Koç University News & Announcements Bulletin

April 2020


Dear Members of the Koç University Community,

April on our beautiful campus has always been truly special, with the cherry tree (‘Prunus serrulata’ or ‘Sakura’) blossoms displaying their beauty in full and the greenery of the many other trees around us appearing somehow fresher, brighter and crisper. This year is no less magnificent on campus with spring fully bestowing its beauties on us; alas, our campus is devoid of all of you and is heartbroken as it misses you all.

I hope this message finds you all safe, in good health and good spirits, as we weather the challenges that we have been facing since the beginning of March. Although we are still immersed in uncertainty, it is safe to say that this pandemic shall definitely have major impacts on our economy, travel, life in general . . . In this newsletter, I want to share with you some of my insights and reflections on how the month of April passed for us at Koç University and what might await us in the future.

We still cannot predict what might happen 6 months from now and thus what Fall semester may be like; however, from the applications that we continue to receive for our programs, we see that international candidates do not intend to abandon their plans to pursue their education outside of their home countries. Nevertheless, restrictions on travel and visa issues may harbor some opportunities for a university like ours. As the top research university in Turkey and the region, with our excellent English programs at undergraduate and graduate level, international students might consider a university like ours, geographically located in a more central region. Also, I do see an opportunity for our own Turkish students from top high schools in Turkey, previously targeting abroad for their undergraduate and even graduate degrees, to reconsider their choices. These thoughts bring me to a point which I make at almost every undergraduate student recruitment and placement period which takes place in summers, following the university placement exams. I am often asked about studying in Turkey versus abroad. Below is what I advise the young and bright prospective students.

Ivy League and other top-level schools in the US and Europe offer excellent programs and if you have a chance to study at one of these institutions, then you may go ahead and study abroad. Especially if you have scholarship, where the financial burden on your families can be somewhat lessened. However, going to a less than top level international school does not provide you with what you may gain from studying at a top-notch university in your own country. University education is not only what you get academically but socially as well. This dimension of university life is at least as important as the academic one where most of your close and life long lasting friendships are formed during high school and college years; therefore, university life is a crucial period of your journey to adulthood and spending those years in the right place would be one of your best life decisions.

Another particular point I make at these student recruitment and placement periods is the tremendous success that our University has realized in forming its Medical School in recent years. Koç University School of Medicine and Koç University Hospital continue to deliver extraordinary value, attracting the brightest and best students and generating many new research opportunities, while delivering exceptional healthcare to our people. I strongly believe that many of the developments with the highest social impact in the next 10 to 30 years are undoubtedly likely to take place in the areas of the overlap of medicine with engineering, law, natural, social and administrative sciences. With this in mind, I emphasize that our university is the only institution in Turkey and I would say among the very few in the world with a School of Medicine, surrounded by and imbedded within other top notch undergraduate and graduate schools, underscoring the importance of studying medicine at a university with other disciplines at the highest level, surely bringing a whole new perspective to university selection criteria. Needless to say, as our world fights against a deadly virus, being in a multidisciplinary environment is more important than ever.

Which brings me to the amazing work our university has been doing on multiple research efforts, so far 42 projects and counting, directly targeting the COVID-19. These efforts have brought our University to the forefront of research to understand and eventually defeat COVID-19. Our faculty, doctoral students and others are working on ventilators, examination and test kits, drugs, vaccines, tracking systems and on many different, multidisciplinary projects that are poised to have important impact in the near future. We have formed a COVID-19 task force, led by our SOM and KUH, comprised of many faculty members from different colleges, underlining yet again our strength as a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary university. This pandemic showed us more than ever the importance of scientific research to explore and force the boundaries of knowledge so that when these types of things occur on our planet, we can fight it and come out of it, better off as humanity.

This pandemic also forced us to work differently, change our ways fast and adapt quickly. Even though I do somewhat agree with the widely shared perspective of how well we learned to work, educate, learn, study and almost do everything online during this time, this online modality can only be temporary and cannot replace our face to face interactions. I was more than thrilled to be able to have all of our 703 courses online at the end of March and I am very proud of our faculty who has been working diligently to continue teaching and our students who are putting on their best efforts to learn. When I had my first online class, I literally had tears in my eyes when my students connected from all around Turkey, from Karabük to Balıkesir. My conversations with my colleagues and students since then renewed my belief in our wonderful institution. This forced modality also gave me the opportunity to refresh my course material, even though the course I teach is from my own book that I wrote back in 2000 with a second edition in 2014, re-think and even revamp to make it more engaging and sequential now geared to a group of students accessing remotely. Having said this, for myself, as a person who has always described university education as a rendezvous, or an appointment if you will, between generations where what we have at our university and others is the ‘appointment’ of Generation X (Born before 1980s) with Generation Z (Born after 1995), this shift to remote/online teaching and learning is still quite challenging and leaves a lot to be desired. In many ways, this period has shown us not just that online education is possible but also that it may never fully replace on campus education. 

Same thing can be said of working from home. We are all now working from home but with our children also at home, we cannot say that we are at our 100% productive as we have various interruptions throughout the day. Many memes, funny videos that we see on social media with parents struggling to work from home have in fact a lot of truth to it; therefore, we should shy away from coming to premature conclusions that we can now all work from home. We have seen the possibilities and various ways of how we can make the workplace more flexible, and as in online education, technology may allow us to come up with tools to make our lives more efficient, act faster but it may never replace the actual one-to-one and face-to-face interactions in the workplace. Thus, I am looking forward to the days and times when this COVID-19 hiatus may be over so we can return back to face-to-face teaching, learning, working and interacting with one another on our beautiful campus.

Despite all of these new challenges we had to deal with, we also had much reason this month to celebrate our history. On April 23rd, we celebrated the National Sovereignty and Children's Holiday, a most meaningful gift to the children of our country by the founder of our Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, also marking the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 23 April 1920. Establishment of the National Assembly exactly 100 years ago was a first for our country as the new National Assembly recognized the unconditional sovereignty of the people. The struggle to get to that point and thereafter has been the cornerstone of our great progress as a nation.

The resilience of our country and our people, our ability to cope with crises, our strong will to unite in the face of adversity have been tested over and over again since our war of independence and the founding of our Republic which took unparalleled bravery and self-sacrifice on the part of our forefathers.

These days our country yet again faces a grand peril, a very different and a global one, but I am certain that as we have done numerous times in our history before, our Republic and our people shall prevail and come out of this crisis stronger than ever.

In the meantime, at Koç University, we continue our work, as would have been expected from us by Atatürk, to do our level best to contribute to the elevation of the quality of life for our people by vigorously pursuing nothing less than excellence in education and scientific research.

Please stay home and be healthy, take care of yourselves and your families. . .I cannot wait to see things go back to normal when I hope to see you all on our beautiful campus . . .

My best wishes and regards to you all,

Umran Inan