Charl van der Merwe

Before you came to Brookes what did you study and where?

I studied BSc Town and Regional Planning at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Between my first degree and the current MSc Project Management in the Built Environment, I worked for Oxfam GB humanitarian programmes such as the Darfur Crises and Asian Tsunami. I moved to the UK in 2005 to work in Oxfam GB Head Office as a Project Manager.

What made you choose Brookes as a place to study?

I wanted to further my learning in project management, focussing specifically on the Built Environment. Brookes offered a part-time MSc Project Management in the Built Environment. Many colleagues and friends that studied at Brookes recommended the School of the Built Environment above other well-known institutions. The school offers a broad range of exciting courses, and the diversity and experience of staff and students attracts many students like myself.

What do you think of the course now you're here?

The course offers a good balance between different approaches module leaders bring to the overall course and the learning and assessment techniques used. Students have a choice in the level to which they explore course reading and research, which allows you to set your own learning objectives and targets. The Problem-Based-Learning (PBL) approached used in this course provides more than just teaching. Due to this approach I feel my engagement with the topics we cover is more substantial than traditional teaching approaches. You are challenged by PBL and this helps to bring work and learning together, and in doing so leads to sustainable learning that I can build on continuously.

What are your plans for when you've completed your course, for work or further study?

My vision is to connect the specialities of the commercial built environment, with the innovation and needs of developing countries and humanitarian work. The experience I gained in the Humanitarian and development sector, combined with the learning process that started with the MSc will provide me with a platform to continue my learning. Ultimately, I will be able to share this knowledge with others that feel passionate about development work.

To be able to achieve this, I would like the opportunity to start a 'not-for-profit' business unit in a global leader in construction, and build closer networks with development and humanitarian organisations. I am also planning to pursue a PhD and research opportunities related to Built Environment innovation in developing countries. The learning process that started through doing this MSc started to broaden my thinking regarding innovation in built environment in developing countries. Through research and work opportunities I hope to be able to challenge current misconceptions, norms and beliefs about innovation in the developing world.

What are the best bits of studying at Brookes?

The innovation that the Department offers through problem based learning. Personally I find traditional classroom learning to be ineffective and stifling to my own learning. PBL offers me more sustainable and deeper learning through challenging my thinking and perceptions. I am an innovator that favours dialogue with others, thinking about complex issues, and resolving challenges. The MSc offers me the opportunity to do this in addition to the more structured and organised working environment.

What advice do you have for others?

Studying part-time while you work is tough at times, but it's without a doubt worth it. It focuses you more and you get the best of both worlds, gaining work experience and learning. Learning expands your views and you get the opportunity to think and explore innovation.