Alumni of the Year

The Alumni of the Year is an ambassador for the University of Helsinki. Each year, a person who has supported the University of Helsinki's principles, the academic goals, and increased the academic spirit of Helsinki has been selected each year. The Alumni of the Year is announced each year at the Alumnijuhla.

Cargotec's chairman of the board, historian Ph.D Ilkka Herlin is the Alumnus of the Year 2020.

The University of Helsinki Alumni Association has elected Cargotec's chairman of the board and environmental influencer Ilkka Herlin as Alumnus of the Year 2020.

“Man must move from the grand systems he has created to co-exist in harmony with nature. Technology must be adapted to be part of the natural system. A major mistake in modern culture is that it has tried to control the cycle of nature”, says Herlin.

As the Alumnus of the Year, Herlin intends to talk about the urgency of combating climate change and the collapse of biodiversity. At Qvidja, his farm in Parainen, Herlin is experimenting with a certain technique within agriculture and forestry, which increases biodiversity and binds carbon dioxide from the air to the soil instead of being a carbon source.

Herlin has made efforts to protect the Baltic Sea since the early 1990s. The work has given birth to the Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG), Soilfood oy, a regenerative recycling company and Q Power, a renewable energy company.

The main focus of Herlin's research career has been in the history of science and technology and in the quest to understand how the large systems work. Herlin has been involved in numerous startups and eco-innovations. What is the recipe for innovation?

“Basic research, which has no predetermined objective of turning into innovation, is essential. All that I am involved in is born from an uncompromising and the best basic research and marginal subjects - and only later it is combined with solution-oriented thinking.”

AlumniForum Alumni of the Year 2020

What if we can move from a destructive relationship with nature to a healing one? Live in harmony as part of nature?
Wednesday 8.4.2020 at 16:30
Location: Think Corner, Yliopistonkatu 4

As the Alumnus of the Year, Aittokoski intends to advocate constructive optimism. He is bothered by the current vogue for framing the present and the future in dystopic terms.

“Regarding the world with cynicism and pessimism is considered a token of intellectuality. In my experience, that has nothing to do with intellect.” he notes. 

“We shouldn’t approach the world from a threat perspective, but also with a more positive light, without, of course, letting ourselves be gullible."

In his four non-fiction books, Aittokoski examined current developments in Europe and the rest of the world, and in 2018 he worked as a correspondent for Helsingin Sanomat on themes concerning the future.

“Most people in the world live in far better conditions compared to those of their grandparents. It is likely that advances in technology will continue to improve the lives of all of the inhabitants of this planet.”

Aittokoski has been irked in recent years with the interviews of many influential Finnish cultural figures postulating how the Finnish welfare state is corroding.

“Those are sloppy throwaways, uttered without grounding them with substantial facts. Those kinds of casual remarks are really disturbing.”

Political history education a benefit for analysing the present

Aittokoski began studying the subject at the University of Helsinki in 1991but never completed his degree. After getting a summer job at Helsingin Sanomat in 1995, he never returned to complete his studies.

 “I guess it was partly down to a youthful world view of the recession; if the Helsingin Sanomat is offering me a job, I can’t refuse.”

Aittokoski considers the eduation he received during his time at the university for be of huge benefit to his work as a journalist. His early course on ‘isms’, which examined ideologies from fascism to liberalism, was particularly inspiring and useful.

Aittokoski’s student life mostly revolved around Poleemi, a journal published by the Student Association. This provided him with the opportunity to write, on the one hand, articles of puerile humour, and on the other, ambitious pieces on, for example, the Finnish Civil War and Finlandisation.

The first Alumnus of the Year without a degree

Aittokoski was honored by his nomination to be the Alumnus of the Year, but pointed out that he had never graduated.

However, non-graduation is a non-issue to the association. Ten years ago, the association put into writing that anyone who has studied, researched, or worked at the University of Helsinki is an alumnus or alumna. The motivation for the decision was multifaceted but rooted in wanting to include those who had not completed their studies because of family obligations or having found permanent employment.

Such open mindedness really makes me happy,” says Aittokoski. “There are quite a few of us who didn’t graduate.”