MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Dear Members of the Koç University Community,
Time flies faster than any of us can keep up
with it . . . Here we are again in January, amazingly of 2018, a year which such a short time ago looked to be so far in the future . . . As January once again marks the beginning of the year for all of us, we are filled with a certain contentment as it also marks the end of the Fall Semester, with a 2 to 3-week Semester Break. Students, faculty & staff anticipate the semester break during which some of us take vacations to spend a quieter time with loved ones while others grab it as a great opportunity to catch up with research, projects and other things that are harder to do in the midst of regular classes during the busy semester.
This year, I spent most of the Semester Break at Stanford University in Palo Alto, working with my colleagues at Stanford on our new upcoming satellite project, meeting with Founders and CEOs of four different Silicon Valley start-ups who are from Turkey, meeting with Koç University alumni who are currently working in the San Francisco Bay Area and also visiting my son and two granddaughters. Palo Alto is where I spent most of my adult life (no less than 36 years!) before taking on the Presidency at Koç University so I am at home there.
The satellite project is a truly exciting one aiming to study the radiation environment around the planet Earth, with a specially designed satellite that is to be launched into orbit in July 2018. Space projects unfortunately have very long time lines; my research group at Stanford spent $15M during 2000 to 2008 to design/build one of the critical instruments for this mission. The instruments were delivered in 2009 and the satellite has been waiting for a suitable launch vehicle since then. As it is a relatively large and heavy(600 kg) spacecraft, it needs to be launched by the new Falcon Heavy rocket of SpaceX (Elon Musk’s company), the inaugural test firing of which is scheduled for February 6th (You may visit the website for details about the launches). If this inaugural flight is a success, then our project spacecraft is to be launched with the third scheduled Falcon Heavy rocket in July; if not, we are looking at maybe years of further delays. Such is the nature of space-based scientific experiments; years of work and planning dependent on the outcome of a single fiery launch. Launches are also the most expensive part of these missions; cost per launch for the Falcon Heavy is $90M. Nevertheless, the measurements are to be singularly unique, simultaneously measuring electromagnetic waves and energetic particles in near-Earth space with unprecedented detail and precision. This experiment also represents the culmination of 30+ years of scientific work by my former research group at Stanford, as about one third of the 60 PhD students that I supervised studied various aspects of the wave-particle interactions in the Earth’s radiation belts. Amazingly enough, the spacecraft is designed to verify theoretical predictions that were initially made in the context of my own PhD Thesis at Stanford, completed way back in 1977! If everything goes well and the spacecraft is placed into the correct orbit, there should also be exciting opportunities for Koç University students to work on the data coming down from the spacecraft, under my supervision.
It was a pleasure to visit with the successful start-ups founded by people who came here from Turkey. Silicon Valley is such a dynamic place of innovation and creativity, excitement and competition; as you drive a few miles from Stanford, you run into the campuses of Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo and many others. It is the birthplace of all that we now take for granted that did not exist merely 25 years ago. Who knows how many more new innovations are now being created by the amazing collection of the brightest people on the planet that populate this Valley.
Visiting my son and his family was a very enjoyable part of my stay at Stanford. My two granddaughters, Ayla (8.5) and Nisa (5.5) are so very special; they call me ‘Pipa’, a name that the older one invented on her own. The girls compete with one another to spend time with me; I do feel bad that I cannot see them more often. The world is really small nowadays with all the communication options, but still nothing can replace the physical presence and the human touch.
I also enjoyed my meeting with about 35 Koç University alumni who are currently working in the Silicon Valley. I understand that we may actually have close to 75 to 80 of our graduates working in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was very pleased that many of them made it to our evening. A lot of our alumni are working in Tech companies, either Google, Apple, Facebook what have you or small start-ups and all of them are sources of pride for us.
January is also the month where we expect some severe weather at Koç University, much more so than the rest of Istanbul, since we are so close to the colder, wetter and foggier Black Sea climate. Although we experienced the longest and heaviest snowstorms of the last decade in January 2017, this January was mild like the rest of the winter until now. Although it is good that we did not have to close the university during Final Exams like we did last year, I must say I do miss the snow and its beautiful manifestations on our campus.
As I look forward to the months ahead, I am excited about the many candidates we are now interviewing in the context of some 20+ ongoing faculty searches in progress at this time. Meeting the young candidates who make it to our short list always fills my heart with new hope for the future, regardless of whether we end up hiring them. We are fortunate to be attracting such excellent talent across the board in all disciplines.
Like in previous years, we shall say goodbye to 1200 BS-BA/MS-MA/PhD students who will graduate in June and welcome the 1000+ new undergraduates and close to 200 new MS/MA or PhD students who will join us this coming September. The undergraduates would be coming from among literally the brightest (top 3 to 5%) of all high school graduates, and they would bring to our campus new ideas, drive and enthusiasm. The graduate students are the engines of knowledge generation and our ‘research university’ heavily relies on them. They are internationally selected also from among the best.
The long-lasting construction of our new 36,000 m² building, to be named ‘Semahat & Dr. Nusret Arsel Science & Technology Building’, at the northeast end of our campus is rapidly coming to an end. This new building is designed to provide much needed new space for the development of our research programs. It will house the Law School, no less than 3000 m² of new classroom space, new offices and laboratories for all of our Colleges, a common use high-tech laboratory with unique equipment, a high-tech clean-room, a high-bay laboratory and our new Research Center for Translational Medicine (KUTTAM) supported by the Ministry of Development. The two separate surface pieces of this new building are connected as one below and are designed to surround ‘the last courtyard’ of our beautiful campus. We expect this building to be ready for its occupants by about April 2018.
Our ‘campaign’ for the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the founding of our University is in progress with a variety of events organized by different units, aiming at a culmination on October 4th 2018, the 25th year of the ‘First Lecture’ delivered by our founder the late Vehbi Koç. This campaign allows us the opportunity to celebrate the journey of our University to become one of the leading research universities in the region while at the same time unifying and solidifying the bonds between our community of faculty, students, staff and alumni.
Personally, I am also looking forward to starting 2018 by teaching my ELEC206/PHYS302: Electromagnetism course, as I do every Spring Semester. I greatly enjoy my classroom dialogue with typically 75 to 80 students, teaching and learning electromagnetic theory using my own textbook. For me, there is nothing more enjoyable than being in class, responding to the curiosities of and interacting with bright young students. I would like to teach more classes and more often; unfortunately, my duties as President overwhelm my schedule day in and day out.
January 21st was the second anniversary of the untimely passing away of the late Mustafa V. Koç, Chairman of the Board of Koç Holding. The explosive growth of Koç Holding during his tenure provided the financial basis for generous support of our University by the Vehbi Koç Foundation during the past decade, thus enabling us to excel as an institution. Mustafa Bey was a most warm and embracing person, at peace with himself and always supportive of others, and we shall continue to miss him. We are proceeding along on our plans of establishing the Koç University Mustafa V. Koç Center for Maritime Archaeology, to honor him and his passion for diving and nautical archaeology and to explore the greatest treasures of culture and archaeology buried under the beautiful coasts of Anatolia. Two new faculty members hired last year precisely for this purpose are now in our Department of Archaeology and History of Art and will be spearheading this effort.
Upon all these reflections, our path as an institution is crystal clear for 2018 as it was in recent years; the best way to live and honor the founder of our Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the founder our institution, Vehbi Koç, is to do our level best to raise the standards in our country and our region, to set an example of outstanding excellence in education, and generation and dissemination of scientific knowledge. With clarity of thought and purpose, we shall strive to do so with passion and with unrelenting perseverance.
My best wishes and regards to you all,