Monthly Archives: January 2014

We are all on a mission

Mission statement is a short description of the purpose of a company, organization, or even a person in case of personal statement. It provides a skeleton, on which the company, organization, or person can build goals, strategies to reach the goals, and an ethical framework to follow. The mission statement can give a feel of the company or organization to consumers and collaborators, as well as future employees. Within an organization it will provide a direction to all endeavors from hiring to firing.

Universities have mission statements just like any other organization. Mission statement might be included in a strategy statement, as shown on the University of Oulu website in Finland. In most US universities the mission statement is separated into its own unit like on the website of Montana State University (MSU).


Montana State University, the State’s land-grant institution, educates students, creates knowledge and art, and serves communities, by integrating learning, discovery, and engagement.

This is shorter than the University of Oulu statement.

Linnanmaa 2009

According to the Strategy of the University of Oulu, the objective of the University is to promote internationally high-level free research, education and culture, to strengthen the knowhow that creates well-being, and to assure the availability of highly qualified work force and researcher base in our sphere of influence.

The US mission statements of universities mention their status as land grant universities if applicable. This term does not exist in the Finnish system. Both statements do include aspect of serving the community, educating students, and creating knowledge. The difference is in the “vibe” that I as a reader get. MSU statement is very broad and attracts with the aspect of integration of different activities (learning, discovery, engagement). University of Oulu strategy immediately lets me know it is heavily invested in research.

During orientation activities these statements have been quoted to me by speakers. It seemed that MSU did put more weight to it as an important message on its own compared to University of Oulu in Finland. In Finland the statements main message was incorporated into all general university information, which was the case at MSU too. I can see how the mission statements framework is extremely important for large scale decisions within the universities. For example the departments will follow it in designing their education and development in both cases.

On the individual student level, the mission statement comes to light through their academic life. This is dictated by their teachers and administrators from above.  When I studied at University of Oulu in Finland for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I could clearly tell the main purpose of the institution was to promote research. As an exchange student at MSU, the culture integrated more aspects of academia and citizenship into the experience. I felt more rounded and grounded due to it. Upon returning to Finland the atmosphere in my institution seemed a bit colder.

It is shocking for me to think something as simple as one sentence and few specific words in a mission statement could affect an individual students experience this much. Should the University of Oulu mission statement be modified to foster warmer environment within institution? I would like to see that. Are the deciding parties afraid to loose sense prestige, if softer values are more prominent in the mission statement? Possibly. It would be sad if an institution would only produce prestigious researchers and leave the softer values as an afterthought. This could lead to even greater divide between non-academics and academics in discussions on matters touching everyone.

Digital tools and Waldorf schools

Waldorf schools are based on humanistic education, taking the developmental stages of child into account. Art, crafts and hands on learning are emphasized in every subject. I had the privilege to attend a small Waldorf School in Finland for the duration of high school from fall of 2000 to spring of 2004.

The classes – 70 minutes long each – consisted of the teacher providing a backbone of the lesson in lecture format. The students were expected to take notes and expand on the backbone on their own. Lack of traditional school books, made us use other resources found in libraries and on-line. It also allowed us to focus on topics we were truly interested in within the framework

provided by the teacher.


Language classes in Swedish, English, and German used original literature as high quality course material. We were tested on proper pronunciation and expected to hold 45 minute presentations for the whole class. The school play, a shortened version of “Hamlet”, was performed by students in old English as a requirement for the English language course.

In addition to regular classes, special hands on courses were offered from cartography to knitting. Every spring semester ended in two weeks of work experience on a farm, public sector, or industry. On the last year of high school studies students worked on their final projects outlined and designed by themselves and approved by the teachers. The large 6 to 12 month projects could vary from building a row boat to writing a novel.

I consider the time I spent in Waldorf school as the first truly challenging educational experience. I overcame stage fear and acted in a play, developed an excellent note taking routine, and sustained the joy of learning. The final project on inheritable diseases in my family tree combined biology, genealogy, and interviews into a printed booklet.

Interestingly there were no computers in the school.

While I used on-line material after school to fill out my notes, there was no integration of computers into our class rooms. When we begin to integrate technology to more classes, the novelty of it might distract students and teachers alike, especially in environments like my old Waldorf school in Finland. While technology has been shown as a way to integrate teaching of humanities and science together, this is not the only way to go. The strengths of Waldorf education to me lie in close student-teacher interaction and personalized study path supporting my interests in biology. The most promising aspect of integrating technology in teaching is reaching students of a large class on more personal level. The interaction with other people, be it face-to-face or via e-mail and chat, is what made the most impact on my development as a learner.