We met for coffee with Maren Huhle, who studied media management at the university, now runs her own company and coordinates an AI project in parallel.

On a hot summer day in August, we spoke with Maren Huhle over coffee about what prompted her to study at the university, why flexibility is so important in the job market, and how she is helping to green our cities with her startup.

Hello Ms. Huhle, glad you could make it. A friendly dog you have (her Australian Shepherd named Chewie has meanwhile made himself comfortable next to the table)!

Yes, thank you. He is also very popular in the office. When I'm at work, he's in relaxation mode, patiently waiting for the end of the day.

Speaking of the office, you are currently the coordinator for the ZAKKI project at the university. Can you summarize your work there for us in a few words?

Well, ZAKKI stands for "Central Contact Point for Innovative Teaching and Learning of Interdisciplinary Competencies in AI" and is essentially an AI qualification project for university employees. We try to integrate the topic of "Artificial Intelligence" into the university's teaching - for example by providing teaching materials and further qualification of teaching staff. To this end, dedicated teaching-learning labs have been set up at the departments. Our former vice rector, Professor Yongjian Ding, is heading the project, and my job is to coordinate the work of the researchers while keeping an eye on the project's goal.

In addition to your work at the university, you are also managing director at the start-up Moosaik. How is business going there (the company develops modular facade systems equipped with moss, for improving the air and greening cities)?

Until recently, we were employed at the university through a state grant. Currently, we are still receiving funding from the federal government, but have since spun out and are self-employed. In the meantime, we also have a business angel on hand to help us cope with the costs and also to help us with contacts and expertise. At the "Health and IT-Campus" we are currently working on a new model of our system, which we have developed for the first time without the constraints of the university. We get the plants from the Netherlands, the mosses from Southern Germany and our distribution partner for the Central German region is conveniently located in Magdeburg. Since we ourselves lack the production capacity, we will soon merge with our main supplier. This will enable us to increase production and thus also sales.

That sounds like a real success story! How did the idea of greening facades with moss actually come about?

At university, I was involved in the Enactus association on a voluntary basis (the association promotes entrepreneurship for the common good). There were a lot of interesting projects there, but they were often too far away to talk to the local people and do a proper market analysis. I wanted to do something in Germany so that I could see the results directly. I also like to be out in the fresh air and love nature. I had heard about pilot projects in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Switzerland that were also trying to make city centers greener. In some places in Switzerland, as much as 60 percent of roof surfaces are green. Given the ecological problems facing our society, such projects seemed to make sense to me. If you look around you can see for yourself how dry everything has become and how our climate has changed in recent years. After watching a documentary about mosses and their positive effect on the ambient air, I came up with the idea of using these plants in the inner city. I then went to the Institute of Process Engineering to talk about the idea. I then wrote my master's thesis on sustainable ecological urban development. In the end, the university's start-up center convinced us to take the plunge and implement the idea as a start-up project. We then applied for funding, which we fortunately received.

Let's take a look at your curriculum vitae: You just said you are very close to nature and studied, to put it casually, "something with media"; on the other hand, you are currently working in an AI project, managing a company that requires a lot of technology and construction skills and, as I read, you also once worked at the Fraunhofer Institute. At first glance, that seems very contrary, doesn't it!?

(laughs) Yes, at first glance that's true, of course. However, I think this image that you either do one or the other, that you're either a suit wearer or a nature lover, is outdated nowadays. So I definitely fall out of that. On the one hand, I'm very close to nature and often outdoors with my dog, but on the other hand, I did a lot of computer science in my studies, worked on Industry 4.0 at Fraunhofer, built microcontrollers and soldered wires at Mosaik, and am currently trying to bring AI to the university. All of these were not originally my professional goals, but in the end I work where there is a need. In the end, these are all credentials that will help me professionally.

Judging by your résumé, you've tried out a lot and looked into many areas.

Actually, it doesn't even say half of what I've done. For example, as a student I was a stage hand, helped organize festivals, worked in sales, was a tutor, worked in a law firm, and more. The main reason was that I had to finance my studies myself. Sometimes I had three jobs at the same time, for example when I wanted to finance a trip.

You were in Australia during your studies, right?

Yes, I did an internship abroad in journalism there. Later in my master's degree, I went there again as part of a work & travel program during a semester break. I would do something like that again at any time. Maybe I'll take some time off later to work as a development aid worker. In Spain, for example. That's not the country you think of first when you hear the word "development aid", but there is a state of emergency due to climate change in almost all countries today.

But aren't these more technical or medical professions that are in demand there? Well, I would spontaneously think of drilling wells or "Doctors without Borders".

Not only. There are many possibilities to support. I can also imagine working on a construction project, for example. I would really like to do that. With practical activities, you can see what you've done. They create visible added value and you do something meaningful for society. I'm more of a hands-on person than a person who spends a lot of time discussing things.

You originally studied journalism here at the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences, right? Did you also work in that field afterwards?

Well, actually media management, but journalism was linked to it at the time. In the beginning, yes, I worked for a film production company, was also active in marketing and had a lot of contact with it, especially during my studies. I used to be quite obsessed with film and also shot my own films and conducted interviews back then.

Why exactly did you enroll in this degree program?

I graduated with a business baccalaureate, which I'm also very happy about, so marketing always appealed to me. I then looked for courses of study in which marketing was a component in relation to media. In my school days, I did a lot of photography and also shot small films, so media management was an ideal combination of both the business and the creative part.

Since you already had many stations in your professional life; do you think that the famous "red line in your resume" is still relevant today?

It depends. If you have the goal of becoming an expert in a certain field, you should of course follow a red line that will get him or her there. However, specialization often also entails a restriction of professional flexibility. A generalist course of study, on the other hand, opens up many possibilities, but with the disadvantage of having to constantly prove one's own added value on the job market. I realized relatively early on that my studies alone didn't offer this added value and that practical experience is incredibly important for advancing professionally. A lot of people are interested in the media sector in particular. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to have experience and knowledge to be considered for a job.

Are you actually from Magdeburg?

No, I come from Nordhausen. But I've been here since 2010. I almost went to the University of Applied Sciences in Salzgitter for NC reasons, but then I was accepted in Magdeburg. After my bachelor's degree at the university, I wanted to study film studies in Berlin. But for that I would have had to do another bachelor's degree, which is why I decided to do a master's degree in media education at Magdeburg University. In the meantime, I have my center of life here and also feel rooted here.

What made your studies at the university special?

I liked the practical orientation at the university better than the theoretical orientation at the university. Especially with my interest in media technology, I was able to try out a lot of things at the university, for example by using the photo studio, film quippment, editing programs, etc. We also worked directly with regional companies and were thus able to enter into an exchange with clients and customers at an early stage. This gave me an insight into professional practice while I was still studying. I thought that was great!

Finally, would you like to give any advice to our future graduates?

Yes, work! Get to know the practice. Don't do a master's degree without thinking about it, but first get a feel for the demands of business. Practice changes a lot of things. Even earlier ideas and plans. If you think you still need a master's degree or need to develop in a different direction, you can still do that later. But then with practical experience under your belt. In the end, it's what counts in the job market, not the final grade.

Thank you very much for the nice conversation!

(Photo: private)