Stanford experience by Joakim Kattelus

My Stanford experience was not anything I had been planning or looking forward to for long. It was a few days before New Year’s Eve. I was in my second year of Chemical Engineering studies and was already actively looking for summer jobs when I happened to find my first mention of the Stanford IHP program in an informational email sent to CHEM students. I was intrigued, but I was also very late to the party, the application had been open for months and now the deadline for application was in only two weeks or so! So now followed a mad scramble where I quickly wrote up an application letter, filled in a form and contacted a lecturer I’d had a few courses with for a recommendation.

Despite this hurried start, everything fell into place and I was invited to an interview. Fortunately, the interview was not the stressful experience I had been expecting. We were interviewed in groups, so I already got to meet some of the other candidates. All the others at my interview session were from other Aalto schools, so I did not compete with them for my spot. The atmosphere was collaborative, not as competitive as I had feared. After the interview, I was not very confident that I had made a good impression. But time later, the good news followed: I was going to Stanford!

Campus life

My first impression of the Stanford campus was that I had walked into some kind of movie. The buildings were built in a classical style, resembling Greek temples. The grass was green and perfectly cut. And all this was framed by the California sun. The whole place felt unreal.

After arriving at the campus, we were led to our dorm, Branner hall, where most of the international students were going to be staying. There I met my roommate, as well as the other students. Living in a dorm with all the other IHP students was an interesting experience. On one hand, you met a lot of people from different cultures and could always go to the lounge to pretend to study while actually hanging out and chatting with people. There were a lot of great people in the IHP-program. I became friends with many of the other Nordic students, but also with people from all over the world: France, South Africa, Dubai, Greece, Pakistan, Australia… However, living like this also had a downside: it sometimes felt hard to find personal space or peace and quiet. My room was right next to the courtyard, so I could always hear the people partying and having fun at the balcony outside while I was trying to study.

Life at Stanford settled quickly into a comfortable routine. I woke up, went to breakfast, then to class. In the afternoon, I did homework, but I also had time to go for a run, play cards with my friends or play videogames in the dorm. In general, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of free time. It really felt like I had time to enjoy the summer, and not just study all the time. With my friends, I went to Yosemite National Park over the weekend, visited the beach, went to San Francisco and played volleyball at campus. There were also lot of weekend activities offered as part of the International Honours Program, such as visits to museums or amusement parks.

As for academics, the difference to Aalto University was not as big as I had expected. The total course workload was about the same, with some courses being more time-consuming than others. The students were good, there were some very smart and competent people in all my classes. However, not everyone at Stanford or in the International Honours program was a genius with a perfect GPA. Every student was motivated, however, and that was enough. The biggest difference academically was in the professors and TA:s for the courses. They all were experts in their fields, very competent and motivated. Consequently, each class I took was on the same level as the very best classes I had taken at Aalto.

Below is a not-so-brief explanation of all three of my classes: why I took them and what I got out of them.

Applied Electrochemistry at the Micro- and Nanoscale

Whenever someone asked, I called this class “the Battery Course”. It was all about modern lithium ion batteries, both about the theory and principles by which their work and the current developments in the field. The professor called this an introductory course that barely scratched the surface, but it still felt robust to me. It definitely went further into battery chemistry than we had gone in my Chemical engineering undergraduate degree.

It is worth noting that the professor was an electrical engineer, with a lot of experience in the battery industry. While battery function is all about chemistry, this course was not intended for only chemists. The first weeks were repetition of basic chemical thermodynamics concepts that I was already familiar with, after this we very quickly moved on to new topics such as activation losses and mass transfer limitations. Surprisingly, instead of a final exam we did a final project with Quantum Mechanical calculations on the Stanford data cluster, which I had not expected reading the course description.

No prior information on these topics or battery chemistry was needed, I definitely recommend this course for anyone interested in energy storage or batteries, not just CHEM students. This was the course with the lightest workload I had at Stanford, but I still feel I learned a lot of things I can hopefully apply in my upcoming bachelor’s thesis.

As a final note, for some strange reason this course was found under “Mechanical Engineering” in the course list, not under “Chemistry”. So were courses like “Basics of molecular modelling” and “Combustion chemistry”. CHEM students looking for more advanced courses in your own field, remember to also look here! The courses listed under “Chemistry” were very basic. (Heh…)

Data Mining and Analysis

Someone once described this course to me as “really advanced curve-fitting”. This description is kind of accurate, the course was about using models from simple linear functions to more advanced machine learning algorithms like random forests and boosting to model, classify and make predictions from data.

Of the three courses I took, this one was the most challenging, but perhaps also the one I got the most out of. At some point while working with the course final project, I realised I really liked data mining and machine learning, to such a degree that I’ll probably try to make this subject into a second Minor of sorts. Data science and Machine learning are very useful tools in a variety of fields. While this was an introductory course, I still feel I got a lot of knowledge I can hopefully apply in the future.

There was also a more in-depth course called Machine Learning offered, that was about many of the same subjects. However, I got the impression that course was more difficult, mathematical and theoretical, while Data Mining and Analysis was more focused on applications. (There was a lot of programming in R or Python.) I’m glad I took the slightly easier, more practical course, since I still had plenty of coursework to do at Stanford.

Public speaking-Romancing the Room

This course came highly recommended by previous IHP-participants and I now completely understand why. The lecturer, Jim Wagstaffe, was an amazingly good lecturer and speaker, as can perhaps be expected for a public speaking class. Professor Wagstaffe is a practicing lawyer with a lot of high-stakes cases under his belt, which did bring a lot of credibility to what he was saying. Somehow, he almost managed to make our weekly lectures qualify as entertainment: despite the odd lecture hours (19-22 in the evening!) staying focused was anything but a struggle!

The course was about public speaking, with weekly lectures that included speeches by each student as well as some smaller workshops with oral exercises. The focus was on “Romancing the room”, that is, capturing and keeping your audience’s attention and making them like you and your message. During the course, we students had to give many kinds of speeches: personal stories, demonstrative speeches, persuasive speeches… No prior training or experience in public was required, at the start, some students were very shy and nervous, while some had more experience speaking in public. I feel everyone improved a lot. Personally, I feel I learned to manage my nervousness much better, got the importance of good eye contact drilled in me and learned a few tricks about speech writing.

Instead of a final exam, this course had a final dinner, where each student had to have a speech of a given type. Some did welcome or introductory speeches, some did toasts, some did roasts and some even did obituaries. I did a point-counterpoint entertainment speech with another student on whether stairs or elevators are better. The final dinner and the whole class in general was a really fun experience, due to the sense of community and all the great speeches we had. I still vividly remember several of the speeches: the one about the grandmother who turned away a young, lovesick John F. Kennedy, the one about how to make free money by arbitrage betting and the one about a terrifying first snowboarding lesson.

Final thoughts

In summary, studying at Stanford for the summer of 2019 was certainly an unforgettable experience. I learned a lot, both inside and outside the classroom. There were many new friends made and new experiences had, I had an amazing summer at Stanford.

