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A little piece of Silicon Valley arrives in Otaniemi

‘The best experience ever!’ Is the collective opinion of a group of students when asked about their recent participation in the Summer School.
Students Stanford Aalto University.jpg

This is the fourth time that Aalto University students have participated in the interdisciplinary programme Stanford Summer School International Honors Program, held at Stanford University in California which is intended for partner universities.

Students Milla-Mari Vastavuo, Ralf Baumann and Heikki Keskiväli brought a little piece of Silicon Valley with them upon their return to Finland. The students could not wait to talk about their exciting summer. The atmosphere on campus was inspirational.

‘The level of enthusiasm is infectious and really energises everyone around you,’ says Heikki, who recently graduated from Aalto University's School of Engineering.

Entrepreneurship and presentation skills

The courses were hard work but interesting. The experience of studying at Stanford was much more social than in Finland. Homework assignments were done together, sometimes late into the night, and their fellow students began to feel like family.  The teaching teams were larger than here at their home university, there was an emphasis on business know-how, and more interaction between the students and professors on the courses.

But by far the students' stand-out memory from Stanford was the university's strong links with the business world. Several of the courses had visiting lecturers from businesses. Heikki and Milla-Mari took a course in which the students stepped into the shoes of a company's CEO. After reading up on the company's history, the students were assigned the task of working out what they would have done in a decision-making situation that actually happened. After the students presented the bases for their decision, a representative from the company revealed really happened. The course had a direct connection to real-life business activities.

The enterprising spirit pervades life at Stanford, with students seeing their peers as potential business partners. In terms of the assessment of their work, a lot of emphasis was placed on how well the students had networked. Presentation skills were also held in high regard. The students were taught how to make clear slides and present them effectively.

‘The feedback was quite direct. We got told straight up what was good and bad about our presentations. It was constructive, though, and always came back to ways that the presentation could be improved,’ recalls Milla-Mari, who is studying at Aalto University's School of Chemical Technology.

This year's students are keen to encourage future students of Aalto University to take all the communications courses on offer.

‘No matter what line of work you end up in, you need to know how to communicate, have good presentation skills, and know about marketing. You won't get anywhere in any profession without communication skills,’ stresses Ralf, now in his second year of master's degree studies at Aalto ARTS. 

An interdisciplinary group

The students' state-side summer adventure provided them with plenty of stories. All of which make it abundantly clear that they had a fantastic time. There were all sorts of things to see and do on the Stanford campus: a clock tower, church, book store, a souvenir shop selling Stanford University products, an art museum, the world's first hard drive, and various buildings named after well-known businesses. Indeed, the vibrant campus was popular with tourists and abound with live music. 

The students who made it through the tough selection process for the summer school programme come from each of the six schools at Aalto University and are at different stages of their degree studies. Milla-Mari, Heikki and Ralf all agreed that the interdisciplinary group worked out well. Without the summer school they might never have met and learned from each other.  The group did homework assignments together, went to a climbing wall, and got to grips with life on the Stanford campus.

Photo: Aalto SSIHP students

Read more about the summer school: summer.stanford.edu

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