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47: The student associations or “assos”: a treasure for UTC and its surrounding territory

UTC fosters and encourages the associative life of its students. Not only does it contribute strongly to the students’ personal and professional life styles, but it is also an important territorial asset for the university, notably building up a reservoir of talent and creativity that can lead to new innovations and boost economic activities.

47: The student associations or “assos”: a treasure for UTC and its surrounding territory

The student associations or “assos”: a treasure for UTC and its surrounding territory

UTC fosters and encourages the associative life of its students. Not only does it contribute strongly to the students’ personal and professional life styles, but it is also an important territorial asset for the university, notably building up a reservoir of talent and creativity that can lead to new innovations and boost economic activities.

 

"Life continues after the class-time !” – this slogan on a wall of the students’ association Bureau (BDE) says it all. Indeed, the “assos” life is well, kicking and even flourishing at UTC with no less than a hundred associations and close on a thousand ‘matriculations’, i.e., a quarter of the total UTC student population. Sports, music, theatre, dancing, aficionadas of space engineering, biomechanics, or bio-mimetism, a junior enterprise, a Fab’Lab, a ‘social aid’ grocery outlet for needy students, organisations actively engaged in ecological transition … and a few ‘heavy-weight’ participants, such as the Imaginarium Festival, which organises two days almost non-stop concerts each Pentecost weekend, and this event now regularly draws 13 000 festival-goers.


So how are we to explain such a vitality? No doubt, the answer lies in the talents and energy deployed by the UTC students. “Compiegne is not Paris” underlines Paul Sainte-Cluque, President of the UTC-BDE Bureau. “Compiegne is a small city where the UTC students represent 10% of the total urban population. If we want to see extra-academic events, nobody is going to organize them for us. So it is up to us to do it!” This is an asset for Compiegne. By organizing open events such as the Imaginarium Festival or Festupic, the Picardie festival of university theatre, providing school class work aid for pupils living in unfavourable milieus, or carrying out local “citizen” worksites during the day-event “All together for the City”, which takes place each September. Student associations visibly contribute to the cultural and social development of Compiegne and its surrounds. “Our aim is even to open up more of our activities to the local population because we are proud of what we can do and it helps improve our ‘image’”, notes Paul Sainte-Cluque. “We would like to demonstrate that although UTC students can at times be noisy, they do represent a real of richness for Compiegne”.

A valued experience

And if the dynamics of the UTC associations is where it stands today, it is also because the university believes in their pedagogical virtues and indeed encourages them a lot. “As is the case for every university, part of the academic fees goes to a fund to assure solidarity and development of student initiatives, notably for the financing of associative activities and projects”, explains Véronique Hédou, a lecturer-cum-research scientist in charge of “life on campus”. “We should also bear in mind that UTC provides grants to the associations amounting to over 40 000 €/yr. And this support is not only financial. My role is to accompany the associations and to set up connections between them and the appropriate university services, to give advice on projects, notably in terms of safety measures needed when it comes to organizing large-scale events. One final point: students are required to justify at least one extra-curricular activity to obtain their UTC engineering diploma”.

Consequently, at some point in their UTC curriculum, a majority of students get involved in an association. “UTC adopted this provision in 2006”, confirms Étienne Arnoult, UTC Director for Training and Pedagogy. “Today we are also thinking about valorising even more the investment students make in joining these associations, for example by making their participation a ‘supplement’ to the diploma per se. This would be coherent with our overall training policy”.

For more than 20 years now, UTC has been advocating project-oriented pedagogy in order to have the students become actors of their learning process and to see them face up to the realities of the engineering profession. The students are invited to work in small groups, often interdisciplinary in nature, on a series of subjects normally submitted by the university’s entrepreneurial partners. This encourages the students to take an active role in the associations. It turns out to be complementary in gaining know-how and ‘presence’ which are important factors contributing to their academic success and to their future insertion in the professional world.

In a similar manner to project-intensive pedagogy, it allows the students to consolidate certain skills acquired in the class-room. Students can find themselves trying out project management methods they have learned ‘in the books’ when they get involved in UTC’s association life. If the latter have a technical content, they can also implement their scientific and technological knowledge, while at the same time coming to grips with the reality of cooperative works with comrades from other specialties and at different levels. “This for, example, is the case for the UTCoupe volunteers who design and assemble robots for the French Robot Cup, or those in the Team UTécia who assemble ultra-low fuel consumption cars to take part in competitions like the Shell-Eco-Marathon”, observes Étienne Arnoult. “Students here combine skills in project and team management, plus some economics and lots of engineering. They thereby can step back a bit from their class-based knowledge, put this together and acquire a systemic vision of the projects they accept – and this, believe me, constitutes a positive factor in our studies as a whole”.

A creative engineering school

When students engage and invest like this in a UTC association, alone and responsible for their projects and budget, i.e., with no lecturers around to assist, the students also develop other, additional aptitudes that are somewhat difficult to transmit through the classic training they get. One is autonomy – they learn how to organize themselves and to manage allotted times. Another is self-confidence – when negotiating with bankers or seeking sponsors to finance their projects, for example, they definitely gain in self-assurance. Likewise, in creativity –in the UTC associative world, naturally within the bounds dictated by law and certain rules, notably those in regard to safety, they are totally free to indulge their imagination. Indeed the originality of their initiatives demonstrates that there is no lack of imagination! “In other words, our associate contribute to a factor greatly appreciated by the corporate world, beyond classic professional skills, viz., the self-assurance and a somewhat intrepid outlook on life”, sums up Étienne Arnoult.

