She had been the undisputed favourite for the past few weeks and last Thursday, the 24-year-old Wageningen student Irene Poll was still way ahead of the other contestants in the final round: Irene was declared Student of the Year 2013.
Student of the Year is a contest organized by the commercial website studenten.net. It focuses mainly on the popularity of the contestants. Candidates can only survive the first round by getting as many votes as possible from supporters. In the final round, the candidates were also pitted against one another in a debate and they had to perform tasks not unlike those in the Dutch TV programme 'Who is the mole?'. This year, the six finalists were sent to Heidelberg in Germany for the occasion. Not only did Irene do well in amassing votes, she also emerged as the winner in Heidelberg.
According to the organizers, 411,000 votes were cast for the six candidates. Irene does not know how many votes she got exactly, but she certainly had many. 'I wouldn't have made it without the people here in Wageningen. Complete strangers congratulate me and tell me that they voted for me every day; I get e-mails from lecturers. Everyone was very supportive. I don't know how to thank them all.'
What is the best thing about the competition? 'The contact with the fellow finalists,' replies Irene without hesitation. 'We had to carry out an assignment every two weeks and I really looked forward to those. We had daily contact via Whatsapp and we've already fixed a new date to meet up. We have become very close-knit in a short span of time.' There was hardly any animosity or jealousy. 'It was only in Heidelberg that I got competitive. I found that I really wanted to win. If I start on something, I always want to outshine the rest. I'm having problems with withdrawal symptoms now. I'm still thinking every morning: 'Oh, I have to post something on Facebook so that people will vote for me.'
The world of television
Early July, this KSV student will do a photo shoot for clothing store America Today and her photo will then be displayed in every shop window of the chain store in the Netherlands. 'I am curious how long the hype will last after that. At the moment, I still get phone calls every day but I'm sure this will be over after a month.' She would like to use her victory as a means of getting into television. 'The world of television appeals to me. It would be nice if I could combine that with my studies. I want to be involved in something of substance as well.'
For the time being, she is basking in her new title and everything that lies in store for her. 'People tell me: "Irene, you look the picture of happiness", and that's right, I am really happy.'