However, at Stanford I also feel I discovered something about Aalto. Namely, that even compared to Stanford, my home University is a very good place to study. The material being taught is the same, the teaching methods are pretty much the same. The big difference was in the resources that come with being a top US university, right next to Silicon Valley. Many of the professors had some serious connections to the tech companies in the Valley, and this of course showed. But still, while the courses at Stanford were comparable to the very best courses I had at Aalto they were not necessarily better. And it might be that I am biased, but after the initial amazement I can honestly say I like the Otaniemi campus more than the one at Stanford. Otaniemi is right next to the student village, it is smaller and cosier with better study spaces, in my opinion.

One thing I noticed both Stanford and Aalto do well is by encouraging student collaboration. At both Stanford and Aalto, I’ve never felt I was competing with the others in class. However, it may be that the Stanford Summer Session is different in this regard. I have heard that especially post-graduate studies at Stanford can be very competitive. On the other hand, something Aalto could improve is the use of projects as a teaching tool. I have had project work at Aalto, but sometimes they felt like an afterthought or too narrow in scope. In contrast, the projects in Statistical learning and Applied Electrochemistry felt like good opportunities to apply the material that had been taught in the course.

And finally, I would like to comment on the perhaps most important difference between Aalto and Stanford: the price. Studying at Aalto is (almost) free, studying at Stanford is definitely not. Even just the summer program costs thousands of dollars. I had a stipend from Aalto University that paid the bills, but most other summers session students were paying for it themselves. This fact occasionally made me feel a bit guilty, but I also feel like this summer really made me appreciate the free education we have in Finland. Stanford was amazing, but so is Aalto. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to study at both.

If you have any questions about applying or studying at Stanford, feel free to reach out to me at joakim.kattelus@aalto.fi. If you are hesitating about applying for the Summer Session, do it! The experience is very much worth it.

Best,
Joakim

Stanford experience by Frans Lehmusvaara

In a nutshell, the summer was amazing. Stanford IHP gathered around 150 students from all over the world to study their favourite subjects. No one knew anyone beforehand, and everyone was living in the same residence hall for the whole summer. It formed a really pleasant atmosphere. There are already great blog posts about the application process, spare time, and tips and trick. So, I will focus more on the courses.

I’m a computer science undergraduate, and I took mainly CS classes during the summer. As you know, there are a lot of differences between subjects, so your courses might be completely differently organized if you study something else.

It’s easy to notice that Stanford has put a lot of effort into computer science. About half of the students of Stanford School of Engineering are studying computer science. The headquarters of the largest tech companies are located close to the university. Also, for instance, the founders of Google, WhatsApp and Instagram are all alumni of the university. So, Stanford is one of the best places to study computer science in the world. The classes were indeed great! But eventually, they didn’t differ much from Aalto.

During the first two weeks, we were allowed to swap classes freely. I tried seven different courses, in which I started to study CS221 Artificial Intelligence (4 units), STATS116 Theory of Probability (4 units) and ME334S HPC-AI Summer Seminar Series (1 unit). In total, it was 9 units, which equals to 14-15 ECTS credits.

The classes consisted of lectures and office hours. A typical course had around 4 hours of lecturing each week. The office hours were tutoring sessions where you could come to ask for help. The grading was based on an exam and homework. In other words, the courses were arranged like at Aalto. The content of the classes was a bit more theoretical. The most notable difference was that the workload was a lot greater. The amount of homework was at least double. (Note: one class was 4 units, which equals 6-7 ECTS credits. So, Stanford students have more work in each course, but they don’t have to take so many classes.)

The lecturers were, of course, great. The lecturers spoke clearly, were interactive etc. I could describe more preciously about the lecturer, but those are so specific to certain classes. The classes are changing all the time; therefore, the information might not be accurate for long.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of excellent practices that were common between multiple courses. So, here is the list of the teaching/study practices that I enjoyed most at Stanford:

  1. Notetaker stipend: The student, who is taking notes during lectures and shares them to everyone, receives a small stipend and an official diploma at the end of the course. This practice really encouraged students to help others.
  2. Piazza: Piazza is a free education platform where you can anonymously ask help from other students in your class. The platform reduced the workload of the course assistants! The students were encouraged to answer questions on Piazza by given extra points or diploma for those who helped others a lot.
  3. Study groups: Stanford encouraged students to form study groups. When returning an assignment, we were asked to write our name (of course) and also the names of the members of our unofficial study groups. The purpose of writing the study group was to remind us every week that studying together is an efficient way to learn. This practice sounds a minor thing, but it really encouraged students to study together.

I have to say; I would love to see those practices also at Aalto University! Testing and implementing those would be quite effortless. To summarize, the courses do not differ much between Aalto and Stanford. Nevertheless, small things make a huge difference.

And oh, one more thing! If you are interested in applying to the program, don’t hesitate to ask help with the application process! 🙂

Cheers,
Frans L
frans.lehmusvaara[at]aalto.fi

A weekend trip to Mammoth Lakes, California

Stanford experience by Sakari Huhtanen

When you are reading this, it is easier for you to understand my opinions on Stanford IHP if you have some basic knowledge of what I’ve done during my time at Aalto. I started studying energy and environmental technology at the School of Engineering in 2016. After my freshman year, I wanted to get involved in some activities that would be outside of the normal teekkari (technology student) bubble. By accident, I got to know people at Aaltoes and got sucked in organizing different events and programs with them. The year of 2018 I had the privilege to be on the board of Aaltoes and act as the Head of Kiuas startup accelerator. Seeing dozens of founders working on something they loved and were passionate about made me certain that one day I want to be like them. Stanford is the number one university when it comes to startups, which made it a no brainer for me to apply.

Scandi gang somewhere at Stanford before fountain hopping

Eight weeks at the heart of the Silicon Valley offered plenty of unforgettable moments and lessons. Both in the classroom and in the fountains. Before I applied, I read many blog posts about how the IHP program at Stanford had been a life-changing event and whatnot. This didn’t happen to me. Instead of this, my time at Stanford made me even more confident that I’m on the right path and the choices I have made are the right ones for me.

Before I start describing my summer more, let’s go through some of the things about the application process, from my point of view of course. I’m sure that you have heard this before when thinking whether to apply or not: You don’t need to have a perfect GPA. Don’t get me wrong, it does play a role, but it is only one part of the equation. What you need to have is the best overall package. My application had very strong reasoning why Stanford would help me and why it would make sense to send me there. My personal statement, story and recommendations were covering what my GPA was lacking. Magnificent GPA surely helps you, but you can have other reasons that make you stand out.

I enrolled in three courses: Technology Entrepreneurship, Energy Essentials and Effective Negotiation and Persuasion. I didn’t do any “course shopping”, even though it would’ve been probably a smart thing to do. I got pretty lucky since the courses which I chose were a great fit for me.

