“The Amsterdam program offers ACM students a chance to take a semester away from their small, liberal arts college and study at a very dynamic, international European university,” said Carleton College geology professor Clint Cowan. “So many courses are taught in English and the sciences are so strong that the program is a good fit for students in the sciences, since they won’t fall behind in their major at their home college.”
Next fall, Cowan will follow his own advice when he leaves his college campus for a semester to serve as the visiting faculty director of the Amsterdam: Sciences, Global Health, and Interdisciplinary Studies at VU Amsterdam program.
Along with helping the students adjust to their new surroundings, both academically and culturally, and handling some administrative duties, he will teach a course at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (or VU Amsterdam) — ACM’s partner, where program participants take elective courses — and mentor students in their independent study projects.
“Amsterdam is a great place to be a student. It’s a vibrant, diverse city, but it also has a cozy, welcoming pace of life.”
Cowan’s unique background is well-suited to the visiting faculty position. Before becoming a professor, he was a research geologist for five years with Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands, and he’s visited the country regularly in the years since. At Carleton, he frequently leads off-campus programs and has taken students to locations such as New Zealand, the Caribbean, Italy, and Newfoundland.
“I can still remember my first few months of living in the Netherlands,” Cowan said, “so I’m sensitive to the stress and fatigue that can come from living daily life in unfamiliar surroundings and can help the students work through it.”
The course he will teach, The Upcoming Energy Transition, will examine the movement from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy, both locally and globally. The topic draws upon Cowan’s professional expertise, the university’s emphasis on sustainability, and the Netherland’s location, history, and tradition of innovation.
“Royal Dutch Shell is one of the largest oil companies in the world,” he said. “The Dutch also have a thousand-year history of harnessing wind energy — think about the windmills. In addition, parts of the country are below sea level, so they are one of the nations most threatened by climate change and sea level rise from burning fossil fuels.”
Amsterdam is an ideal place to draw on local resources for the class, said Cowan, and he plans to take students out to look at the wind farms along the coast and to see examples of the coastal engineering the Dutch have built to counter the rise in the sea level.
The ACM students live in VU Amsterdam housing and take classes alongside Dutch students and students from around the world at the university’s campus in the downtown area. Cowan said he’s going to encourage students to explore as much of the city and surrounding towns as they can.
“Amsterdam is a great place to be a student,” Cowan said. “It’s a vibrant, diverse city, but it also has a cozy, welcoming pace of life that’s based on the speed of the fixed-gear bike.”
Bicycles are an iconic part of Dutch culture and a basic cog in the transportation system, as well as an example of the country’s approach to environmentalism, according to Cowan.
“Riding a bicycle really is natural to the Dutch,” he noted. “It’s common to see people dressed up for an evening out ride by, or families cycling along with small children in seats attached to their parents’ bikes. They don’t even think about it, and that’s because it’s ingrained from infancy.”
“I’m really looking forward to being back in Holland,” said Cowan. “I think I bring a depth of experience from living there that will be useful to our students. Plus, I know some off-the-beaten-track museums, pubs, and country walks that are worth the effort to visit!”