabric.

Redacteur Redactie

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