Technology Entrepreneurship and Energy Essentials were the main courses for me and these were the courses I invested most of my time in. Technology Entrepreneurship is probably the most popular course during the summer quarter, and you should be quick to enroll since more people are trying to enroll than there are spots. During these eight weeks, you get a chance to develop a startup idea with a group of 6 to 8 people. The staff has been there and done that and they are the best people to help your team forward. Visiting lecturers vary from mountain climbers to Tesla co-founders. It’s astonishing to see how extremely busy people are willing to sacrifice their time for students. Students have a chance to pitch their ideas during the first weeks, after that you can and should go and talk to people with the most interesting ideas. Don’t be too nice when waiting for your turn because the teams are formed very fast and you might end up with a project you don’t really care about. The best scenario is that you come up with your own idea and present it in a way that people want to join your team.

Our Technology Entrepreneurship team: Renewell after the final presentation

Energy Essentials is a great course and it gives you an overview of the energy policies, energy production and consumption in the US. Fracking, natural gas, LCOE, solar energy and the duck curve are the keywords. This course won’t be the most technical one. Instead, it gives you the tools to analyze the pros and cons of different energy sources on a bigger scale.  Coming from Europe oil and gas industry seems very outdated but in the US, it is present everywhere. One of the biggest learnings during my summer was that the O&G industry is not going anywhere soon, whether you like it or not.

When choosing your 3rd course which you most likely need to get 8 or 9 units I would highly recommend to choose a seminar course. I chose Effective Negotiation and Persuasion but I had a bit different expectations for the course than what it turned out to be. For the students that have gone through the Finnish school system, I don’t think that this course has that much new to offer.

One of the main reasons why Stanford and Silicon Valley are the hub for startups is that entrepreneurship and networks are present in every course. Whether it is an entrepreneurial course (Technology Entrepreneurship) or more hardskills focused (Energy Essentials, Effective Negotiation and Persuasion) these concepts won’t go unnoticed. In every course you hear how their alumni have founded this and that company and how you can get access to this wide network of the best professionals when you have completed this course. This fact promotes entrepreneurship everywhere and the best thing is that you barely notice it. It is everyday life and in a way nothing super special. Everyone is looking constantly for new ways to do business and/or make everyday life better.

The most valuable asset with any university program/degree is the people. You should keep that in mind when starting your studies at Stanford or Aalto. My piece of advice would be that don’t take 3 super hard courses that require your undivided attention 24/7. Try to be active especially during the first weeks and consciously break out of your inner circle. Many people find like-minded people who are usually from similar cultures during the first weeks, which is great! But you should pay attention to that and go outside of your comfort zone and meet people who might not have spent all of their lives in the Nordics.

All in all, summer at Stanford has been one of the best summers I’ve had. It was also probably the most intense period of my studies (so far). If you want to maximize your learnings and get kissed by the Californian sun at the same time, Stanford IHP is definitely the go-to place for you!

Yosemite is a must visit during the summer. The nature there is absolutely unique.

I want to thank Aalto for giving this great opportunity. The biggest thanks goes to all the new friends who I met during my time at Stanford. You made it a summer to remember!

Best,
Sakari

Stanford experience by Taika Nummi

So Stanford, huh? Yeah. You heard the rumors right, I was one of the lucky Aalto students that had a chance to spend their summer studying at one of the world’s most beautiful campuses in sunny California. So lets jump right in, wont we?  And I’ll answer the four most pressing questions that I often get from friends and strangers alike.

Warning: I will be blunt and straight forward.

1. “How on earth did you get into Stanford? Isn’t it like crazy hard to get in?”

I know the common mentality of people is not to apply if they feel like there isn’t a chance of getting in and I think that strongly applies to Stanford Summer Session – with the name Stanford bolded. The prestige of the school definitely scares people away and I hear a lot of people saying that they would have applied they had a poor GPA, bad CV and two few courses. What was the point in putting so much effort into an application if you weren’t even going to make it to the interview.

Let me tell you a little secret. At the time I was applying to Stanford my GPA was well below the average gpa of a business student at Aalto and I definitely was lagging behind on my studies. I wasn’t a finance student *cough cough* and I had very little working experience anywhere to display proudly on my CV. If this all had worked like a Finnish application process, I would not have been at Stanford this Summer.

Gladly for me the application process to Stanford was executed in an American fashion. This means that in addition to displaying your GPA and credits, you had to send in a CV, motivation letter and a recommendation letter from one professor or academic. After this they called you in for a group interview – which by the way was the most interesting and easygoing interview I have been in – and a week or so later you got to know the results.

So back to the question how I got in. I can not give you a direct answer, for that you would have to ask those choosing, but I think that at least these two factors played a major role:

a) I really really really wanted to go to Stanford. Stanford has always been a dream school for me. My aunt used to go there and she would bring us merchandise when we were kids. So I was pretty much brain washed into it. I even applied for a bachelors program after high school and ever since then have felt like I wanted a chance to know what it was like to be a student at Stanford.
b) I knew why I wanted to go and what I wanted to do there. Stanford Is one of the best universities in the field of Psychology and that is something that greatly interests me. Psychology is also a field closely related to management and I personally think organizations have a great responsibility and possibility to take and improve the mental health of its numerous individuals. I wanted to gain a broader knowledge of the field and get to talk to professors and researchers who had the latest information on these topics.

Of course this is only a guess, but I would advise anyone who is interested in applying to ask themselves why they want to go and what they want to gain from the experience. I would also advice you just to apply, because the intake criteria might see vague, but exactly therefore it might just as well be you they are looking for than anybody else.

2. “What courses did you take? And did you like them?”

The grant from Aalto covers the expenses of 8-9 Stanford credits (about 13-15 ECTS) for the Summer. I started my semester by enrolling in quite a few more and started off with a total of 23 Stanford credits: 5 courses in psychology, 1 in philosophy and 1 in Chinese language. Stanford has what they call an add or drop period which means you have two weeks to sit in on courses before the enrollment is final.

I’m really glad they had this system because it became clear very fast that a lot of the psychology and philosophy I had already covered in High School and it would have been a complete waste to stay in those classes. I ended up taking the courses Genes, Memes and Behavior and Accelerated First-Year Chinese.

Psychology – Genes, Memes and Behavior (3cr)
Key words: genes, memes, behavior, psychology, discussion, interdisciplinary, small group teaching, freedom, happiness, mental disorders

Even though the main reason behind coming to Stanford was to study psychology it was clear to me that the courses offered during the summer where first year courses and sitting in on them just for the sake of it would have been a waste. I ended up only enrolling in Genes, Memes and Behavior, not because it was more advanced than the other courses – but because it offered small group teaching. Unlike the other classes which where lecture based, this class only had seats for 10 people, which meant that the professor really ha time for us and discussions on the topics. This was great because we had the possibility to go more in depth in anything that we were interested in.

The course material was very broad and that I also perceived as a huge bonus because we were able to bring discussion to topics that were relevant and we enjoyed. In addition the professor was an amazing lecturer and he was willing to assist with anything – even things outside of the class room. He assisted me in finding the people, who were specialized in the topics I was interested in and I was even able to get an offer to work as a research assistant next summer at the department. Perks of choosing a class with a quota! I would recommend you to check that out!

