The 2024 University Development Cooperation (UDC) Career Award was given to Professor Ann Nowé and Professor Geert Angenon. Both are seen as the embodiment of what the UDC Career Award stands for: nurturing partnerships and being an inspiration to others.

The VUB International Relations office launched the UDC Career Award back in 2020 to acknowledge VUB staff and their contribution towards university development cooperation. The general objective of the award is to celebrate someone not just for their commitment to university development cooperation, but also for nurturing an extensive network with partners in the Global South, and to have remained accessible and provided access to this network to the VUB community. 

This year’s event was moderated by Vice-Rector Internationalisation, Professor Karin Vanderkerken, and included an overview of the two recipients’ careers, as well as testimonials from Cuba’s Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas, and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology from Kenya. In addition, the two winners of the award gave a 20-minute outline each of their work in relation to university development cooperation.  

To put it in the words of those who submitted Ann Nowé’s nomination file highlighting her work with UCLV in Cuba: “Working with Ann and Professor Bello was intense and very successful. She showed so much respect for the needs and challenges of the Cuban universities. To this day, she spends a tremendous amount of attention and time to guiding Cuban PhD-students and researchers, here and in Cuba, even when they return to Cuba – she remains involved, to ensure their involvement via the VLIR-UOS projects isn’t lost. Her expertise, help and advice have been of paramount importance when preparing and organising new projects with Cuban universities. Ann deserves this recognition for her project-coordination talent, her cooperation with Cuban universities, her selfless and long-term commitment, and the way in which she motives Flemish and Cuban colleagues to work together in a constructive manner.” 

Professor Geert Angenon is described as, “a scientist with immense experience in bioengineering science research, and an unwavering commitment to fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing across disciplines and multi-regional institutions. Through his visionary leadership, Professor Angenon plays a pivotal role in forging meaningful partnerships and facilitating joint research initiatives in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.” 

The recipients

Ann Nowé has a master's in mathematics, and another one in Applied Computer Science. She did her PhD in Sciences at the VUB in collaboration with Queen Mary and Westfield College University London, on ‘Synthesis of ‘safe’ fuzzy controllers based on reinforcement learning’. She has been a full professor since 1999 at the VUB, splitting her time between the Computer Science department in the Faculty of Sciences and Bio-engineering Sciences, and the Department of Electronics and Informatics in the Faculty of Engineering. Her main research topics are machine learning, reinforcement learning, data-mining and bio-informatics. She has supervised numerous PhDs, some oriented towards the fundamentals of computer science, others more application-oriented. Several PhDs were jointly with colleagues from other faculties and universities. In terms of project-involvement, she has been involved in a number of different projects, both nationally and internationally, including IUC projects within VLIR-UOS in Vietnam, and Cuba.

Geert Angenon has a Master’s in engineering, in chemical and agricultural industries from Ghent University, where he also obtained his PhD. His main research topics include metabolism of essential amino acids in plants; biotechnology and genetic improvement of leguminous and cereal crops, as well as citrus and bananas; development of plant transformation technology; the study of seed-specific gene expression, seed nutritional quality improvement and production of heterologous protein in seeds; DNA repair and recombination mechanisms in plants; plant stress metabolism. For decades, Geert Angenon has been active in university development cooperation and deeply involved in teaching, research and outreach activities in several countries of the Global South, where he also stimulates local and international networking and collaboration, and contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. As specialist on the legislation of genetically modified organisms, he plays an important role in creating awareness on this issue. He has been involved in a number of projects in Vietnam, Cuba, Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) within the framework of university development cooperation and VLIR-UOS.

A warm congratulations from the entire VUB community to Professor Ann Nowé and Professor Geert Angenon!

The UDC Career Award is funded by the VLIR-UOS’s Global Minds programme, managed by the VUB International Relations office’s university development cooperation team.