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

Stanford experience by Aaro Koski

I am an Industrial Engineering and Management student, and I was honored to attend Stanford Summer Session International Honors Program after my second year of studies. This adventure is  both personally and professionally one of the most impactful things in my life thus far.

As Tommi and I had the same courses, I will concentrate more on the courses and Tommi on the life outside the classrooms. I selected my courses in a way that I found logical: I chose courses in topics which interest me, and in which I believe Stanford is one of the best in the world, and at least better than Aalto. First on my list was Public Speaking: Romancing the Room, second was Technology Entrepreneurship and last I chose Leading Trends in Information Technology. These together combined to 8 units.

Public Speaking: Romancing the Room (3 units)

This is a tremendous course. You will learn basics of public speaking from a great teacher, Prof. Wagstaffe, and will have a lot of fun while doing it! Many people think that public speaking is intimidating and something to avoid as much as possible, and I say that this course is great for those people! And for anyone who wants to gain experience or develop in public speaking.

The atmosphere in the classroom is very open minded and welcoming: everybody is there to develop and everybody starts from their own level. Because of the nature of public speaking you will get to know a lot of new people, also outside of IHP students. On the other hand, us IHP students on the course had a lot of fun preparing and practicing our speeches together at Branner Hall (our dormitory). The classes were great even though they lasted for 3 hours late in the evening, mostly thanks to the lively and energetic teaching style of the professor, and the fact that the classes are a lot about speaking and listening and less about learning theory.

If you have a lot of experience in public speaking and think you are very comfortable with it, I would not suggest this course, since it begins from grassroot level and you might not get as much out of it as people who start from scratch.

Technology Entrepreneurship (4 units)

This is a very popular course in Stanford, due to its inspiring and energetic atmosphere. There are a lot of guest speakers throughout the course who present various aspects of entrepreneurship and early stage startups. The main assignments on the course are two presentations on your group work and a personal business plan.

Group project is done in groups of 5-6, and the idea is to develop an idea into a business plan for a startup. Groups are formed during the first week of the course, so be active on the first lectures and talk to other students, or even before first class if you meet people who are taking this course too. Groups are formed either around someone’s idea (students can present their ideas in class) or around a common interest (students with shared interests form a group and figure out their idea later). If you are going to take this course, I would suggest that you think of a few ideas beforehand, and you might find a group of students who are interested to join your team!

Personal business plan was a great experience even though at first the task was quite difficult. Simply put, you have to figure out what you are interested in and how you would like your life to look like in the future. After defining a potential future, you will make a business plan for yourself: how will you reach that kind of a future? As I said, at first the task was difficult to approach, how could I know what I want to do? But it is a great experience and exercise for one to look deep into their own aspirations, motivations and values. After all, I myself found it useful and interesting, and I know Tommi did, too. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, startups, business models or venture capital, you would enjoy this course. If you have taken a course that is similar to this kind of a project or know startup field well, you might want to consider other options, since 4 units is a large chunk of your available units at Stanford.

Leading Trends in Information Technology (1 unit)

As I had already chosen two courses totaling to 7 units, I had only maximum 2 units left to choose a course for. I ended up choosing Leading Trends in Information Technology (3-unit option also available). This course introduces students to new technologies and concepts such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and blockchain. These topics are covered by visiting speakers from companies such as Microsoft, LinkedIn and many others that are located in the area, and many of the speakers are Stanford alumni. I myself enjoyed the approach to these technologies: it was not too technical for me, neither too business oriented or superficial. There was a good combination of covering the technical aspects and the business applications. The 1-unit option covered only attending the lectures and commenting on the blog posts and final presentations of students who take the 3-unit option. A downside was that the class was arranged on Friday afternoons…

Last, I want to share some tips to you, even though I know the others will provide them in a larger scale. The tips that must be emphasized:

  • Talk to people: say hi to everyone, have a little small talk, or even better, be actually interested in other people! Remembering names is hard at first but don’t be slowed down by that. It is OK to ask for someone’s name more than once, there’s over a hundred new people in your dormitory alone!
  • Enjoy the freedom: I had more time to think than I have had in a long time. And it was one of the best things of the summer! Enjoy the possibility to explore California, think about the world and life and have midnight conversations on the balcony with brilliant people. Do your assignments and homework efficiently and well, and you’ll have plenty of time for other stuff too!
  • Be open minded and let yourself think big: Have an open mind towards both people and ideas.
  • Exploit your Stanford status in every way possible: Contact people with your Stanford e-mail address, talk to visiting lecturers and professors at campus, be proactive to meet people in the area. In Silicon Valley you will have a chance to tell your idea/message first, and then a person you contacted will determine if they are interested. They seldom turn you down before you introduce your idea/message.
  • Ask about courses from Stanford alumni, descriptions are short and may not tell you much.

