From classroom to community: Public Health students connect with Rotterdam Zuid students

4 min readNov 15, 2023


In Rotterdam-Zuid, students taking the minor in Public Health have a unique opportunity to step out of their researcher role and make authentic connections with people outside their social and academic circles. They go beyond theoretical assignments and dive deep into the community they are concerned with.

Not only do the students of the Public Health minor engage with experts in the field during their lectures, but they engage in authentic dialogue with the communities experiencing public health challenges. All this, thanks to the joint efforts of faculties, public health institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Stichting Stem Zonder Gezicht, and the innovation collective ErasmusX.

The latest example of this unique experiential learning opportunity happened on the International Day Against Poverty, at De Feijenoordse Middenstip, a children’s playground. It brought together several Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) students, neighbourhood residents, and local NGOs.

“Events like these are fun, as I don’t really visit neighbourhoods like these myself. I grew up in a different community where we never had an event like this, so I love experiencing it!”, says Britt van der Heiden, an Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management student.

Students join local community members at the Feijenoordse Middenstip playground

Engaging future policymakers with current community challenges

The students who chose Public Health as their minor did so thanks to the strong connection to the ‘real world’, with a learning experience that goes beyond theoretical knowledge. “The practical side of this minor is what attracted me the most, because I really wanted to help neighbourhoods and communities of Rotterdam,”, says Nina Gideonse, an Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences student.

Amidst activities planned for and by neighbourhood residents, the students joined the event at De Feijenoordse Middenstip to connect with the people there. They engaged in an open dialogue about what the neighbourhood residents really need from potential policies.

As a result, students develop their soft skills by going out of their comfort zone and approaching people on an equal footing, leaving prejudices behind. At the same time, the neighbourhood residents feel heard and develop a close connection with the students. Vanessa Umboh is the essential link between the residents who all know her, and the students.

Vanessa Umboh believes in the importance of open dialogue between future policymakers and residents affected by future policies, because there is a difference between what science and theory say about these communities, and their reality that you discover when you join them.

“Oftentimes, policymakers in Rotterdam study at EUR. By being more involved in these communities, they get to know the public’s challenges better. Eventually, better-connected policy makers make better policies. Policies that do justice to the community and their needs”, says Vanessa.

A joint effort towards an enriching learning experience

The Public Health minor is a result of multiple parties coming together, in a multi-disciplinary collaboration: the Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management, the Department of Public Health at ErasmusMC, the Rotterdam Rijnmond Public Health Service, and the HefHouse.

The HefHouse is at the basis of the collaboration between EUR, Hogeschool Rotterdam, and Albeda College, powered by ErasmusX. The Municipality of Rotterdam, social organisation Samen Ondernemend Leren (SOL) and the local youth are also valuable partners of the HefHouse.

As the innovation collective working on the future of education at EUR, ErasmusX connects the campus with the city. They predict what the future of education might look like, and they develop innovative solutions based on diverse voices, with students at the centre. With the HefHouse, they aim to give space to real-life experiences as an integral part of learning.

Achieving positive impact rooted in real-life challenges

What are the outcomes of this collaboration? Aside from preparing them to become better policymakers, this minor allows for a real-life learning experience that encourages students to engage with the local community. This enriches their theoretical skills, but also develops their human skills.

Thanks to the collaboration with local partners, the Public Health minor also allows students to go outside of their typical social group and interact with people from other districts in the city other than their own. The connections they make in these communities go beyond the typical research-oriented case studies or other practical applications.

Do you want more information about offering students a hands-on learning experience outside the conventional classroom? Contact Frieda Franke or check out ErasmusX’s website.




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