Kuvassa on TEKille diplomityönsä tehnyt Antti Ilmavirta

Technology students’ associations strive for more inclusive activities

News article

Antti Ilmavirta's thesis found that the associations that provide freshman education consider their activities to be inclusive, but also identify areas that need to be improved. Ilmavirta will now be able to use the lessons learned from his thesis as the Executive Director of the Aalto University Student Union.

Antti Ilmavirta's thesis commissioned by Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK investigated inclusiveness in the activities of student associations providing freshman education (freshman = first-year student). Inclusion means that different people feel valued and welcome as they are and have equal opportunities to participate and contribute.

Ilmavirta studied Automation and Systems Engineering at Aalto University and started as the Executive Director of the Aalto University Student Union (AYY) on 3 May. For his thesis, Ilmavirta collected part of the material himself, but also used student and research data previously collected by TEK. All of this has given him a new perspective on students' everyday lives. Ilmavirta believes that he will be able to use the expertise he has gained from his thesis in his work as Executive Director.

“My personal experience is that students are smarter and more informed than when I started my studies. Equality issues are well taken into account and at the Student Union AYY, equality is one of the core values.”

While working on his thesis, Ilmavirta noticed that the discussions with the student actors revealed a desire to learn, develop and gain more knowledge about equality issues.

Student associations want to make their activities more accessible so that more people can find their place in the community.

For example, the technology students’ associations would like to get materials to support their everyday activities including concrete tips on how to be more inclusive.

“Many companies and communities could certainly learn from student associations, which already apply a number of good practices, equality declarations and guidelines. It is important for businesses and communities to recognise their own areas for improvement, but even more important is the will to correct them. Turning a blind eye is not the way forward.”

Ilmavirta has previously held a similar position as Secretary General of the Student Union of LUT University from 2016 to 2021. He enjoyed his work there and is looking forward to his new role at his home university.

“I've been away from the student movement for a while now, and I found that I was starting to miss it. Working for students is working for good causes. What's great about student activism is the unbridled speed and courage – the way things are done quickly, with determination and without prejudice. This aspect of student activism is something that many different types of organisations could learn from.”

AYY's strategy is to make student life at Aalto University the best in the world. This includes making a difference to the surrounding society as well. 

“Students are smart and have a lot to contribute to society. I want to be involved in making sure that students' voices are heard even better and that they are more involved in decision-making.”

Among the AYY actives of recent years, Atte Harjanne and Saara Hyrkkö were elected as MPs for the Greens in the last parliamentary elections. In addition, several members of city councils have a background in the Student Union. 

“The value of student association activities should also be increasingly recognised and acknowledged in universities. The skills these activities can teach you, such as project management, communication, meeting techniques and working with different kinds of people, are skills that can also help you succeed in your career," Ilmavirta says.

Ilmavirta also has an idea for TEK to consider.

“Student members are future full members of TEK, and this is something to actively keep in mind. The student work done by TEK is very important and TEK has a strong and welcome position in the technology student community. Doing good work sends the message that TEK is worth being a member of even after graduation. For example, on equality issues, TEK could act as a bridge between students and universities, building dialogue and acting as a trusted partner for both.”