Cooperation creates value for students and the City of Mikkeli

Students of the Aalto University Mikkeli Campus worked on seven projects for the City of Mikkeli related to sustainable development. This gave the students an opportunity to combine theory and practice in a meaningful way, and the cooperation provided the City of Mikkeli new insights on how to tackle current challenges.
Image of Mökkeli service concept web page

The Bachelor's Programme in International Business of the Aalto University School of Business provides students with a comprehensive range of business knowledge in an interesting and motivating learning environment. The various teaching methods of the programme organized at the Mikkeli Campus also include projects carried out in cooperation with local companies and other organizations. In projects done recently for the City of Mikkeli, students identified problems within certain themes, generated potential solutions, and then outlined a specific concept to address a particular challenge.

Associate professor and co-founder of the Nordic Rebels movement, Miikka J. Lehtonen, D.Sc. (Econ.), taught at the Mikkeli Campus for the first time in 2017. The cooperation with the City of Mikkeli was part of his Strategic Design Management course, held in January. The course challenges current assumptions of how organizations create positive value for their immediate stakeholders and for the broader societal context.

Miikka J. Lehtonen, D.Sc. (Econ.)
Associate professor Miikka J. Lehtonen wanted to create a whole new learning experience based on the principles of the Nordic Rebels movement. (Photo: Gareth Davies)

‘The aim of the course is to help students understand the role design plays in creating value for firms and other organizations. As a strategic resource, design helps in renewing organizations to be more human- and environment-centric as well as orienting them to be more future-oriented’, Lehtonen explains.

Learning is more meaningful and engaging for the students when they are able to work on real-life projects with real-life partners. Lehtonen says it is a driving force of his Strategic Design Management course. He adds: ‘Projects done for the City of Mikkeli made students feel more connected to the city they study in, and they felt that they have a role in increasing the welfare and prosperity of Mikkeli.’

New insights are welcome

It is in the interests of the City of Mikkeli to cooperate with local organizations, and when this resource from students was available, Strategy & Development Manager Aki Kauranen was happy to take the opportunity. Kauranen emphasizes that cooperation with universities is very important, and he is willing to strengthen it in the future.

Student projects focused on multilocality, sustainable tourism, and digitalization’s impact on city centres. These have been identified as important topics in the Mikkeli region for some time now.

‘The effectiveness of this kind of process is undeniable, when briefing is done together, and students look for solutions to actual challenges we have is this region’, Kauranen says.

Kauranen connected the students with mentors, who strongly committed to the projects and encouraged students to propose daring solutions.

‘From the city’s point of view, the briefings were very successful. Instead of one-time activities, the students identified contemporary phenomena, and meeting those challenges will increase the vitality of whole Mikkeli region. I had high hopes for the students, and still the solutions and concepts they came up with surprised me positively’, Kauranen says, thanking the students.

 Strategy & Development Manager Aki Kauranen, City of Mikkeli

I had high hopes for the students, and still the solutions and concepts they came up with surprised me positively.

Aki Kauranen, Strategy & Development Manager, City of Mikkeli

Full service for remote workers

Aki Kauranen also acted as a mentor in these student projects. His co-mentor was Teppo Leinonen, the Managing Director of the South Savo Chamber of Commerce. One of the projects they mentored focused on multilocality, and Leinonen considers this as a very interesting and contemporary topic.

‘I can see several possibilities in the multi-locality trend for the South Savo region, since we have a lot of second homes and cabins in this area’, Leinonen points out.

The student team came up with an interesting concept of Mökkeli, and Leinonen thinks the solution is insightful – even the name. (Note: Mökki means cabin in English.) The concept provides a fresh perspective on increasing the attractiveness of Mikkeli and its surroundings as a location for remote working.

‘Mökkeli is a service platform that provides customizable service packages for remote workers and cabin-goers year-round. All services, like food deliveries, transportation or cleaning services are easily ordered online. Mökkeli provides services also for cabin owners who are interested is leasing out their cabins’, student Asko Keinonen explains about the concept his team planned.

Leinonen was very impressed by the way the students identified the target group as the next generation of cabin-goers and young adults who live in cities. The requirements this key audience has are different from the needs of an older generation.

Leinonen said that it was fun to see the students work, and the outcome was professional: ‘This kind of concept provides new ways for carefree vacationing for e.g. families from the capital region who don’t own a car.’

New event to make city centre more attractive

Kati Häkkinen, Operations Manager of Mikke ry, mentored a student team who focused on the impact of digitalization on city centres. The trend of increasing online shopping is reducing the number of visitors in the Mikkeli city centre, and the team’s challenge was to find solutions on how to make it more valuable and desirable for people to visit the downtown area. The team presented a concept of a Silent Disco.

Student Julita Koski describes the concept: ‘A silent disco is an event where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. There would be very little noise, so the event is suitable for locations where noise would otherwise bother people in the surrounding area. Silent Disco will attract people to visit the city centre, and it can be arranged as an individual event or it can be a part of other events.’

Häkkinen points out that new ideas are always welcome. She appreciates how smart and curious the students were, and how maturely they approached the challenges.

‘I can use the ideas in my strategic work. Students have plenty of potential, and I will definitely want to cooperate with Aalto University again’, Häkkinen says.

Students were captivated by the course

Students think that the Strategic Design Management course was one of the most thought-provoking and engaging courses so far in their studies.

Asko Keinonen comments: ‘Besides theoretical knowledge, the course taught us about thinking, and that was useful when we identified problems and generated ideas. We were able put the studied theories to the test in workshops, and that gave us more understanding to take the project forward.'

Julita Koski says that the course was an interesting experience: “The course focused on the value for users and interest groups, which was very helpful when planning the project. We learned that planning can have multiple steps and is not always so straightforward. The project with the City of Mikkeli made us feel that we are really doing something important.’

The pedagogical approach of the Strategic Design Management course and the teaching methods used are based on the principles of the Nordic Rebels movement that Miikka J. Lehtonen co-founded.

‘The movement goosebumpifies the process of learning and doing and crafts experiences that are not just engaging and inspiring but multi-sensory and cutting edge as well’, Lehtonen describes.

The course was held online; but Lehtonen didn’t want to emulate traditional contact teaching, rather to create a whole new learning experience. He wanted to offer a student-oriented learning experience and combined different learning materials such as videos, podcasts and live discussions.

Lehtonen concludes: ‘I have discovered the same phenomenon in my research in universities around the world: when you give the students a challenging project and you support them with devotion and enthusiasm, we all exceed ourselves’.

Text: Maarika Raitosola

Bachelor's Program in International Business, Aalto University

International Business, Bachelor (BScBA, Mikkeli) and Master of Science (Otaniemi) in Economics and Business Administration

The Bachelor’s Programme in International Business provides students with a comprehensive range of skills and knowledge to build, develop and lead companies on a global scale. A bachelor’s degree in business with an international focus opens up a wide variety of career opportunities across all industries and continents.

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