Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam is a large, urban science-focused university in the Netherlands. Dr Mitzi Waltz and Dr Elena Syurina work within the Athena Institute at the VU—an institute set up within the Faculty of Science to:
- increase academic and societal understanding of key factors in innovation processes
- enrich science with increased societal legitimacy and improved research utilization
- improve societal awareness of how innovations may benefit the sustainability, equity and fairness of societies
The Athena Institute focuses on science and technology developments that are specifically – but not exclusively – related to health and life sciences. Some of the areas where our researchers and lectures are busy include neurosciences, ecogenomics, mental health, maternal health, sustainability sciences, health sciences, global health and biotechnology. Our strength is that we not only focus on the analysis of problems and innovations, but also develop methodologies for knowledge integration (reflection and learning).
The IMAGE Team:
Dr Mitzi Waltz: “I have been working in autism support and autism research for over 25 years now, with a focus on participatory and emancipatory research. When I entered the field as the parent of a child with autism, the voices of ‘parent-experts’ were the only counterpoint to those of doctors and scientists. I have made it my mission to find and develop scholars with autism who can become the next generation of researchers.
My own research interests are varied, but I’m most interested in projects that result in positive, practical change for people with autism. IMAGE is a great example of this kind of research. I have many friends, colleagues and family members on the autism spectrum, so I know first-hand about the challenges of finding good, paid work. I’m also interested in the history of autism (see https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9780230527508) and how autism is socially constructed, because these developments have had a massive impact on research, services and social trends.”
Dr Elena Syurina: I am a researcher with broad background, from Neuropsychology to Social Medicine, who is currently working in the field of Global Mental Health. Among my research interests are provision of personalized care and support for people with mental health difficulties, and empowerment of people. Being a mixed-methods researcher, I have a strong background in combining quantitative and qualitative methods in order to solve everyday social challenges.
The IMAGE project is a perfect example of an opportunity to combine my research interests: it aims at empowering students with autism as well as looking for possibilities to provide personalised, individually tailored advice that will support people with autism in finding sustainable employment. The thrilling challenge for me is to combine theoretical background knowledge with constructing fitting conceptual frameworks and enriching them with practical, real-life knowledge.
Mitzi and Elena are involving Masters students from Athena, and outside scholars with autism, as part of their team.