Below some pictures from the trip. Feel free to reach out to me with questions about the experience, I’d be happy to help.

All the best,

Aaro

Stanford experience by Rasmus Viitala

An amazing adventure indeed! For someone originating from an island with 400 residents, studying this summer at one of the world’s most prestigious universities and meeting talented students from all over the world was definitely a dream come true.

As others of our Aalto-six crew shared the same courses as me, I will be focusing on more practical tips on how to maximize your Stanford summer experience, with some suggestions being extracted from previous blog posts for your convenience.

Team picture

Team picture

Preparations for the journey

  1. Ask for feedback on courses you’re interested in, the descriptions are very brief so it’s worth the effort to investigate.
  2. Buy flight tickets early, but do consider thoroughly if you’d like to fly a week early and stay after the program, as this is expensive to change later on (I arrived to San Francisco 5 days before the program started and left the US to Canada one week after it ended. It was definitely worth it in my opinion and you don’t necessarily have to know ahead of time what you will be doing in the US for instance after the program, I certainly didn’t). Also try to coordinate your flights so that everyone doesn’t come on a different day and many of you have to see things they’ve already seen (ended up visiting the Fisherman’s Warf three times during the first week).
  3. If you’re planning on staying in San Francisco, I would recommend checking out a hostel called Green Tortoise which was both very pleasant and offered a lot of activities.
  4. If you want to go to Alcatraz on your own, book it very early (can also go for free with the program, but there is very limited number of spots).

The first weeks at Stanford

Lagunita Court

Lagunita Court

  1. Buy a bike ASAP, don’t rent it! Buy the bike from Walmart or Target, they are cheaper (can be as low as 80$) and have bike return policies (you can also check out craigslist and supost.com, Stanford’s own marketplace, to get a good deal for a bike and selling it after the summer school’s over, but we all opted for Walmart due to speed and certainty). Emphasis on getting the bikes fast as Walmart was all out of bikes after Sunday of the welcoming weekend. Also check the Stanford shuttle times to Walmart ahead of time so you get there and back before dinner ends, and don’t have to cram five bikes into three Ubers. An adventure, though not one I’d recommend too much.. Lastly, returning the bikes in the end of the program is not guaranteed to work, though they have a 90 day return policy.
  2. You must get pillows, sheets, towels, a cover, hangers etc on your own, do that for instance in Walmart when getting bikes.
  3. Phone: discuss getting mobile data plans, not everyone needs them as the main gain is being able to order Ubers, however about $50/month + probable extra expenses from unrecovered trip shares are a good idea to split for instance with an app like Splitwise. All data plans don’t work with Finnish phones (actually very few do), but you can check this from https://willmyphonework.net/
  4. Printing: you can print with your ID card at computer clusters in each dorm building, but you have to upload credits to your card first and download drivers etc if you want to print from your computer, more information at: http://library.stanford.edu/using/print-copy-scan
  5. PO Box: If you want to order things for instance from Amazon (free 6-month student prime membership with Stanford email), you need to get a box. You should also try to split it with a friend so both get keys for added convenience and reduced payments (note: you should get back about half of your payment after the summer as you end your contract in less than 2 months).
  6. Be very active through participating in events and try to diversify your network also to graduate students (many of the events organized at campus are close to their residences and you might never hear about them without inside information).
Stanford Memorial Church

Stanford Memorial Church

Creating the best summer of your life

  1. Travel on weekends as much as your schedule allows, it is on these trips that many of the best memories are created. Rent a car through Enterprise (students get a discount, though note you need a credit card to pay, so my Visa Electron debit card was to no use in this) and do it ahead of time as the cars start to run out as people realize what opportunities they have. I think I had booked on every weekend of the entire program at least one trip/adventure, and it pays off to make a rough plan early so you can recruit people with you (I recommend considering both the amount of people and diversity. Also note trips don’t happen if no-one takes initiative, but come up with a plan/suggestion and there will most likely be many interested). My favorite places in/near California were Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Vegas, and when it comes to activities: hiking, surfing and skydiving.
  2. If you know someone working in a company in Silicon Valley, do ask them if you and your squad could come to take a tour.
  3. Utilize the excellent sport facilities on campus. Everything is relatively close by and at least Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (gym with a pool) is free.