Language Center – Accelerated First-Year Chinese (5cr)
Key words: language, Asian culture, pinyin, kanji, mandarin, food from panda express, you are never going to learn a language this fast (be prepared).

This course that raises most questions and eyebrows. Why did I end up studying Chinese at Stanford. Simple: I have always wanted to learn Chinese and there really is no better place than Stanford.

This. Is. The. Best. Course. I. Have. Had. In. University. Hands up. Never have I learnt a language as fast and with such ease. If you compare Stanford language education to the education we get back home – I hate to admit it but this is where the Stanford outshines Aalto by miles. The class only consisted of 6 participants and it was held daily in the mornings so we were immersed in the language for 1 hour and 15minutes every day and when I say immersed, I mean it.

From day one the teacher would mostly just speak Mandarin to us. This didn’t mean that it was just aimless ramble and we had no clue what she was speaking about. Every lesson was well planned out and she used gestures, pictures, animations and items to explain details to us. You quickly learnt to associate objects to words. Class time was used for making us speak and outside of class we had to learn characters and pinyin.

The class was really intensive and most of my days I spent working on Chinese because we had weekly oral tests and quizzes. But the hard work payed off, because after only 8 weeks I can read, speak and write over 150 characters – confidently. So rewarding!

All in all in my opinion classes at Stanford were much easier than classes back home at Aalto. Credits where much easier to obtain and I felt like I had a lot of time to do extra. This could also have been because a) it was a summer session, b) I wasn’t taking tech and science classes, c) I had less activities outside of school to distract me and d) I actually enjoyed what I was studying.

3. “What did you do during your spare time? Did you meet lots of cool people?”

This is the one where I will have to disappoint you: I studied. I made use of the great athletics facilities and the great food. But mostly, I studied.

And to be honest it was the thing I wanted to do. Last time I enjoyed studying this much was back in High School. Imagine waking up every morning and being excited to head to the library with a cup of coffee and just sit there and learn new things! After getting my work done, I would switch to reading some of the books on the libraries shelves. Never have I been in a library with such vast offering. How could I not have resisted staying in there and reading till closing time?

Yes, I talked to people but a lot of the time I felt like it was very much networking and getting to a deeper conversational level was almost impossible. I hate networking and I give up immediately if interaction even slightly feel like it. I actually thought it was funny how we all came from over 30 different countries but were so similar. It was really hard to find diversity of background in us as a group. Of course there were cultural differences but for example, we Aalto students where the only ones on scholarships, the rest had parents who could afford to send them to Stanford for the Summer.

The Summer program offered a lot of weekend activities and the international students planed a lot of trips and outings together. So if you are extroverted and like big groups of people there definitely is more for you in California than just studying and spending your time talking to researchers. It really all comes down to your mentality and what you want to take away from it. There is no right or wrong way of doing Stanford.

I did make one friend for life though. It is quite funny. Who would have thought that you would have to go all the way to California to meet and bond with an Aalto ARTS student? Heidi, if you are reading this: Thank you for being there for me.

4. “Would You do it again?”

My first reaction to this question is of course a big YES. And I mean obviously for me it is a no brainer. I had always wanted to experience Stanford. Now I know what it is and know what I am missing and what I am not. But under different circumstances I wouldn’t be too sure if I would. What I noticed at Stanford is that the quality of education back home is just unbelievably good. If I hadn’t gotten a fee waiver from Aalto, I would not have paid the amount of money for summer courses that are courses you can get back in high school in Finland.

This is not to say that the teaching at Stanford was poor. On the contrary, I feel that professors at Stanford where much more equipped to teach and obviously had more resources than back home. The problem just is that the quality of high school teaching in the States is so versatile that they have to offer very basic classes for undergraduates to let them catch up.

One is for sure. Stanford is really mostly just a university like Aalto. The undergrad students are intelligent but no more so than elsewhere. The difference is that it has a name and the name gives it more resources to put into research and this again attracts top-notch Professors and PhDs from around the globe. Yes – PhDs are a completely different story and I am seriously worried about the health of those PhD students at Stanford. But I guess that is a story for another time.

I just want to end this blog post by telling you all that Aalto is a great University and we are so lucky to be a part of its student body. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the Atlantic (well, actually it was because they watered the campus 24/7 and I didn’t witness a single cloudy day, but oh well…).

If you have any questions about applying to Stanford Summer Session, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.surname(at)aalto.fi .

Yours,

Taika

Stanford experience by Konsta Holopainen

The summer at Stanford was great. The people were great, the food was great and not once did it rain. However, the single most valuable thing I learned there was to appreciate Aalto even more. Don’t worry, I’ll explain that statement more in the next section. Let’s dive straight in and start off with the academics.

I completed three courses at Stanford which in Aalto credits summed up to 13 credits.
The courses were:

  • Public speaking – Romancing the room (3 units, 5 ECST)
  • Data mining and analysis (3 units)
  • Effective negotiation and persuasion (1-2 units, 3 ECTS)

And what did I learn? The level of the tuition at Stanford varies a LOT!

The professor in public speaking course was without a doubt one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure to listen. Even though the sessions took place in Tuesday evenings from 7pm to 10pm, he was able to keep the class attentive until the end every night. It was actually quite solid entertainment.

The teacher of the data mining class was just OK. He knew he stuff but I felt that he was more of a doer than a teacher. The materials were good but pedagogically the lectures weren’t on the highest level. I honestly got more out of the book and exercises while studying by myself. ­

And the third . . . This course was not what I expected. It had the actual group classes for the first unit and the second optional unit was obtained through 1-on-1 meetings with a tutor. The group meetings with the teacher were subpar. At their best. The course name even did not really describe the content very well, as the “negotiation” part of the course contained one slideshow given by a local car salesman. What comes to the tutoring sessions, I was lucky and got the better out of the two tutors. Those sessions I actually enjoyed and learned a bunch.

My suggestions on these courses:

  • Public speaking; a big GO!
  • Data mining; not bad, but you can get the same by reading the book (http://faculty.marshall.usc.edu/gareth-james/ISL/) and doing the exercises. (Solutions can be found online)
  • Effective “negotiation” and persuasion; steer clear from this one

What would I do differently now? I would enroll onto a lot more courses initially and drop the ones that don’t float my boat. I would also try to do even more research on the courses beforehand, but still one might strike out. I was initially enrolled on five, but that clearly wasn’t enough. Go for more!

There was a couple more of interesting things that I learned during the first days of class.
First, the teachers at the Summer Session haven’t necessarily nothing to do with Stanford outside the Summer Session. Two out of my three teachers were there only for the summer, and for the first time.
Second, the level of the students in the classes ranges from high school to master’s students. This was not a problem in any way. Just a nice-to-know trivia.

Was it hard? I wouldn’t say so. I honestly feel like the courses at Aalto are a lot tougher. I didn’t have the heaviest courses there at Stanford, but if I compare the Data mining course for example to similar statistics courses in Aalto, the ones back home are substantially harder. There was a lot of work at Stanford, but it was not hard. The homework took its time, but it was mostly something easy and straightforward.

