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American and Finnish universities collaborate to drive SDG advancement and innovation

From June 3 to June 7, the Finnish-American Research and Innovation Accelerator (FARIA network), jointly coordinated by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, hosted an SDG-themed Staff Training Week in Finland. This event attracted 19 academics and researchers from prestigious U.S. institutions, including Central Michigan University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Denver, the University of Washington, and Stanford University, to collaborate with their Finnish counterparts. The event highlighted transatlantic efforts to foster innovation and address global challenges through sustainable practices.
Staff Training Week participants in front of the Dipoli building at Aalto University.
Staff Training Week participants in front of the Dipoli building at Aalto University. Photo by Júli Moon.

The training week was organised with the support of the FARIA network’s latest project, FARIA Mobility Consortium for Transformative SDG-innovations, which runs from August 2023 to July 2026. The consortium received funding through the Erasmus+ Global Mobility Programme, creating 13 scholarships for U.S. scholars to help cover their travel and accommodation expenses in Finland.

The training week kicked off with joint activities in Espoo and Helsinki, gathering over 30 participants from both countries. The first two days focused on the transdisciplinary aspects of the SDGs and evaluating institutional readiness to deliver impactful sustainability solutions. Aalto University and the University of Helsinki showcased their engagement with SDGs across management, research, education, and impact.

Discussions and workshops covered a wide range of topics, including university-wide sustainability solutions, sustainable campuses, commercialization, integrating sustainability into teaching and research, indigenous peoples and the Arctic, urban sustainability, startups, and science education for younger generations. Popular sessions also addressed funding instruments between Finland and the U.S. and the importance of Fulbright Finland Foundation scholarships.

Workshop in progress, led by the Aalto Co-Educator team.
Workshop in progress, led by the Aalto Co-Educator team, identifying connections and impacts of participants' courses or research topics on the SDGs. Photo by Júli Moon.

Mari Olafson Lundemo (University of Helsinki)and Jérôme Rickmann (Aalto University), the two national FARIA co-leads, were happy to witness the implementation of the project. 'From the very beginning of FARIA’s establishment, we envisioned substantial collaboration between Finnish and U.S. partners in one project. It’s great to see that this has come to fruition now and in such an impactful manner. In fact, this has led to the formation of the largest university consortium in Finnish Erasmus+ participation history, all for an important cause. It also demonstrates to our U.S. friends the power of national mission-driven collaboration.'

Anaid Yerena, Associate Professor at the School of Urban Studies at the University of Washington, found inspiration in Finland's approach to sustainability and youth engagement. 'It was inspiring to see the focus on sustainability and youth engagement in Finland. Integrating sustainability into the K-12 curriculum not only supports development but empowers young people to become proactive change agents,' she remarked.

For an engaging experience, participants from the U.S. also presented posters on how their work aligns with the SDGs and how their universities utilize the SDG framework. Additionally, they toured the Aalto campus, which exemplified how nature and architecture can blend seamlessly, and had a chance to explore Finnish cuisine.

For the remaining three days, participants engaged in specialized tracks at various Finnish universities, each tailored to match their domain expertise and aligned with the hosting universities' strengths. The Finnish universities involved in this collaboration included LUT University, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Lapland, the University of Turku, and the University of Vaasa. Each institution provided unique perspectives on SDG-related topics, allowing participants to explore specialized areas such as renewable technology, sustainable construction, XR technology for sustainable teaching, interdisciplinary knowledge co-production, bioeconomy, sustainable forest management, Arctic issues, and affordable and clean energy.

Training session at the University of Helsinki.
Training session at the University of Helsinki. Photo by Júli Moon.

Lindi Rubadiri-Mujugira, Director for STEM Education at the University of Washington, highlighted the importance of collaboration for this event with an African proverb: 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. FARIA has brought us together, and we already sense how far we will go with the shared knowledge and experience.'

By participating in the Staff Training Week, participants gained insights and exchanged best practices for integrating SDGs into university strategies and their teaching. The overall goal is for participants to become bridge builders between ecosystems, identifying SDG-relevant synergies and turning ideas into innovation. In the future, the FARIA network hopes to organise follow-up visits, where Finnish scholars could visit the U.S. to deepen the emerging SDG-centred relations and complement the training week concept.

Kristaps Kovalonoks, Coordinator of Global Engagement at Aalto University, expressed his gratitude for the collaborative effort, stating, 'Being a part of this training week inspired participants from both countries and laid the groundwork for future collaboration. I extend my warm thanks to the dedicated and supportive team and local coordinators from both Finland and the U.S. for their hard work and commitment to making this program a success.'

The FARIA network is a strategic U.S.-focused collaboration platform that integrates and supports joint actions between Finnish member institutions and American partners. It aims to support cutting-edge research and innovation projects, enhancing the global visibility of Finnish research, development, and innovation excellence. To learn more about FARIA and its activities, please visit their website.

 Kristaps Kovalonoks

Kristaps Kovalonoks

Coordinator
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