    The gym

    The gym

  4. Go fountain-hopping, it’s both refreshing and there are more fountains in Stanford than you imagine, so try to catch them all!
  5. Dining is free and though the food is good and you can eat healthy, the variation is less than optimal. Therefore, it’s good to adventure also to Arrillaga family dining, which further than the Lakeside Diner (inside Lagunita Court where we lived), but is the biggest diner in campus and has a little better diversity.
  6. Visit the classical Stanford sights such as the Hoover tower and the Cantor arts center at some point. It’s easy to forget what’s near and we barely made there on the last week of the program.

All the best, Rasmus Viitala

Engineering physics

School of Science

Stanford experience by Juhani Riikonen

In my blog, I tell about my experience at Stanford, especially from an academic point of view. You can also find some info about free time and other tips & tricks, but please scroll through other Aalto Six 2017s’ texts for more.

If you’re planning to apply to the program, make sure your application is perfect. For the interview, remember to prepare well so that you can give a short pitch about yourself and let the interviewers know why Aalto should choose you to Stanford. Tell about the things that make you special, and show that you’re passionate about your field of study. When starting the summer session, I was in the end of my 4th year of studies, pursuing for a degree in energy technology. So, if you’re interested in applying but doing your master’s already, don’t hesitate to apply.

Studying at Stanford

The courses I did during the summer Environmental Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Persuasive Communication for Environmental Scientists, Practitioners and Entrepreneurs and Energy Resources: Fuels and Tools. What I noticed was that the course staff was really motivated. They seemed like they wanted to give something. The staff shared their own experiences, took time for discussions during the class and invited students weekly to their offices. The extremely high motivation and dedication of the teachers is a thing that I might miss back home on some courses, unfortunately.

kuva1

For me, Persuasive Communication was an amazing course. Basically, it was about learning methods to use when trying to affect people’s opinions. The point of view during the course was not that environmental so I highly recommend this course even if environmental values are not among your top priorities.

Environmental Entrepreneurship was also brilliant. The professor was a venture capitalist so he could give useful facts also from the investor perspective.

For an energy tech major, Energy Resources wasn’t that useful. If you’re studying energy, think twice before picking this course. On the other hand, if you know nothing about energy, this course could be a bit demanding.

In addition to my own experiences, I heard a lot of good stuff about Public Speaking and Technology Entrepreneurship. Considering that, I would highly recommend to pick communication or entrepreneurship related courses in Stanford.

Still, be careful when selecting courses, especially if you are a grad student. Some classes are shared with visiting high school kids meaning that the classes cannot be that advanced. Thus, you might want to pick something totally different from your own field of study. Consider also, whether you want to pick a course with a set of lectures and an exam, or if you want to pick a course exclusive to Stanford, with group works, excursions and pitches.

kuva2

Free time

The work load of the academics was not enormous, I’d say it’s the same in Aalto. After working weekdays, I always had a free weekend to explore campus and California, including Santa Cruz, Alcatraz and Yosemite National Park. Renting a car from Enterprise was easy and quite cheap.

kuva3

Stanford has a lot of different sport opportunities, such as gym, swimming, tennis, bouldering… you name it. Take a look at the different alternatives before you arrive to campus. You’ll definitely find something you like! And as I said, the workload is not terrible (and even if it is) so you’ll have time for exercising.

The first half of the summer was rather relaxed and the courses became more intense on the second half. Keep that in mind when making your own plans for the summer.

Anything that bothers you and I forgot to say about the application and summer itself, please don’t hesitate to contact me! I’ll gladly give more info.

Regards,

Juhani

Juhani.riikonen@aalto.fi

fi.linkedin.com/in/juhaniriikonen

School of Engineering

Stanford experience by Olli Laukkanen

I’m writing this blog post on the way home, flying over the never-ending prairies of the West, after an inspiring, instructive and terribly fun experience at the International Honors Program (IHP) at Stanford University over the summer of 2017. In this all too brief description of the summer at Stanford, I will first focus on the classes I took and then provide some insight and tips for future students in the program. Altogether, my key takeaway is: A summer at Stanford and in the Silicon Valley is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and yes, you should apply!

When applying for the IHP last spring, I was a second-year chemical engineering student at Aalto. I had studied a variety of different engineering courses and a bit of economics as my minor. As for my studies at Stanford, I decided to take note of some previous Aalto students’ tips and select courses outside the area of my previous studies. Personally, I would definitely recommend choosing at least one course with an experimental nature – this is your chance to discover a passion for something that you might not be able to study at home! Anyway, as I look back and try to evaluate my classes at Stanford, it is worth keeping in mind that they were all new to me in a sense, which might positively skew my judgment about them.

