On Wednesday 20 November 2019, AUC’s Head of Studies of the Social Sciences Dr. Sennay Ghebreab and AUC alumnus Erik van Halewijn (Class of 2018) were both named nominees for Folia’s UvA'er of the Year award.
Since 2015, Folia, the journalistic platform managed by students, lecturers and employees of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), has been choosing individuals affiliated with UvA who have made major societal contributions as contenders for their annual 'UvA'er of the Year' award.
This year, Folia has announced five nominees for their UvA'er of the Year award 2019, including current AUC faculty member Dr. Sennay Ghebreab and AUC alumnus Erik van Halewijn. Through their initiatives, both of them strive to provide equal opportunities for individuals from all walks of life, so as to cater to a more inclusive society.
Shortly after starting his first job at Amsterdam Science Park, Dr. Sennay Ghebreab had difficulty entering his workplace and had to follow his colleague in order to gain access. The reason behind the doors remaining shut was due to the facial recognition software of the newly-installed revolving doors used an algorithm that was only able to recognise photos of caucasian individual and was therefore unable to detect darker skin tones.
Trained in neuroinformatics, this incident prompted Dr. Ghebreab to further explore how algorithms used in artificial intelligence systems could be susceptible to reflecting discriminatory biases. In his current position as Head of Studies of the Social Sciences department at AUC, Dr. Ghebreab teaches the theme course Introduction to Information, Communication, and Cognition in addition to lecturing and his own research.
Through his lectures on neurology and information technology, Ghebreab educates AUC students on how to recognise and cope with biases and stereotyping in information systems that continue to become embedded in our everyday environments. Apart from teaching at AUC, Ghebreab is also involved in the development of innovative AI technologies at the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence with the ultimate goal of developing fairer and unbiased AI software.
Having observed the increasing trend among Dutch parents to send their children to (paid) after-school tutorial classes, AUC alumnus Erik van Halewijn noticed the that this 'shadow education' was often out of reach or unknown to families of lower socioeconomic status or from migrant backgrounds. Over time, participation in these additional lessons would ultimately lead to a marked disadvantage in these groups' access to higher education.
Determined to provide similar educational opportunities and bridge the gap in accessing higher education, Halewijn co-founded the project Studiehub. Alongside his current Master's studies in Cultural Analysis at the UvA, Erik manages StudieHub, a platform that connects university student volunteers with elementary school children to provide additional help and tutoring. Based in the Indische Buurt neighbourhood of Amsterdam Oost, the students and university volunteers meet twice per week to discuss assignments and offer additional homework assistance at no cost to the families.
On Monday 16 December 2019, the 'UvA'er of the Year' will be announced during a ceremony at the Amsterdam Academic Club. For those interested in joining, you can find more information via the link below. Please note that the event will be held in Dutch.