So worry not, there is time for some fun and games too! I mostly spent my free time doing sports and just hanging out with the other IHP students. If there is something that really was better at Stanford, it’s the facilities. There wasn’t really a sport that I couldn’t do there, and never was there a moment when we couldn’t find a place to hang out.

A quick Q&A to sum up my takes on the experience.

Knowing what it was, would I apply again? Yes!
Knowing what it was, would I apply for a second summer? No.
Would I want to study at Stanford full-time? I might.
Would I pay for it? No!
Should you apply? YES!

If you are still intimidated by Stanford or the other students there, you can just wipe that away with good conscious. Yes, it’s an old and prestigious school, but you have no reason to feel any lesser because of that. We Aalto students were the only ones there on scholarships, and (hopefully not sounding too arrogant) I can say that in some cases it showed. I sure wasn’t the smartest one there, but not once did I have to feel myself inferior to anybody.

And if you are intimidated by the application process, don’t let that stand as an obstacle either. Just put some work in it and see what happens. Even the application process itself was an experience. Just go for it!

Finally, I would like to thank Aalto for this summer, but more so, I would like to thank Aalto for the education I’m getting here for free. I truly feel that Aalto can withstand the comparison!

Cheers,
Konsta

Stanford experience by Helmi Korhonen

The most ridiculously impossible question you can ask a human being to answer is the following: “so could you like… boil your summer at Stanford down into a single sentence?”

Followed closely by near-to-impossible questions regarding the purpose of life, the existence of a God, and whether or not I actually like olives, I’m here to tell you why it is pure insanity to even attempt to answer the most ridiculously impossible question there is in such short length.

I will also give you some tips on how you could succeed in securing a weird position in your life where you are constantly answering The Impossible Question, especially for people you barely know at housewarming parties back in Helsinki.

All jokes aside, Aalto’s scholarship to the International Honors Program at Stanford was probably one of the most outstanding opportunities of my life. I am beyond grateful to have experienced a summer so full of life and growth that I am still taken aback a little when people ask me to describe it to them. Now that I’ve had some practice, here’s my attempt at describing Stanford. In more than one sentence, thankfully.

1. The Application Process

A lot of people say they don’t apply to programs like this because they simply aren’t good enough. That their grades don’t match, that they aren’t remarkable possessors of an all-embracing wisdom that would make even Einstein jealous, and so, the place mustn’t be for them. Fight this instinct. Give it a go. If a perfect 5.0 GPA was a prerequisite for Aalto’s choice of students, I wouldn’t be writing this text.

Focus on your vision, your passions, and what makes you memorable. Think about what excites
you and is so incredibly interesting that you find yourself binge-watching TED talks on it for hours on end. Communicate that, and how it relates to the exchange opportunity. If your only reason for applying to Stanford is to make your CV look more brag-worthy, find a new reason. Find multiple reasons, even stupid ones. I wrote my motivational letter about a pyjama shirt.

2. The Part Where You Surf the Californian Waves of Impostor Syndrome and Everyone Around You Is So Incredibly Smart

Correct. Everyone is really smart. But so are you (with huge thanks to your years in the Finnish education system and at Aalto). Get to know them. Turns out, they are really kind and passionate too, and some of them have the same taste in music as you. You’ll go on lunches and midnight walks around campus together, and you might decide to be best friends with an Icelandic engineer at 3am on a Friday night doing laundry while everyone else is exploring the pub scene in Palo Alto and your ID’s are still screaming 20 years old. In a place known for outstanding innovation and mind-blowing brain power you will, funnily enough, find marvelously normal humans.

3. The “Oh boy, I’m taking a course at Stanford”

Awesome! Especially for ARTS students, this is an incredible opportunity. For me, one of the biggest benefits of the summer academics was the chance to both venture out of my degree (Bachelor’s in Design), all while secretly collecting information on subjects I might want to specialize into in addition to what is traditionally offered within my BA program. I actually ended up with a mix-and-match minor from the following courses:

Digital media and behavior
Key words: AR, VR, human-computer interaction, media psychology, empathy, AI, algorithms, cool fun facts you can casually mention in conversation at housewarming parties

This course was pretty interesting, and offered a lot of food for thought. Learning was quite theorybased (as many might recall from high school psychology classes), but visits to the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, a sweetheart teacher and a group project kept the course versatile. Looking back, I think some of my prior interests in the area made the course not-super-challenging for me, because I was already aware and somewhat well-read into many of the subjects covered. Nevertheless, I’d recommend the course to anyone interested in digital media and how it is evolving and affecting human behavior.

Sustainability Design Thinking
Key words: concept development, co-design, sustainability, design thinking, human-centric design, interdisciplinary work

This course gave you lots of freedom and leeway as to how to approach the design briefs and
problems – but like many summer session courses, it was more of an introductory course into the design process and way of working. During the 8 weeks, you ended up completing 4 design
concepts (product, service, environment, urban system), and presenting them to class.
Sometimes I felt a bit frustrated going over basics of why design is important, and sadly felt
like the sustainability aspect of the course was occasionally overshadowed by a craze for making cool, gadget-y things that would fit the Silicon Valley mindset (with no further concern on the implications a product or service might actually have on the environment). Quite a lot of bizarre and maybe useless designs received a thumbs up if you mentioned you might add a solar panel to it. I’d say that if you are interested but mostly unfamiliar with either design-driven project work or sustainability, this might be a fun place to start.

New Indicators of Well-Being and Sustainability
Key words: measuring resilience, environmental economics, civics, policy design, macroeconomics, happiness, education, UN SDGs, political science

This course was by far the most eye-opening and motivating out of my studies at Stanford, if not my entire university career. It’s hard to describe the breadth of topics covered in class, but I
remember feeling both hopeless and empowered looking at the current and past states of the
world, and trying to understand them through economics and policy (I shared the same feelings
looking at the course work load). The teacher was great, and the classes were inspiring. Even
though I might’ve spent a few sleepless nights trying to wrap my head around topics covered in
class and finishing my personal research project on urban design, I felt like it was all worth it… and ultimately, a fitting balance against some of my less heavy courses.

A few more tips:
– Go course-shopping! Enroll yourself on some extra courses, see what they’re like, and drop theones that don’t feel like a good fit. I spent some time doing astronomy and environmentalentrepreneurship.
– Enjoy the freedom and burden of taking written exams. As an ARTS student, it was nice for me tobe able to prove my knowledge by actually scribbling it down on paper. If I was right, I was right. No room for further questioning, explaining or people’s personal style preferences getting in the way.
– Don’t stress it. Most of your learning will come from outside of class anyway. And if you’re interested in the stuff you’re studying, they’ll stick to your brain like a piece of gum on to a desk.

4. The Impossible Question

I should probably rename this subtitle “The Annoyingly Disgusting Cliché”, as I will prove to you in the following few sentences. If I can give you one big tip, it is to put those books down for a second, leave campus, and drag the nicest people you’ll ever meet along with you. There is such an overwhelming richness in being able to connect with people from all corners of the globe; be it laying on a country road under starlight at Lake Tahoe, fearing for your life biking through San Francisco traffic on a 60 dollar BMX from Walmart, and finally letting go of the hearts you were able to call your second home for an entire summer in the yellow blaze of the Pacific sun. This is going to sound so gross, but if my life was a movie, my summer in California would be one of those gold-tinted-memory-sequences the editor would cut in at some point to evoke a sense of rebellious youth and life at its fullest before everything went wrong.