My three classes over the summer comprised a splendid plunge into the fields of public speaking, political philosophy and political science. The classes were called 1) Romancing the Room,  2) Justice and Climate Change and 3) Comparative Corruption. The brief descriptions provided online might not fully accurately describe the classes and it is definitely worth spending some of the first days at Stanford checking out several optional courses and then settling on those that seem to be the most intriguing all things considered.

Comparative Corruption (3 units) was a fascinating political science class on the different aspects of corruption. This class greatly benefited from the diversity of the student body of the summer quarter, as the students from all the world could engage and share their views and stories in the discussion and debate that consituted a significant part of the classes. Even though the class had quite a lot of weekly preparatory reading, I would definitely consider its workload the most lightweight of my three classes. I must say that at times, certain student presentations seemed to take too much time as the teacher enforced some of the time limits rather poorly, but I certainly met and connected with some of the most interesting characters of the summer in this class!

Justice and Climate Change (3 units) was primarily a political philosophy class on the concept of justice, not so much purely environmental studies. I enjoyed the variety of different thinkers that we were exposed to during the course. Seemingly technical or economic climate change problems led to surprisingly complex ethical questions and provided great substance matter to the discussions about different natures of justice. This class was held by an enthousiastic PhD student and all the class meetings were very engaging and a great opportunity to get to know students in class. The class did demand quite a lot of time to complete all the preparatory reading and essays, but as I mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of viewpoints, from Locke and Friedman to the leading contemporary climate science philosophers.

Public Speaking – Romancing the Room (3 units) was definitely one of the highlights of my experience at Stanford. Altogether, the wonderful teaching team, the shared passion for the art of speaking, the individuals’ growth on stage throughout the course and the unforgettable final exam dinner in Palo Alto restaurant made this class an absolute favorite of many and a constant topic in the discussions among IHP students outside the classroom, as well. Personally, I would love to make this course mandatory for all, and thus I feel I need not reveal more: I give the strongest of recommendations for the future students to check it out!

dav

Department of Chemistry

As much as people come to Stanford for the pure academic experience, it is mostly what happens outside the classroom that makes the IHP summer so memorable and fascinating. Silicon Valley itself surely provides unlimited curiosities even if you’re not a tech maniac coming to Stanford – perhaps even more so in that case! The many nuances of the American society are also visible in the Bay Area: the vast inequality problem is contrasted between the tech billionaires and the seemingly unlimited resources of institutions like Stanford, as simultaneously the countless homeless people roam the streets of San Francisco and spend their nights under the stars, on the stairs of the City Hall. The boom of the technology companies has led to high costs of living in the area and one can literally witness gentrification taking place in many neighborhoods. Following the news at least a little can prove worthwile while in the Valley, as the local and national news ranged from the role of gender as Google engineers to the worrisome rise of white nationalism in the American South to the immigration policies of Trump administration and the effect of the greater political turmoil on the technology sphere. Every now and then, I found it sobering to have discussions about matters like these, as it might be all too easy to forget about many of the nasty real world problems when surrounded by the unlimited sunny weather, the evergreen lawns of Stanford in the middle of the drought of California, and the fascinating encounters between the catalytic venture capital and optimistic start-ups, aiming at technological disruption on all fronts. All in all, the experience at Stanford was thought-provoking much beyond the academics and the vibrant, intoxicating tech scene.

Kuva 1

The diverse backgrounds of the bright students within the IHP and the Summer Quarter guarantee friendships across the globe, if you give it a chance. I definitely recommend getting outside of your comfort zone during the summer: if possible, 1) Be open-minded, don’t be too cool for some perhaps odd or seemingly silly activities. (A Jazz Festival in San Francisco was one of the more inspiring experiences for me, a person with the musical skills of a speed bump!) 2) Try out a new hobby or sport (maybe some intra-murals or extra-curricular activities – take advantage of the superb facilities provided at Stanford) 3) Consider sharing a room with someone (most of the students at our Lagunita Court residences had their own room, but I saw some the greatest friendships being formed between roommates.) 4) Arrange activities and trips on your own – these are bound to be some the most memorable experiences! (I would not trade a weekend at Yosemite National Park for anything.) 5) Do not always dine only with oh-so-wonderful Aalto-Six as an exclusive Finnish Speakers Club!

And on a more practical note: 6) Get a bike as soon as you can. (The supply can prove to be rather limited at the nearest Walmart!) 7) Try out the different dining halls of the campus for a little variety of cuisine!

