Upper secondary school students become professors on Day of the Girl

An initiative between Aalto University and Otaniemi Upper Secondary School gives students the possibility to draw attention to technology- and society-related topics that they see as important.
Kuvassa professori Risto Sarvas, etualalla näkyy kaksi Otaniemen lukion opiskelijaa
On Day of the Girl, upper secondary school students take Risto Sarvas's job. Photos Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

What does a 16-year-old upper secondary school student do when she becomes a professor at Aalto University? This is something we will find out on October 11, International Day of the Girl, when a student group from Otaniemi Upper Secondary School steps into the shoes of Risto Sarvas’s, a Professor of Practice.

Sarvas is the Director of the Information Networks Programme and influencing teaching and public discussions about technology’s role in society is an important part of his job. This initiative of will give this power to first-year students at upper secondary school for one day.

During the Day of the Girl, the student group will speak to information networks students in their guild room; have lunch together with Jouko Lampinen, the School of Science Dean; and give speeches at Science Center Heureka’s event for comprehensive school pupils.

For Aalto University, this is one opportunity to make technology field more familiar to young people and girls and young women in particular.

Otaniemen lukiolaisia luokkahuoneessa keskustelemassa
Students at Otaniemi Upper Secondary School prepared for the Day of the Girl event in weekly meetings.
Lukiolainen kirjoittaa taululle "Kuka on tyttö?"
One group was preparing their speech by thinking about what it is to be a girl.

Girls feel pressure of social media

The Otaniemi Upper Secondary School students have been preparing for the day in small groups together with Sarvas and Ulla Helenius-Aro, a literature and Finnish language teacher. During their preparations, they have repeatedly spoken about how girls’ life looks like these days.

Otaniemen lukiolainen Siiri Niemi

Even though people often say that in Finland everything’s already fine, social standards and stereotypes are still really strong.

Siiri Niemi, Student at Upper Secondary School

Technology and societal themes are at the core of the speeches the students will give on the Day of the Girl, but each small group gets to decide what exactly they want to bring up. Ella Kimanen and Lumi Borgers, two of the students taking part, are going to focus on social media because it strongly influences the lives of young people – whether one likes it or not.

‘Social media treats girls, boys and different kinds of people in different ways. How people behave in the social media differs from how they act in school, for instance” says Kimanen.

They point out that on social media, people can say anything they want to anyone they want. Girls in particular feel the pressure to act and look a certain way. According to Kimanen, ‘In the real life, nobody comes to judge you and say that you look horrible today. But in the social media, that’s something you can say.’

Borgers hopes that her group’s speech shows what it feels like for young people.

Diversity is important for the technology field

Siiri Niemi, also a student at Otaniemi Upper Secondary School, wants to talk about equality in a thought-provoking way. ‘Even though people often say that in Finland everything’s already fine, social standards and stereotypes are still really strong,’ Niemi says.

Stereotypes and different ways of treating people have for its part influence on, for example, decisions about where and what one decides to study.

The field of technology is still very male-dominated. In Finland, about 70% of technology students are male, and among computer science students, the proportion is as a high as 80%.

Otaniemen lukiolainen Ella Kimanen

Social media treats girls, boys and different kinds of people in different ways.

Ella Kimanen, Student at Upper Secondary School

According to Risto Sarvas, in many fields having technical skills means that one can also hold more power. If mainly men have this kind of knowledge and skills, the power distributes unequally between men and women. That is why it is important to ensure that a more diverse group of people holds this type of knowledge and expertise.

Diversity is also a key factor in developing new technologies. Sarvas thinks that ‘It breaks ossified attitudes and blows away dusty stereotypes.’

Siiri Niemi wishes that upper secondary school students would receive more information about different kinds of study options. According to her, every student in her school knows about medical school, law school, and business school, but it would be important to hear about all other available options, too, and get more advice on how to prepare for future work life. ‘We have been told that about a half of us will end up in professions that haven’t even been invented yet,’ remarks Niemi.

Shaking Up Tech, organized by Aalto University, LUT University and Tampere University, aims to answer this need. The goal of Shaking Up Tech is to encourage more young women to apply to study technology. The event is held yearly in October, and this year it was organized one day before Day of the Girl, on October 10.

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