So, when some nice stranger at a housewarming party asks you to “…like… boil your summer at
Stanford down into a single sentence” you’ll go on to give them a smile, think about the golden scenes in the movie of your life, snort your drink slightly into your nose and say, “Why don’t you go see it for yourself?”

Shoot me a message on my social medias or my university email (firstname.lastname@aalto.fi) for any questions regarding the exchange, even impossible ones.

Stanford experience by Anna Vilén

Hi there! My name’s Anna Vilén and I’m a third-year student of energy and environmental engineering. I spent last summer at Stanford at their International Honors Program and can say that it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for another! In my blog post I’ll share some of my thoughts about the summer in general and practical tips to help out you future students.

Application Process

I know the application process may seem intimidating but I can assure you it’s really not as bad as it seems! I encourage you to apply even if you feel skeptical about being accepted and keep in mind that you really don’t need to have a GPA of 5. Just remember to bring out your own vision and how Stanford fits into that.

Academics

I know academics are the primary reason that we go to Stanford but I think it’s important to keep in mind that, even though you should definitely spend a good amount of time deciding on your courses, it can be difficult to find the absolute perfect courses. I recommend enrolling in a couple extra courses so that you can then during your first week see which ones you like the best. I encourage you to keep your mind open and expectations realistic even if it is Stanford. Something I realized during the summer is that the actual teaching quality in Stanford isn’t always that superior to here at Aalto.

That’s not of course to say that I didn’t enjoy my courses! The biggest difference that I saw compared to Aalto was the amount of time the teaching staff were able to dedicate to each individual student and the motivation that they clearly had towards their job. Do take the opportunity to talk to your teaching staff because you can learn a lot from the people at the top of their field.

I took 3 courses during the summer and I’ll tell you a little about each of them:

Environmental Entrepreneurship and Innovation

I had a bit of a convoluted reason for taking this course: I disagreed with the professor during the first lesson about the plausibility of doing environmental business so I decided to take the course to challenge my ideas. The professor as a venture capitalist was definitely an interesting character and his stories from his VC days were fascinating to listen to. I really enjoyed the group work at the end of the course. In general, however, I wasn’t impressed by the organization and quality of teaching. I would describe the course as a basic economics and entrepreneurship course with a few environmental ideas sprinkled in. The professor would often have us sit in class and watch low-quality youtube videos of basic economics concepts. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the course but I do have to give due credit that the group work really enabled interesting discussion on environmental topics.

Introduction to the Philosophy of Science

This was my favorite course during the summer! I really recommend taking a course on something you haven’t studied before as many of the undergraduate courses tend to be basic in level. The course concentrated on values, uncertainties, and developments in science. I love that I could leave Stanford knowing I had gained a very concrete new skill of being able to write a philosophy essay.

The professor and teaching assistant were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had! They had office hours every week where you could get individual help from them and just have really interesting conversations. The personal teaching was made possible by our small group size so do keep that in mind when choosing your courses.

Public Speaking: Romancing the Room

All the hype and praise surrounding this course was a decisive factor in choosing this course. The course didn’t quite live up to my expectations but I think others less used to public speaking may find it more useful. The professor was clearly made for his job as he was able to make a 3-hour lecture enjoyable and captivating. I thought the organization of the course was lacking and there was tedious homework each week that I didn’t see as useful in any way. But overall, if you want to get a lot of practice in speaking and gather a few tricks to have up your sleeve then this course could be a good pick for you!

Practical tips for Stanford

Keep in mind when going that your dorm room has basically nothing in it. I would recommend packing sheets, a towel, a plate, a set of eating utensils and hangers just to name a few things that may not be obvious. A lot of students just ended up buying them and then throwing them away at the end of the summer but that felt quite wasteful to me. A bike is super useful on campus and easy to get second-hand from SUPost or Craiglist.

The vegan food in the dining hall is generally really good for any vegans out there wondering! There’s a huge selection of food in general and lot of fresh veggies.

Stanford and San Francisco especially are surprisingly cold so do pack a warm sweater and jacket.

Places to visit in your free time

California is amazing so make sure to take everything out of your time there! The six Aalto students flew to California a few days earlier to leave time for sightseeing and I ended up staying for another few weeks after the summer session. You definitely don’t need to have all your plans set for post-Stanford: I ended up going on a bus trip to LA with friends made during the summer. In addition to traveling, I found some amazing gems near campus during the summer that I really recommend visiting in your free time:

Turbo 26

I absolutely loved this yoga studio that was a bike ride away from campus! The instructors were very welcoming and flow yoga was a great way to start the mornings.

Stanford Theatre

This was an endearing old movie theater in the Palo Alto center. They show old black and white movies in a 100-year-old theater that makes you feel like you’re in another decade.

Stanford Windhover

If you need a calm escape from hectic schoolwork this is the place to go! Windhover is a calming meditation building that is in the middle of campus but feels like another world.

Stanford Observatory

The best place for catching a beautiful sunset on campus!

Marshall/Baker Beach

My favorite spot in San Francisco was this beautiful beach with views that are picturesque, especially for being in such a big city as SF.

All in all, Stanford and my summer in California was amazing! To you future students, make sure to drink up the sunshine and enjoy American dorm life. Rarely do you get to live in a house with people from so many cultures and I’m grateful for all the new perspectives I gained during the summer. I encourage you all to apply as this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! If you have any questions or want any advice regarding the application process don’t hesitate to contact me, I’m more than happy to help!

anna-elina.vilen@aalto.fi

Stanford experience by Suha Chowdhury

I have always wanted to study abroad for as long as I can remember. The idea of experiencing a new culture and gaining new perspectives while being a part of a diverse yet enriching academic community has always fascinated me. Hence, having the chance to attend one of the prestigious and renowned universities in the world was like having one of my dreams come true. For that, I would like to extend my most sincere thanks and appreciation to Aalto University for not only granting the opportunity but also providing the full scholarship to attend Stanford Summer International Honors Program (IHP). I can say with indisputable certainty that this summer has been nothing short of amazing.

When I first stepped foot on the Stanford campus, I thought it looked like an image straight out of a postcard; a replica of a tropical paradise with lush green vegetation, tall palm trees, sparkling water fountains and the warm California sun. I remember that the day had been scorching hot, too – I think it might have been the hottest day during my stay at Stanford – and I dreaded that the weather would be like that for the whole summer, but the weather was surprisingly quite pleasant for the rest of the time being. I would still, however, suggest bringing a hoodie or a light jacket because it can get chilly at night.

