First Ghent University, then the world

14 March 2023 |

Ghent university has a global network. Through international research projects, collaboration agreements with other universities, exchange programmes, ... And also through its many alumni, who fly off in all directions after their studies.

Peter Cnudde

Peter Cnudde, captain of industry in Silicon Valley for thirty years

Almost thirty years after graduating as a civil engineer, Peter Cnudde looks back at his career to date. It has been a great success. For years, he was a top engineer and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, both in start-ups and at big names like Yahoo. Today, he invests in companies whose efforts are focused on plant-based food. He is also an Industry Fellow and a member of the advice board at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (UC Berkeley).

“In the Sutardja Center, I was involved in setting up the ‘Alt: Meat Lab’, a programme on plant-based meat and dairy. We tell the students about the technical and business aspects of vegetarian food. What I’m doing now doesn’t feel like work. It’s my passion.

It’s here in California that I turned vegetarian out of conviction and principle. Not only because animals in the meat industry are treated so badly, but also due to the ecological impact of meat production.. My ambition is to ban animals from the food industry entirely. Of course, that’s no easy task. People are used to seeing meat on their plate, it’s ingrained in many cultures.

Yet I do believe it’s possible, if you have good and affordable alternatives. That’s why I’m investing in companies that are looking for those alternatives. I’m really lucky to be able to make that choice, especially right here. In a place where I’m surrounded by incredibly smart and talented people from all over the world. And I’m lucky to have had such a good education. Something I used to take for granted.

My decision to go to Ghent University was quite logical: my father was working there as a professor and my sister studied there too. I chose civil engineering, simply because I’d always dreamed of becoming an engineer.

That’s also what I did for many years, first in Belgium, then abroad soon after. And in Silicon Valley since 2000. It was hard work: as a supervisor you soon clock up a hundred hours a week. I enjoyed doing it, but it’s time for something new. Now I’m focusing on my passion and I’m so grateful for that.”

Once without university ambitions, Fanny Douvere is now protecting the world’s oceans

Since 2009, she has been leading the UNESCO Marine World Heritage Programme, working closely with governments and organisations worldwide. For Fanny Douvere, her career is anything but obvious.

“In fact, it was never the intention to continue my studies. I ended up in vocational secondary education and left with a certificate as a seamstress. Nobody in my family has had a university education. However, I then came into contact with a couple of lawyers. They got me all excited about studying at Ghent University. I took the plunge, and successfully so: I managed to obtain my PhD.

Fanny Douvere

I chose political sciences because it seemed feasible to me. Fortunately, the university offered me study coaching. That saved the day. My achievements are down to the fact I was born in a democratic society. I’m increasingly aware of that when I see how things are done in other parts of the world.

I’ve always been fascinated by the oceans: I grew up at the coast. Yet I was not necessarily planning to devote my career to them. At first, I wanted to be a diplomat. That was due to the inspiring lessons in diplomatic law from professor Frank Maes. I ended up doing my PhD with him on spatial planning at sea.

Thanks to an apprenticeship, funded by the Flemish government, I ended up at UNESCO. Something I truly appreciated: an unpaid apprenticeship was simply out of the question due to my financial situation. I recommend everyone to do this kind of international apprenticeship. It creates possibilities for your later career. I often think we‘re too modest in Flanders and that we tend to stay too long in the same place. But aim higher and you also get further.

Today, I’m leading the Marine World Heritage Programme, as well as taking care of funding from governments, companies or private individuals. We recently worked very closely with the Australian government on the problems at the Great Barrier Reef, due to global warming. Australia has signed a new law to reduce emissions by at least 43%. That’s a world’s first, and a direct result of our negotiations. It shows that ocean protection and climate change have got much higher on the international agenda. Thanks to these partnerships I’m pretty optimistic about the future.


No matter where in the world your degree takes you, you can always stay close to fellow alumni via Infinitum, the alumni platform of Ghent University. International alumni can join the Infinitum association ‘Alumni Abroad’.

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