The feather – Werner Coppieters

A Feather in Your Cap: the feather is a prize passed on from one UAntwerp colleague to another in recognition of their efforts or achievements. This month, Sarah Rohaert (Faculty of Social Sciences) passes the feather on to Werner Coppieters (Faculty of Design Sciences).

Dear Werner, allow me to put not one, but a bunch of feathers in your cap. The reasons why are numerous and diverse, as are your qualities. In product development, the subjects you teach include mathematics and physics, but your classes start long before the official opening of the academic year. You offer maths refresher courses for students who want to brush up their knowledge over the summer so they can have a successful first year. Your students get extra practice opportunities. If someone doesn’t show up, you won’t hesitate to talk to them, as a very committed teacher and father figure.

Your famous mechanics assignment definitely contributes to the unique atmosphere and drive we see in product development students. Every year, you come up with a new, challenging assignment that has students designing ingenious constructions with a minimum of cardboard weight and a maximum of imagination, mechanical and constructive insight, through lots of trial and error. These marvellous contraptions transport, say, a series of ping-pong balls from point A to point B over a flight of stairs, or catapult them in a beautiful hyperbola over high obstacles.

These Herculean tasks often lead to unforgettable family moments, as many family members cannot resist building their own answers to your challenge. When it’s time for the glorious reveal, both students and staff gather to applaud and admire yet another bold manoeuvre with bated breath. All of this under your ever encouraging auspices, as you meticulously weigh, note and time everything.

You can be found in the corridors throughout the year, with sketches and calculations in your lap, consulting students on the fly on critical aspects of their design assignments. In addition, you were the ombudsman for several years, you help lay the intricate puzzle of timetables and schedules, taking numerous variables into account, and you train PhD students in advanced SPSS on the side. 

While all of these commitments mathematically amount to much more than a full-time job, you are also the life of the party, the creator of themes and menus, the master chef who prepares our memorable Christmas dinners and soon-to-be-colleague dinners for our Master thesis students. In mid-October, your send out your first infectiously enthusiastic email with colourful themes, such as legendary Monty Python sketches. Cooks and kitchen helpers are recruited live and online among teachers and researchers. The most delicious exotic food pairings are tested in your kitchen until the proportions are just right, and you design the most original thematic designs for the paper placemats.

You invite retirees, cleaning ladies who became so much more, future colleagues, and even the ATP colleagues ‘from the other side’ (the director’s residence). On the day itself, you coordinate the preparations from behind your giant paella pan, apron and ladle at the ready. From tapas to dessert, washing up and cleaning up. We can’t wait for you to get this unique culinary caravan in motion again after the pandemic. A colleague like you is truly irreplaceable. Sign me up as a cook for one of the courses.

In honour of International Women’s Day, which took place this week, I also tip my hat to some of the superwomen who work at our university: Karo(lien) Vrints at Global Minds; Ellen Decraene, Community Service-Learning project coordinator; Carla Uwents, the driving force behind Green Office; Dr Els Du Bois, sustainability professor; and Lena Candries, international networking whiz at the Faculty of Business and Economics.  Because in corona times, so many people deserve praise for giving their all.