This year all the IHP students resided in Branner Hall. It was my first time living in a dorm, and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the dorm life experience. It gave a sense of belonging and created a vibrant and supporting environment to study and share interests and experiences with one another. I particularly appreciated the fact that it was easy to find like-minded people with eclectic backgrounds, and I was continuously drawn and inspired by the intriguing stories of these people. Their drive and enthusiasm were simply contagious. In the end, some of my fondest and greatest memories were created in the common area within the confines of Branner where people would huddle around the tables to study or engage in long conversations and light-hearted chats, play table tennis or simply bring snacks to watch movies and documentaries.

There were several activities organized for almost every day. From spa sessions and football matches to outdoor hikes and special weekend trips arranged by the staff, there was something for everyone to try out. My favorite weekend trip included visiting Santa Cruz. The limited spots to the weekend trips were up for grabs on a first-come-first-serve basis, which meant that you had to be quick to enroll if you wanted to secure your place in one of the offered events. Hence, I would advise anyone interested in attending a weekend trip to sign up fast – especially for the first ones. However, even if you happened to miss a spot, there is always a chance to travel during and after the program. In general, I strongly recommend traveling because there are many places worth seeing and exploring in the USA. I personally have many unforgettable travel memories of places, such as San Francisco, San José, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles.

Along with traveling, I enjoyed visiting Silicon Valley. Particularly, a trip to Mountain View in Silicon Valley was one of the highlights of my summer. This trip was organized by a professor in one of my courses who works at Google. He gave us a tour around Googleplex and presented an inspiring talk while providing refreshments and gift bags with some Google related items to all the participants. For a workplace, the atmosphere in Google was laid-back and unique with all the facilities and gadgets, and it was quite interesting to learn about the dynamic working culture of one of the most successful tech companies.

As for the academics, I completed an Intensive Study on Data Science and took the following courses: Introduction to Machine Learning for Social Scientists, Data Mining and Analysis and Leading Trends in Information Technology. Originally, I had not thought about signing up for an Intensive Study, but I later noticed that Stanford Summer Session program was offering a new intensive this year on Data Science, and I got intrigued to pursue it as it matched my interests. In addition, an official document of completion is later sent to the students who satisfy the requirements, which I think is a nice additional incentive to take up on an Intensive Study in case the chosen courses fall under one of the intensive categories.

From my personal experience, studying at Stanford did not differ that much from studying at Aalto. However, there were some aspects in the teaching field that differed. The main notable difference was the fact that instead of exercise sessions there were office hours. This meant that the students could schedule an appointment with either the professor or the teaching assistant to have discussions related to the course and beyond its content. Although I only went to the office hours a couple of times, I found this to be a great way to interact with the faculty and had some insightful conversations on topics, such as research in machine learning and studying opportunities in the USA.

As for the homework, I was surprised to find them to be a lot easier at Stanford compared to the assignments that I have had at Aalto. On the other hand, I must say the number of assignment problems was significantly higher at Stanford. These assignment problems, however, tended to be quite simple and similar in style. This made the process of solving the problems relatively easy and quick, but sometimes tiring as you had to do them repeatedly. However, I would say this technique helped me better prepare for the exams and highlight the most important concepts. Regardless of the workload, I only had classes three days a week and managed to still have an adequate amount of free time during the exchange program.

All in all, I had a wonderful summer that I would not trade for anything in the world. I can say without a doubt in my mind that this short and action-packed, but sweet and enriching experience has provided a lot more than just a transcript of records. I will forever cherish the cultivating experiences that have shaped my mindset and the beautiful moments that I got to share with the people I met along the journey. Inevitably, this summer has positively impacted my life both academically and socially. Therefore, I absolutely recommend any eligible student with the slightest interest in the summer program to apply.

If you have any inquiries related to the application process or the summer program at Stanford, I am more than happy to answer via e-mail or Facebook.

Suha Chowdhury

suha.chowdhury@aalto.fi

Electronics and Electrical Engineering

School of Electrical Engineering

Aalto University

Stanford experience by Emma Verkama

This incredibly inspiring summer was definitely one I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life. Studying at one of the most renowned universities in the world was a dream come true, and I returned home many beautiful memories and experiences richer. In this report, I will first cover the classes I took, and then give some insights into the life at Stanford.

By the beginning of this summer, I had just finished my second year studying bio- and chemical technology at Aalto University School of Chemical Engineering. Additionally, I had completed a minor in mathematics. About half a year earlier after stumbling on an article in Into about the Stanford Summer Session IHP, and consequently reading all of the previous blogposts, I was determined on applying, and carefully started preparing my application. I was overjoyed after finding out that I had been selected, and immediately started planning my summer.

Exploring the campus.

After spending a few days in San Francisco with the other Aalto students, it was finally time to settle into the dorm and start the classes. Due to my interest in mathematics (and lack of suitable chemical engineering classes), I finally decided on three classes from the statistics department; STATS 202 Data Mining and Analysis, STATS 216V Introduction to Statistical Learning and STATS 217 Introduction to Stochastic Processes I, each worth 3 units (which for me, was scaled to 5 ECTS). Together these courses qualified me for the Data Science intensive, which was a pleasant surprise and added bonus. I will now give reviews of the courses, hoping that they will be useful for future Aalto students.

STATS 202, Data Mining and Analysis

This introductory course in machine learning was a very enjoyable experience. I learned a great deal about topics I had no previous experience of, and I am positive that this course will benefit me greatly in the future. The interesting and insightful lectures, held twice a week, were held by Rajan Patel, who works at Google. Due to this, he was able to give us interesting examples and applications in the industry. I was also able to visit Google with the class, which was a special experience. The course had homework sets due every two weeks. The problem sets were quite easy and repetitive (especially in the beginning of the course), but large and therefore ended up consuming a lot of time. The exercises were mainly done in R, a language I had no previous experience of. This did not end up being a problem at all, and should not keep you from taking the course, as the exercises start out from the very basics. In addition to the homework sets, the course included a midterm and a final, both of which were quite enjoyable. The final could be replaced with a very interesting final project, which I unfortunately had to opt out of due to time constraints. I give this course a very strong recommendation.

STATS 216V, Introduction to Statistical Learning

Originally, I had picked another course instead, but ended up dropping it in favor of taking this amazing online course. I’m glad I did, as the course surprisingly ended up being my favorite one. Everything on this course was administered online, which didn’t end up taking away from the experience at all. The video lectures, taught by the authors of the extremely well written course book, were excellent. After each video lecture, there was a small quiz that ensured you had grasped the key concepts. Additionally, the course included a midterm, final, and homework sets due every two weeks. The topics in this course were mostly the same as in Data Mining, but were covered from a more mathematical point of view. This course also covered the entire book, whereas Data Mining ended up skipping key chapters in favor of discussing industrial applications. The more mathematical approach and proofs really helped me understand the topics and relate them to my earlier studies. I found the homework sets in this course a lot better designed, more rewarding and in general more enjoyable, compared to the Data Mining course. I feel like the two courses complemented each other very well. The added flexibility of the online classes ended up being a lifesaver due to the high workload of my third course, which I will discuss next.