 

UTC now wishes to valorise this reservoir of student talents and creativity in its associations. As Pascal Alberti, UTC Director for Innovation and Territorial Development, puts it “The University intends to contribute more to innovation and to the creation of new economic activities. To achieve this, we need to act closer to the SMEs of which there is a shortfall among our entrepreneurial partners. We can accompany the companies in their innovative processes, based on the skills of our lecturer-cum-research scientists but also relying on the UTC undergraduates, whether it be in getting them involved in corporate projects and the framework of their classwork, or in involving their relevant associations”. One of them is already constantly in contact with industrialists, viz., USEC, UTC’s Junior Enterprise. But other associations could sign partnership agreements with these SMEs. For the students, it would be way for members to show and offer their skills. Moreover, the Innovation and Territorial Development Directorate is seeking to get UTC associations more involved in its policy thrust towards the local enterprises.

Another advantage: occasionally we see “nuggets” emerging from the associations, from which start-ups can be launched. UTCiel, for instance, is rebuilding two mythical aircraft from the 1930s, which will be as close as possible in performance to the originals whilst complying fully with today’s safety and airworthiness standards to be allowed to fly. Projects such as this one can lead to innovations. “But to get there, we must accompany the students”, underlines Pascal Alberti. “Firstly because there is a natural turnover of the students – they are with us for a year or 6 months , then go off to do a placement somewhere outside France. Consequently, an excellent idea can fade away and die because of a lack of continuous support. Secondly, we must help the students identify promising routes ahead for their projects and to help them transform them into viable economic activities. For example, those involved in the Imaginarium Festival develop a product and hand it over to the Festival-goers and organizers. We propose to finance a new study of the product to see if they can come up with an innovation opening the way to wider economic outlets. In contradistinction, a lecturer who has an innovative idea may wish to rely on an association to develop his/her idea. The objective is to foster a collaborative dynamic approach integrating all the forces that exist at UTC to improve overall innovation targets. The university’s associations can play an important role here”. n

 


A salient point on a CV

Léa Rieutord is a Talent Acquisition Specialist officer for the L’Oreal Group, recruiting trainees and freshly graduated engineers

 

“At L’Oréal, we pay considerable attention to the association background of applicants. It is a factor that provides clues to their personal profile, especially when we are recruiting trainees who have no professional experience as yet. Moreover, when candidate do not mention any association activates at all in their CVs, this comes as a surprise to me.

We students become involved in an association, this denotes degree of curiosity with respect to the outside world and allows them to develop certain non-academic skills: notably the aptitude to address project and team management questions, or to develop a critically analytic mind (for example, when a student accepts to be responsible for an “asso” budget). Getting involved in defence of a cause is also a fundamental criterion for L’Oréal: inspiring the entrepreneur spirit of staff, their capacity to go beyond what exists today and to innovate. When students have been President or Vic-President, this demonstrates potential for leadership. Nonetheless, one need not absolutely need to mention an associative activity on the CV. A person really must be involved in a project and be able to explain this clearly. Mentioning, for example, that a person was a member of an “asso” Bureau, with N members and an annual budget of x€, for example, shows that then person is ready to accept responsibilities. It can be a salient point on a CV”.


The volunteers speak out -

Before his election to the position of President of the UTC BDE, Paul Sainte-Cluque already had a rich association track-record that proved highly positive when he was looking for his first 6 month internship with an industrial company.

“As of my second semester at UTC, I became a member of the UTC association responsible for the integration of new students in September. I later became President of this association – one of the largest at UTC – then President of the association that organizes the Finals Soirée which signals the end of the academic year at UTC. These associative activities, I think, were the deciding factor when compared with other applicants for an internship at the SNCF: my CV was selected consequently and indeed my interviews focused largely on these activities. My internship took place mainly in a maintenance unit and my role was to be the go-between for SNCF personnel and external correspondents. Effectively, the skills I acquired in project and team management via my association activities proved very useful for my internship”.


Becoming rapidly operational in an entrepreneurial environment

 Francis Gauvain graduated from UTC in 1980. Today he is Director of Sustainable Development for the Safran Group and who spent part of his career in manpower management when, notably, he was Director of HR for one of the group subsidiaries: Safran Nacelles.

 

“When I was at UTC, there were a few associations, viz., not very numerous. I have observed that association activities have grown considerably and have become an integral ingredient in the students’ curriculum. This is excellent news. Getting engaged in an association is not absolutely necessary to be offered a job, but it certainly does help and can spell the difference between two CVs. I clearly see three advantages here! The first is that is enables personal development, revealing one’s personality, gaining in self-confidence, getting to know one’s strong and weak features... If the mission of a university is first and foremost to transmit knowledge, it must also deliver the keys for personal development. The second interest lies in the open minded approach the students acquire, their capacity to invest in very concrete topics – in an association we have a taste of real life, with real projects where team leadership is involved. In short, it gives the students a professional experience before recruitment: a way to learn to manage a project, handle a budget, to learn to speak in public, to negotiate, to make decisions, to assume responsibilities… All these qualities allow the UTC graduates to become more rapidly operational in an entrepreneurial environment. Recruitment officers will no doubt ascribe a higher degree of importance to the associate investment of young graduates”.