Sometimes new passions come from unexpected places. In 2015, Timo Kalliokoski was attending an election meeting of SUB ry, the student organisation of his major subject English Studies.
At the meeting, they were looking for someone to be responsible for student’s study affairs and issues. Since no-one else expressed any enthusiasm in becoming the Studies Affairs Coordinator, Kalliokoski reluctantly raised his hand and got the position.
His task was to advocate for the educational interests of English students at the University of Helsinki. Among other things, it involved organising study groups, communicating students’ needs to staff and discussing issues with other Studies Coordinators in the faculty. The ultimate goal was to ensure his fellow English students’ were listened to.
“At the beginning, I had no idea what the position would include. Learning everything from scratch was challenging but also rewarding.”
Since then, there’s been no turning back. Kalliokoski has been active in several other student organisations - for example as the Chairperson of Humanisticum, the organisation for the students at the Faculty of Arts - and as a member of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki’s working committees on Development Cooperation and Societal Affairs.
“Everything seemed so interesting! After a few years of volunteering, I noticed I was involved in too many things and didn’t have time for everything, and I decided to focus on Humanisticum.”
Students have good opportunities to influence the University
What makes someone devote much of their time to student organisations? Personal motivation to develop oneself and a will to promote the well-being of the entire university community, says Kalliokoski.
“I’ve learned a lot about policy-making, communication and how official meetings are organised, for example.”
Kalliokoski thinks that in general, students have good opportunities to influence the University of Helsinki. Anyone with a passion to contribute to the shared student-community and develop their skills at the same time can do so through being active within a student organisation. From party planning to coordinating work-life events, managing finances to advocating though lobbying, there are opportunities for all.
According to Kalliokoski, the University of Helsinki is ahead of many other universities when it comes to openness and accessibility in administration. Administration is not always seen as exciting, but without a doubt it affects us all. The Student Union is committed to tri-linguicism, which means that at the Student Union, and in many of the student organisations it supports, it is possible to participate in Finnish, Swedish or English.
Kalliokoski himself has had the opportunity to promote openness in his positions.
“We’ve made many small changes that make it easier for everyone to participate. At Humanisticum, our transcripts are public on our websites, our administrative meetings are open for everyone, and we organise events in English if necessary. Little things like this matter.”
Studies and volunteering in student organisations benefit each other
Kalliokoski has been able to use the experience gained in student organisations in his studies – and vice versa.
In his Bachelor’s thesis, Kalliokoski studied how certain phrases from the Bologna declaration – the document guiding the process of ensuring comparability in the standards of higher-education qualifications between European countries – had been transferred into the documents that guided a significant education reform at the University of Helsinki recently. In his thesis, Kalliokoski was able to combine English studies with his passion for university administration.
Another important experience for Kalliokoski was conducting an internship as a part of his studies at the University’s student services. He registered completed courses onto transcripts and gave study counselling to students. From this, he acquired a better overview of the university and its administrative practices.
“Registering other people’s studies made me notice how many different things one can study at this university, and how people can have such different combinations of studies.”
Studies and student organisations have also provided Kalliokoski important networks. When he moved to Helsinki at the beginning of his studies, he didn’t know anyone. Now, many of his close friends have been found through student organisations. In addition, he has gained diverse professional networks. As there are over 250 organisations that operate under Student Union HYY, there is something for everyone.
“I feel like these networks will be useful in my professional life, whatever I end up doing. I’ve met so many different kinds of people who are very skilled in different things, and I think I’ll stay in touch with many of them even after I graduate.”
“I now trust my expertise”
In November 2018 Kalliokoski was celebrating the 150th birthday of Student Union HYY. Fifty years had passed since large student protests that demanded democratic reforms to university administration. In 1968, students occupied the very building where the celebration now took place – Old Student House on the main street of downtown Helsinki. Many of these students later became leading figures in Finnish politics – and being active in Student Union HYY is still a common way to get to influential positions in society.
Kalliokoski found himself thinking about the past and the future of the university.
“We need to figure out how even more people could experience the Student Union and its activities as their own. Fifty years ago the students protested against the Student Union for being too elitist and exclusive. A lot has changed and we’ve come forward, but a lot still needs to be done.”
Kalliokoski wants to keep on advocating for a more inclusive Student Union and university even after he graduates. That’s why he would like to continue working in educational administration and university administration.
Kalliokoski would not have found this goal without the experiences, knowledge and connections he has gained during his studies at the University of Helsinki. Recently Kalliokoski was selected to take on a senior position in the board of the Student Union, meaning in 2020 he will get to devote almost all of his time to advocating for the student community.
“I’ve done so many different things in student organisations that I now trust my expertise. At this point, I feel like I’m ready to be involved in pretty much anything.”