Are we on the right track? Professors’ Summit focused on excellence and game changers

The professors of Aalto University met in Hanasaari, Espoo, in June to discuss the implementation of the university’s strategy.

The participants reflected on whether we are on the right track to achieving our target, of being a world-class university institution by 2020. The theme of the day was “How can Aalto University drive industrial and societal renewal?”

The opening speaker of the Professors’ Summit was Ilkka Kivimäki who, besides being an alumnus of industrial management and an honorary doctor of technology, also is an early-stage investor, the founding chairman of the Startup Foundation, the chairman of Slush, and a member of the Research and Innovation Council led by the Prime Minister.

Professors in a key role

Kivimäki encouraged the listeners to trust the Nordic innovation ecosystem. ‘The Nordic countries are a hotbed of growth companies, and people are looking here to see what happens next. We have well-functioning and strong ecosystems, and students and universities are active in the innovation sector. We need to capitalize on the latest innovation and best brains found in the universities.‘

Kivimäki finds that professors play a key role for developing well-being. ‘We have plenty of excellent talent in Finland, and you, the professors, work with them every day. You can be proud of your students who have created the most vibrant innovation ecosystem in the world’, Kivimäki praised. ‘I think the most successful professor is a renowned specialist who imparts to his or her students deep knowledge while encouraging them to think big on the business side.’

(Picture 1) According to Ilkka Kivimäki (second on the left) flat hierarchy and creativity are the Nordic countries’ strengths and should be fostered.

(Picture 2) This event was Tuula Teeri’s last Professors’ Summit as Aalto President. In her closing words she said: 'These dialogues with you have been my most memorable things at Aalto, dialogue is the way to achieve results'.

Encouraging students

The participants zoomed in on the day's theme at two workshops: educating game changers and Business/Design/Engineering Excellence.

At the morning’s workshops, the concept of a game changer was elaborated on from the professors’ perspective. Eero Eloranta provided an introduction to the topic: ‘We must encourage every student to become a game changer, an expert capable of taking a bold stance in building the future.’

The intensive workshops crystallised some ideas of learning: It is vital to build up the students’ self-confidence and support their courage to tackle challenges while allowing them to find their own ways of becoming game changers. ‘As far as I know, Aalto is the only university whose value is "passion to explore". We should let this passion shine through in teaching and learning’, Eloranta urged.

In the afternoon, the professors’ workshops targeted at creating a common understanding of B/D/E Excellenceat Aalto University. The introductory speech was delivered by Professor Olli Varis, who has led a task force on this theme, and Assistant Professor Heikki Remes. The workshops discussed two topics: what practical examples of Business/Design/Engineering Excellence does Aalto University have, and how can this excellence be verified.

Metrics for evaluating impact need to be defined

The professors noted that established ways for measuring research quality do exist. Verifying excellence in societal impact, on the other hand, is more difficult. President Tuula Teeri said that universities must themselves define these metrics for measuring effectiveness: if we do not have the metrics, heavy measures will dominate.

How, then, can we verify excellence? The workshops brought up peer reviews, external interest in our activities, success of students and alumni, production of artefacts and concepts, and generation of startups.

Participants in the panel discussion (from the left):Heikki Nortia, Amer Sports, President, Connected Devices and Digital Services; Arni Aromaa, Pentagon Design, Creative Director, CEO, Founder and Partner; Matti Kauhanen, ABB Business Unit Technology Manager; Ilkka Niemelä, Aalto University, Provost; Fredrik Wising, SAAB, Strategic Portfolio Manager; Tuija Pulkkinen, Aalto University, Vice President, and Petri Kuoppamäki, Aalto University, Professor.

Universities as focal points of the innovation ecosystem

To conclude, business and Aalto representatives had a discussion on how Aalto University can drive industrial and societal renewal. Fredrik Wising from Saab said that universities are focal points in the innovation ecosystem that enable transfers of knowledge. One role of the universities is to mature innovations. It is extremely helpful for a company, who can then develop the innovation further. Matti Kauhanen from ABB noted that the best ideas often are multidisciplinary and created on joint forums. In the context of graduates’ capabilities, Arni Aromaa, CEO of Pentagon Design, pointed out that in order to succeed, you need passion, the right attitude and a deep interest in what you are doing. Heikki Nortia from Amer Sports said that in addition to top-notch subject knowledge, Aalto graduates should have co-operative skills and multidisciplinary understanding.

Photos: Mikko Raskinen

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