Sanna says engineering was not an obvious choice for her during school: ‘I was good in mathematics and in languages in high school and elementary school. I thought of engineering careers as being more diverse and better paid than those one usually ends up with by studying languages. I also thought that if I were to work in engineering, I could perhaps still make good use of my language skills there – a hunch that proved spot on already during the 1990s. I ended up studying engineering physics, as it allowed a wide range of advanced study options at that time. When I began my first courses in energy and environmental protection later in my second year of studies, I knew I had finally found my field! That is where I have remained for the last 27 years, and the field just becomes more interesting with every passing year.’
Sanna’s work has provided opportunities for using her language proficiency, just as she had hoped. She completed her master’s thesis at the University of California and before that had already worked two summers in Switzerland. Sanna tells also of having been a young research scientist for one and a half years at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna: ‘The working language in Vienna was English, but knowing German did mean I could get much more out of living there. I have also done some work with Russia on reducing air pollution, and knowing the rudiments of the language made it more enjoyable to travel and get to know colleagues.’ Sanna is therefore delighted about the master’s level education at Aalto University being so international.
Sanna completed her university degree at Helsinki University of Technology (TKK). For her, the freedom to choose subjects was invaluable in helping her to eventually find her field of study. That is why she encourages Aalto to keep this aspect of academic freedom alive. ‘I think that also the best memories from my university years have to do with the joy of getting to study something that genuinely interested me. Of course, the friends I made as a student are something I treasure as well’, Sanna continues.
Sanna finds the most useful thing she learnt in university studies to be the skill in systems thinking, which she developed in the mathematics courses.‘It is probably the most important “general tool” in my current work as a researcher. Learning the basics of coding was also important; after all, for the first seven years of my career, I had to code any computer-based models I needed for work.’
In addition to being a professor in the field of technology, Sanna is also the mother of a large family. She has four children, one of whom is from Afghanistan. ‘He is an energetic young man in secondary school. I must admit that I, too, am amazed at how peaceful our life is now, although we have four children and three of them are teenagers’, Sanna reveals.
In her spare time, Sanna enjoys being outdoors and encourages everyone to look for experiences in nature. ‘You don’t have to go far for that. Even here in Espoo, you can find incredible experiences in the great outdoors literally a stone’s throw away from the main traffic routes and residential areas. These local experiences are often better than those you get in overcrowded tourist destinations abroad.’, she says. Kayaking in Finland in tranquil weather while enjoying the scenery is something Sanna thinks everyone should get a chance to experience at least once in their lifetime.