Aila Laakso is the heart of the CoID program. We were lucky to be able to ask her a few questions about her job and her role within the program.
Aila, what is your role within the Collaborative & Industrial Design program?
I am the study coordinator for the Collaborative and Industrial Design program and I have been here for as long as it has existed. I was already here when we had Industrial and Strategic design and before that, when we used to be the Master program of Industrial Design. Next year it will be 30 years that I will have been in this school. So, I have been here for quite some time and mostly in this room.
What does a study coordinator do?
I work with everything that includes student administration. I have a role in the intake, in the curriculum planning, in graduation as well as in in student counseling. But mainly my job is to work in the administration part.
With what type of questions can students come to you?
They should come to me with things concerning their studies, their credits, their degree structure, their official papers, transcripts and that kind of things. In practical terms, they come with all kinds of questions, because of the fact, that I am the person who is here. Starting from “I lost my keys”, everything to “how would I do my thesis”. But the questions I can best answer are the ones that concern the practical student life. Also, team work problems are often an issue. I also like to keep my office door open to give an impression: “please come an ask” instead of getting worried. That’s my personal choice. Of course, I could put my time at the door that I am available between 12-13 but somehow, I am old-fashioned and I like this spirit. I trust my students that, if they see that I am busy they don’t come. What is very typical for coordinators is that we often end up dealing with problems that are very personal for a student. Things that you don’t really feel so comfortable to talk about with professors or academic tutors, like personal life problems, health problems, I can’t study because I have this and that. That’s why it’s also good that sometimes you can close the door. Those things happen also unfortunately.
What was the most unusual question you ever got?
It’s part of our international atmosphere that we have had foreign students for a very long time and people from different cultures and there are certain questions or things that are amusing. For example, it’s really difficult for a Finnish civil servant when someone calls you “Ma’am”. It is definitely odd for us. Of course, students have asked me all kind of things like how to ask a girl out. What amazes me most is the thing that I tell students that this course is compulsory, and it says in the curriculum that it’s compulsory, and then students come to me and ask: “Do I really have to do this course?”. That to me is sometimes quite amazing. But people have a lot of questions and especially foreigners and that is understandable and especially in the beginning of their studies one doesn’t really know how to behave, who you can talk to and how can you talk to people, and people come from different study cultures, where actually you don’t call professors by first name and things like that. And here it’s real typical. So sometimes is very difficult to know where the limits are, what you can do and what you can’t do. There was no real shocking question, anything goes. Of course, people seem to have a feeling that I can answer everything, like where do I get a job and things like that. I don’t know! [laughing] It amazes me that they think I can solve all the problems.
What do you like most about being a study coordinator?
I enjoy the students. I enjoy the fact that I can see the student’s studies from the beginning to the end and I can be there the first day they come to the school and I can celebrate with them when they graduate and see all the up’s and down’s during that process and also things that students maybe don’t see themselves. But when you look a bit from the side you can see them growing and how much they are actually developing. It’s not something that maybe they themselves feel so clearly. The students always cause me positive surprises and very seldom negative. They keep you young when you only have young people around. And I will always enjoy the atmosphere here in CoID. This program now is less star-design department. People are fair and I think the students have always treated me reasonably nicely and as an equal, which is really really nice. And I have been enjoying that.
What is the biggest difference between CoID and the previous programs?
Maybe we have changed more with getting more of this collaborative design. The biggest change between the decades is that this used to be a very male environment. Majority students of the industrial design students in the 90’s were still boys. So, it has become more and more social – less building cars – and more doing social and societal design. And that is also somehow visible within the students. We used to have always someone who was only doing cars or bicycles – very traditional and old school industrial design. So as the program changed also the students changed. And of course, different people apply for this program. Especially in the 90’s it was very few females and very few foreigners. That has also changed a lot during these years. It has become a little bit self-evident that half of the group are foreigners and everybody speaks English. Earlier, we even had complaints about the English language from some Finnish students, they didn’t like to talk English, but nowadays it’s normal.
How are CoID students different from other programs?
I have only been working here, but I like this group feeling that we have here. That it’s quite easy for people to work together. At least I hope that this feeling is true. People are easily including other people. There is a lot of tolerance for people coming from different cultures and speaking bad English, but I think people take it quite nicely and learn to live with that. That’s also something I really love about this program: It’s a gang of problem solvers and survivors, we manage. And often you hear laughter from the studios. That’s when I have the door open I can always sense a little bit the atmosphere. I like that. Of course, many other disciplines also need more of this star spirit, like in Fashion Design you have to be the big star, it’s part of the culture. Here that’s not so much the case. Here you don’t become famous in this program. [smiling] But you do important things. It also suits me much better. But we have also worked for it to try to create this community and to make the space somehow nice. Nowadays there is another big change that there are so many other students from other programs. For example, Fashion Design students have taken over our space. [laughing] I take it as a compliment, because obviously, it’s nice to be here.
If you are a CoID student and on the lookout for help and an open ear, feel free to drop by Aila’s office and get some great insights. She can be found in Room 872, usually from 9-16.