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Jaakko Kivinen, Aalto University alumnus and Doctor of Science (Technology): ‘Don’t isolate yourself to just your own field’

At the time when Jaakko Kivinen was doing his doctoral research, grants meant a great deal for his research. He has made a significant career in information technology and now wants to pass the good on for generations to come by donating to Aalto University.
Jaakko Kivinen
Jaakko Kivinen on a campus visit at Otaniemi. Photo: Nora Rahnasto, Aalto University

After having graduated from secondary school, Jaakko Kivinen set his sights on technical physics’ studies. In the summer of 1959, he worked hard on a qualifying course to gain entrance to the Technical University of Finland.

‘I wanted to do it the hard way. However, I wasn’t admitted to study technical physics; instead, I got accepted to the department of electrical engineering. I realised at the time that it's better to be a good low current engineer than a low quality nuclear physicist,’ says Kivinen with a twinkle in his eye.

Kivinen completed the general part of the degree (then known as “pikkudiplomi”, or “small diploma”) by the deadline, although he admits having spent the first two study years singing as the performances of the Polytech Choir and the representative quartet took the young engineering student from one event to another.

A sketch during his first year also led to a TV appearance. ‘Engineering students had founded Finland’s first television channel, Tesvision, which needed entertainment programmes. So, I ended up in a live broadcast in a sketch in which I played a murderer. I committed all murders with distinction.’

In his third year of study, Kivinen decided that, from then on, only the best academic success would be good enough. He made good of his plan and graduated with a Master of Science degree in Engineering in 1964.

Kivinen has made a distinguished career in specialist and management functions at IBM, Huhtamäki, Neste and Fortum corporations. In the 1970s, he was Professor of Materials Economy (logistics) and Head of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management at Lappeenranta University of Technology.

Pass the good on by donating

In his licentiate thesis, Kivinen studied the control system technology of financial systems in stock market investment processes. In his doctoral dissertation, he applied systems theory to the planning and management of company operations.

‘For my postgraduate studies, I received grants from the Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion, the Helsinki University of Technology, the Emil Aaltonen foundation and the KAUTE Foundation. In my youth, grants were of great economic importance to me.’

With his donation to Aalto University, Kivinen now wanted to pass the good on for generations to come. ‘I feel that I’m indebted to the grant providers, and by making a donation, I’m paying back to them. Grants are extremely important for students and researchers.’

Aalto is an excellent learning environment which combines innovation, entrepreneurship, multidisciplinary, and international approach.

Jaakko Kivinen, Aalto alumnus

Everything begins with desire to learn

Last summer, Kivinen visited the Aalto University campus in Otaniemi. As an expert in control and automation technology, he was particularly interested in research on robotics.

‘Aalto is developing, for example, robots that serve the elderly in nursing homes. This is a great demonstration of Aalto’s multidisciplinary approach. Technology experts must also have the skills to understand what being a human being and an elderly person entail. You should not isolate yourself to just your own field,’ Kivinen says.

‘Aalto is not just a school but also an excellent learning environment and a place of learning which combines innovation, entrepreneurship, multidisciplinary, and international approach.’

Jaakko Kivinen Dipolissa

Kivinen recalls his own studies in the 1960s in the main building of the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK), located by the Hietalahti market square, and on the premises of the electrical laboratory on Albertinkatu. The teaching facilities were bleak, and teaching consisted of lectures, blackboard and chalk, and handouts.

‘My studies were based on my desire to learn. While it is great that teaching is constantly evolving, everything still starts with the student. I encourage young students to look for things that they want to achieve and find their own study path among Aalto's many opportunities.’

Choir singer and a team player

Kivinen’s singing hobby, which he started at a young age, has continued throughout his life. He has been a member of many male choirs and quartets, and still sings in the ranks of two male choirs: Laulu-Miehet and Mieslaulajat.

One of the beloved and, at the same time, rare surviving quartet recordings dates to 1960. At that time, a singing exercise by the Polytech quartet of engineering students, held in the tower of the Vanha Poli Student Union Building on Lönnrotinkatu, was recorded on a Grundig tape recorder.

A few years ago, Kivinen decided to realise his dream - to sing quartet songs by himself and record them using the latest technology. ‘I built a studio in my study and acquired the necessary equipment. My little project of a few songs started off nicely. Then, things got out of hand, and I ended up having a CD full of songs and stories.’

Another dear hobby of Kivinen’s is sports. During his working years, he actively participated in workplace exercise activities, whether it was football, orienteering, track and field, or floorball. ‘When I retired from Fortum in 2004, I got a jersey with Jaska 04 printed on the back. After my last match, I got a trophy, not for being the best player but for being a hardworking team player. I’m still an enthusiastic floorball, rinkball and futsal player – and a team player.’

Text: Marjukka Puolakka

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