STATS 217, Introduction to Stochastic Processes I

This very theoretical, yet interesting course consisted of lectures twice a week, weekly homework assignments, a midterm and a final exam. During the second week, I found out that this course was intended for graduate students in statistics, but ended up keeping it due to my interest in the topic. The enthusiastic German professor was skilled at giving lectures and gave interesting examples and remarks. However, due to the summer session being two weeks shorter than a regular quarter, the lectures in the end of the course ended up being terribly fast paced and rushed. This course was by far the most difficult and time consuming out of my courses, and its homework assignments ended up eating away almost all of my free-time, partly due to the fact that the assignments quite often seemed to be ahead of the lectures. I spent more time on this course than both of my other courses combined, which in the end was quite frustrating, as I was forced to miss a lot of social events in order to keep up with the workload. Both the midterm and final were rather stressful experiences, as they had significantly more problems than what I was used to. Though the very interesting applications of queuing theory discussed the last week of the course compensated for a lot, you should probably take the more practical course with the same name in Aalto instead, unless you truly are passionate about the subject.

Redwood forest, the Golden Gate bridge and School o Rock musical.

All Aalto students lived in the same dorm, Branner Hall. As most of the Branner rooms, my accommodation was a so-called two room double, where I had my own small room within the bigger room. Initially, I was quite nervous about living with a roommate, but I ended up having a lot of fun. The dining hall, Arrillaga, was right by Branner. Aalto provided us 14 meals in the dining hall every week, so I opted to have lunch and dinner at Arrillaga and made my own oatmeal every morning in the shared dorm kitchen. The Arrillaga food was very tasty (though repetitive), and I found myself satisfied each time despite my dietary restrictions.

Due to taking two high workload courses and one extremely high workload course, my free-time was rather limited. Still, I managed to go for a morning run or swim in the beautiful pool every morning. I really recommend utilizing the athletic facilities. Other highlights included the School of Rock musical in San Francisco, a trip to the Redwood forest and trip to Santa Cruz. The people I met at Stanford were incredible, and I ended up learning a lot about other cultures. Though the academics were amazing, it was the people who made this experience so beyond special. I would like to thank everybody who was a part of my summer, it was unforgettable.

A trip to the farmers’ market, the incredible swimming pool and exploring San Francisco.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Aalto University for this amazing opportunity, and strongly encourage anyone interested to apply. Do not hesitate to contact me for anything related to the application process, the practicalities or whether you should take the stochastics course.

Emma Verkama

emma.verkama@aalto.fi

School of Chemical Engineering

Stanford experience by Tommi Bergström

Well hello! This is Tommi Bergström speaking. I’m a 4th year finance student at Aalto Biz. Last summer Aalto provided me with an exceptional opportunity to be a part of the Aalto-six crew who attended Stanford’s International Honors Program. From the magical lecture halls to the wildfires at Yosemite, IHP was definitely the most important experience of my life, both personally and professionally.

After seeking for inspiration from the reports of Aalto Evangelists from the last few years, I found out that many of them discuss about academia, courses, dining, exercise, practical tips etc. Me and Aaro Koski actually took the exact same courses and did practically everything together, so you can read more about them from Aaro’s report. Instead, I’m going to focus on the life lessons I learned or 5 Commandments, if you will, on what makes Stanford and Silicon Valley the mecca of entrepreneurship and innovation, and what our beloved university and culture could learn from them.

5 Commandments

  1. As a Finnish Student, Thou Shalt Not Be Ashamed of Your Expertise

In a place like Stanford, you immediately feel insecure about your skillset, education and expertise. The natural mindset of a humble Finnish student is that every student at Stanford is a superhuman. Well, what I found out was that actually this is not the case. During the first few weeks I realized that all the way from kindergarten to university, our educational system provides us with such an amazing general knowledge on the world, life, and later business, that it makes many other countries envious. We may not be the best public speakers or have the best confidence, but boy do we know how to do stuff. We should cherish and embrace this knowledge and understand that our hackers, artists and hustlers are just as good, or even better than those at Stanford.

Commandment #1: wherever you go and whatever you do, wear that Finnish flag and Aalto University sweater with pride and honor.

  1. Thou Shalt Always Give People A Chance

One of the key principles of Silicon Valley is that you can get a meeting or a call with practically anyone. The key thing behind this mindset is that you can never know the opportunities a person might give to you. We actually gained some first-hand knowledge on this, since we got to meet amazing people from the world’s largest tech companies and C-level executives gave us assistance and insight in our school projects.

Commandment #2: from now on, always give people a chance to present their opinion or idea. You can never know if the end of the rainbow lies behind that person.

  1. Thou Shalt Always Do Good Deeds

Another phenomenon that has granted Silicon Valley and Stanford a place of being the hub of technology and innovation is their so called “Pay-It-Forward” culture. Pay-It-Forward was actually first introduced in a play called Dyskolos in 300 BC in the mighty Ancient Greek, like all cool things, but it has since been adopted by all top entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. It basically means that you help others to help yourself. But how does helping others help yourself, you may ask. Stanford Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky described in her book “The How of Happiness”, that practicing acts of kindness makes other people appreciate you and later reciprocate. So let’s be kind!

Commandment #3: Pay-It-Forward. It gives back, brings mutually shared joy and also promotes the attitude of gratitude within the receiver.

  1. Thou Shalt Always Be an Entrepreneur

One of the most valuable lessons that Silicon Valley taught me was: no matter where you go and what you do, you should always try to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily mean that you found your own company in your parents’ garage, bootstrap your way to greatness and ultimately give a key note speech at Slush. It means that you always take initiative on behalf of others and strive for impact. It means that you’re always ambitious, proactive and self-driven. It means that you constantly investigate, experiment, test and iterate and learn in the process. We should all make a promise to ourselves that we’ll be entrepreneurs for the rest of our lives, and we should try our best to live up to that.

Commandment #4: No matter what you do or where you are, be an entrepreneur!

  1. Thou Shalt Always Learn Primarily from People, Not from Books

Let’s face it, the single most important thing that makes the Stanford IHP worth experiencing, is the people. Be it in Stanford or at Aalto, venture outside the library and classroom, meet people, hear their stories and ask questions. When you’re sitting in the backyard of a cabin at Lake Tahoe and an Icelandic mathematician or an aspiring human rights lawyer from Western Australia asks you a question that makes you think of your life and the whole world differently, you understand that the power of the world and society lies not in money, business, science or technology. It lies in the interaction of great minds like us, the students and the game-changers of tomorrow.

Commandment #5: The greatest lessons you can learn, come from other people and their experiences, ideas, passions and stories. Focus on learning primarily from people, not from books.

Final Words

Commandments and BS aside, you should definitely apply. Do not think about GPAs or CVs, just apply if you’re interested even in the slightest. At Stanford you get to do amazing things, meet exceptional people and learn life changing lessons in an inspiring environment. I’m truly grateful for Aalto University for making this possible.

In case you have any questions, hit me up via email, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Telegram, FB, Instagram, MySpace, Google+, IRC, Kuvake or just come talk to me if you see me down the street. I sure as heck have a few more commandments and stories from Stanford in my back pocket.

Thanks!

Tommi Bergström