Kuva 2

In the end, it proves hard to give specific attributes that make the Stanford IHP summer so worthwile. There are truly so many incredible aspects to this wonderful opportunity that Aalto and Stanford generously provide. If you are reading this and made it all the way down here, it would be an absolute disgrace not to apply for this adventure. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or second thoughts about the application process, practicalities at Stanford or anything related!

Always take time to smell the flowers.

Olli Laukkanen

olli.o.laukkanen@aalto.fi

School of Chemical Engineering

Stanford experience by Heli Julkunen

This summer I had a wonderful opportunity to take part in Stanford Summer International Honors Program as one of the Aalto University’s representatives. At the beginning of the summer, I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Bioinformation Technology from the School of Electrical Engineering and was thus considered as a graduate student at Stanford. Currently I am starting the first year of my Master’s studies in Life Science Technologies with a major in Complex Systems. In this report I will tell you about my summer experiences in Stanford, covering academics, campus life and extra-curricular activities.


dav

 

Academics

At the time of applying for the scholarship, I was planning to focus my Stanford studies on data science and IT related courses since these suited my interests and studies well. These are also fields in which the Summer Session has a great selection of courses in. In addition, Stanford being well known for its relationship to Silicon Valley, I also wanted to utilize the opportunity of being at Stanford and experience the entrepreneurial atmosphere there. I ended up taking three courses: Data Mining and Analysis, Technology Entrepreneurship and Leading Trends in Information Technology. These are popular courses that also several previous Aalto students have taken – I will next share my insights on them.

Data Mining and Analysis (STATS 202)

This was an introductory level course to data analysis and machine learning, covering different regression and classification algorithms as well as methods for evaluating the performance of the models. The professor Rajan Patel had a lot of industrial experience of working for e.g. Google and hence, he also provided interesting insights to the data mining processes of companies. This course had the highest workload of all the three courses that I had: there were homework sets due every other week and in the end students could choose between a final project and an exam. I chose to do the project, which made the last couple of weeks extremely busy but also taught me a lot.

Technology Entrepreneurship (ENGR 145)

This course provided an introduction to entrepreneurship by teaching about different phases of building a startup. The course included guest lectures of several aspects of entrepreneurship, such as design thinking, hiring a team and understanding legal viewpoints. As a part of the course, we formed teams and performed an opportunity analysis project for a startup idea. Another assignment during the course was writing a personal business plan, covering critical decisions regarding our personal and career life and developing practical strategies for our personal journey. Overall, I found this course and the lectures given by experts of different fields very inspiring and motivating.

Leading Trends in Information Technology (MS&E 238)

This course focused on new technologies and trends in IT, such as cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence. There were guest lectures each week given by entrepreneurs, analysts and IT executives introducing broad range of aspects. This was one of my favorite courses and provided in-depth insights to the topics that are currently shaping the IT business without going too much into technical details.

dav

Campus life and extra-curricular activities

Living on campus was a major part of the whole Stanford experience and this year all the IHP students got assigned to Lagunita Court. All the Aalto students got their own rooms, but some of the other students shared their room with one or two people. Living in the same dorm made it easy to spend time with other students and really tied the IHP community together. Otherwise Stanford also offers great surroundings with picturesquely beautiful campus and a lot of opportunities for exercising with gyms and pools nearby.

Even though some of the courses were quite a lot of work, I also had time to travel and explore the surrounding areas. There were extra-curricular activities and trips organized by the Summer Session almost every weekend, but I participated only in a few of those: soccer game on the 4th of July weekend and trips to California Academy of Sciences and Computer History Museum. We also got to make some self-organized excursions, including a visit to the Nordic Innovation House in Palo Alto as well as three companies: Google, Facebook and Nest.

dav

To explore more of California, we organized a lot of weekend trips ourselves – during the summer I got to visit places such as Santa Cruz, Napa Valley, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. These trips were one of my favorite part of the summer and I got many memorable experiences and friendships out of those. I would also recommend anyone to stay in the US after the program –  I stayed there for three weeks and had many unforgettable adventures from surfing in Malibu to eating tacos in Mexico and enjoying views over the Grand Canyon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The summer was definitely one of the highlights of my life and I enjoyed every minute of it. The inspiring atmosphere and community at Stanford is incredible and something you cannot experience in Finland. The mindset I had in Stanford is also something that I wish to further sustain. Spending the summer at Stanford is an experience that I would not trade for anything and I want to express my gratitude to Aalto for providing me with this amazing opportunity. For anyone considering applying, I would recommend just going for it!

dav

I will be happy to answer any questions you may have via email: heli.julkunen@aalto.fi.

Heli Julkunen

School of Electrical Engineering