MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Our May Newsletter this year comes out on June 10th, due to the week-long ‘Ramadan’ Bayram Holiday.
May is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, month of the year for all of us. As the spring semester and the academic year come to a close, our days are marked with several year-end performances from student clubs, year-end activities of schools and administrative units and the completion of classes.
May is also the month where we all prepare for the most important annual event for our university, the Commencement Ceremony, just around the corner to be held on June 22nd, 2019. With less than two weeks left, it is hard not to feel the excitement that floats around our campus. I am very pleased to announce that our Commencement Speaker this year is Prof. Larry Kramer, the President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Before joining the foundation, Larry served for ten years as Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. As we are celebrating the centennial of our own Vehbi Koç Foundation, it is only fitting to have the President of a Global Foundation who can truly speak about the importance of foundations and effective philanthropy. We are now very much looking forward to host Larry Kramer on our campus and to hear his address to our students as our Commencement Speaker.
On May 9th, we held the opening ceremony of Karma Lab under our Social Sciences and Humanities Faculty, focusing on Augmented and Virtual Reality. We are already thrilled to see the beginnings of exciting multi-disciplinary projects from the Karma lab, contributing to the design of the future. We have definitely come a long way since the first days of our Media and Visual Arts Department, MAVA. At the start of my tenure as President, I remember discussing what we could do to incorporate arts and creativity into the academic program at Koç University. Building a full-fledged School of Fine Arts did not seem a feasible solution considering our physical and financial resources. Therefore, we decided to establish the Media and Visual Arts Department within our College of Social Sciences & Humanities, where we could address the arts, design, and technology in a setting that was physically possible within the campus. In its first year, MAVA attracted a wonderful student profile and since then has become one of the top preferred departments for new incoming students as well as double majors. Our progress in design continued with the Research Center for Creative Industries, which was established in partnership with ARÇELİK three years ago, focusing on creative industrial design. With our Karma Lab, we have now reached a position to steer the future of the digital world and pioneer studies on virtual and augmented reality.
My trips to different hubs of industry continued around the country, promoting university-industry relations i.e., the drivers of our economy, employers of our graduates and our potential partners in education and research and seeking support for our Anatolian Scholarship program. This time, I visited EKOL LOGISTICS in Istanbul where I was also very pleased to be invited as a speaker to their EKOL TALKS, a TEDx type series of inspiring talks by leaders from different industries and institutions. Kicking off with my own life journey, it was a reflective 45 minutes or so of how I see university education and research partnerships with industry . . . I was very happy to share some of my own thoughts on the basic premise that people produce the best and the most when they are the freest and that I see university education as a rendezvous between generations. I had a chance to speak about the importance of industry investing in universities and touched upon the difference between ‘Research’ and ‘Development’ and what we are doing at our own university in terms of research with mid- to long-term impact . . .The nearly 40-minute Question & Answer session that followed was also quite lively and I was happy to see that some of my thoughts did touch EKOL employees, allowing them to draw parallels with their work and life. I congratulate EKOL LOGISTICS management team for creating such an environment for their employees and surely thank them for the opportunity to speak to them.
Activities and shows of our Student Clubs also continued in May with great success. KU Orchestra and Dance Club gave wonderful performances, mixing both modern and traditional elements that were a feast for the eyes and ears. I congratulate all our students who have participated in these club activities. I also do appreciate the continuity of these clubs, as every 4 to 5 years, with our students graduating, the membership gets renewed and the cycle starts all over again; albeit, with greatly successful performances.
Another tradition, The Koç University Spring Festival, successfully took place on May 5th; although hosting 4500+ excited youth is always worrisome, everyone immensely enjoyed the event as the weather this year also allowed us to do so. Congratulations to all of our students and thanks to our Office of the Dean of Students, especially our Dean Bilgen Bilgin for overseeing these great activities of our very talented students.
Taking advantage of classes ending on May 17th, I realized a short trip to Stanford University during May 21st through 24th, to meet up with a couple of my remaining colleagues there on finalizing preparations for an interesting upcoming satellite project. Major scientific satellite projects usually have lifespans of decades from conception to implementation and this project has been no different. I was at the forefront of securing government funding (about half a billion US dollars) of the entire mission concept to quantify wave-particle interactions in the Earth’s radiation belts. My former group at Stanford had a nearly $13M government contract to build a set of critical instruments for this satellite back in the year 2001 and the one-of-a-kind instruments were successfully designed, built and delivered to the government by 2007. At that time the launch of the rather heavy (about half a ton) satellite was anticipated to be in 2009, but as available launch vehicle costs and priorities shifted, our launch ended up having to wait for the development of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. After two initial test flights of this powerful new Commercial rocket in February 2018 and April 2019, our satellite is now due to be launched in late June 2019, ten years after the initially targeted date! Nevertheless, if the launch is successful, unique new scientific data will be acquired on electromagnetic waves and their interactions with energetic electrons in the Earth’s radiation belts. This satellite project is a kind of culmination of literally decades of work on the part of my former research group at Stanford; the data to be acquired will constitute the first quantitative tests of some of the ideas that were put theoretically forth in my own PhD thesis back in 1977, so I am naturally very excited.
May 19th, Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth & Sports Day, is the day on which the founder of our Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, landed in Samsun to start the National War of Independence and the process of the founding of Modern Turkey in 1919. In one of his addresses, Atatürk even stated: 'I was born on May 19th’. In his own words, it is thus the 100th birthday of Atatürk . . . Exactly one hundred years ago on that day that he was ‘born’, a bright new sun started shining on our country, much of which was then under occupation of enemy forces . . . It was on that day that Atatürk arrived at Samsun and started the war of independence of the people of Anatolia, that set a lasting example for all people everywhere yearning to be free . . .
In my message to the university, I invited all of our students, faculty & staff to once again realize the meaning and importance of this day. Atatürk’s gift of this important day to the Youth very well underscores the fact that the future of our country is indeed entrusted to them. It is the young generation that will build and own our tomorrows. At Koç University, we shall continue to do our part by striving harder than ever for excellence in education and scientific research so that we can equip our students with the best foundations upon which to secure our future.
Now we look ahead to June, when we celebrate the success of our graduating class with a touch of nostalgia and bittersweet feelings of parting with them.
Best wishes and regards to you all,