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Graduate Sustainability Competencies and Influence in the Workplace – Aalto University's Latest Research

Meeri Karvinen’s doctoral dissertation, Supporting agency for sustainability: Exploring the contributions of universities and workplaces to the sustainability competencies and agency of engineering graduates was successfully defended in February 2024.
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Image: Mikko Raskinen

Aalto University's Meeri Karvinen recently defended her doctoral dissertation focusing on how universities and workplaces support early-career engineering graduates to act for sustainability. 

In a thought-provoking public defence, Karvinen shared her research findings and discussed their implications for graduate competencies, higher education, and workplaces.

Karvinen’s research unfolded in two distinct phases and via five publications. The initial phase was a comprehensive exploration of Nordic universities' sustainability integration, focusing particularly on teaching and campus development. This phase aimed to provide a panoramic view of existing sustainability practices within Nordic higher education institutions.

In the second phase, Karvinen delved into a development project centred on Aalto University’s Water and Environmental Engineering Master's Programme (WAT Master's Programme). This phase aimed to gain a deeper understanding of how engineering education should be developed so that the graduates would obtain the competencies they need both for employment and early career success, and for promoting sustainability.

These competencies, termed "employability and sustainability competencies," form the core of Karvinen’s dissertation, and are crucial for graduates to navigate the complexities of real-world sustainability challenges in the workplace.

Karvinen’s research highlighted the need for the development of “a hybrid competency profile” for engineering graduates, including solid competencies in their respective fields combined with sustainability competencies and knowledge, particularly the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams, envision sustainable futures, negotiate differing values constructively, and comprehend root causes of sustainability challenges.

Central to her argument was the concept of "sustainability agency," encapsulating graduate capacity to actively promote sustainability goals in their professional endeavours. Karvinen’s research shows that graduates and employers hold differing views of graduates’ sustainability agency, and more support measures would therefore be needed.

To enhance and support sustainability agency of graduates, Karvinen advocated for targeted teacher training initiatives in universities, as well as the development of measures for more active knowledge sharing in the workplaces, such as mentorship programs and pair-work arrangements.

By highlighting the challenges faced by recent graduates in translating theoretical knowledge into tangible sustainability initiatives in their early careers, the research revealed the need for collaborative efforts between graduates, educational institutions, and employers to bridge this gap.

A replay of Karvinen’s insightful lectio (in Finnish with English subtitles) is available here, and the doctoral dissertation can be found here.

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