Koç University News & Announcements Bulletin

December 2020


December, as the last month of the year, has traditionally been a season to be jolly, a time for reflections on the past year and resolutions for the coming New Year ... Even though we are nearing the end of this year in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic just like the rest of the world, we still have many reasons to celebrate this month and about the year 2020, however challenging and difficult it had been for all of us.

In fact, December has been one of our busiest months this year, where we were able to get together, albeit via digital and online means, on several wonderful and meaningful occasions.

We started the month off with quite a joyful event with the Koç University Seniority Awards. In its third year of celebrating 15 and 25 years in addition to 10 and 20 in a separate ceremony, I believe we were still able to relay across the intimate and exciting sentiment of these gatherings in our online setting. This ceremony had indeed become a special occasion for our staff and faculty, and I am especially happy to have thus continued the tradition this year as well. Celebrating a significant anniversary of employment at an institution marks an important milestone for both the individual and the institution. The success of our institution is very much dependent on having devoted and capable members and I wish our awardees of this year many more years at our wonderful university. I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all those who received their respective seniorities for their commitment to this institution, even though I would have much preferred to have been on stage with you all. Your service and dedication to Koç University are much appreciated.

We held our second General Faculty & Staff Meeting of the academic year, which I also cherish. This gathering was our third online Faculty and Staff Meeting in 2020 and thanks to the benefits of online gatherings, we had much more attendees than we would have had at Sevgi Gönül Auditorium, our physical meeting place. These meetings always give me an opportunity to share our long-term vision and objectives for the current year, important developments and successes of our faculty, as well as other news about the wonderful things that happen on our different campuses. I felt it was especially important to have these meetings in a year where we were confined to our homes with minimum contact with one another and the outside world. As we now have done for many years at our December meetings, we presented Outstanding Faculty Awards, celebrating the wonderful work of our faculty and their contribution to scientific research and development. This year, in recognition of their long-standing work in their respective areas from all disciplines, their robust research projects and many high impact publications, we recognized two colleagues for their overall contributions with President’s Awards while presenting Outstanding Faculty Awards to ten members of our faculty from different Colleges and Schools. I wholeheartedly congratulate all our recipients for their extraordinary research performance.

Moving on to another tradition, this time of philanthropy and alumni relations, we held our second Giving Week at the beginning of December. I had iterated in my two previous newsletters of my sincere hope that we may generate the same kind of enthusiasm this year as we were able to do last year in our first Giving Week. I am so pleased to let you know that this year, we indeed did very well, collecting 130,000 TL (more than 2.5 times the amount from last year) from 93 participants, 36 of whom being new donors. The Giving Week is a great opportunity for our alumni, students, faculty and staff, and friends from all over the world to come together and give back to our great institution and especially in a year of many hardships, especially financially, having this kind of give back from our alumni cements our bond stronger than ever.

COVID-19 had disrupted and interrupted our lives like nothing else we had experienced in our lifetime. As we had to change and adapt to our ‘new’ normal, we had been deprived of many of our rituals, traditions and core activities and had to find creative ways to recognize and acknowledge many of the successes of our institution as I have stated in my earlier Newsletters. One of those events was the Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science Ceremony, which we have been holding since the inception of this program in 2016. Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science has been the flagship marker of our commitment to science and research at our university, with the recipients giving us hope, pride and joy. The Medal program was created to celebrate and encourage relatively young scientists, and is given one year in Science, Engineering and Medicine and the subsequent year in Social and Administrative Sciences, Humanities and Law. The program also celebrates the contributions to our institution of our Honorary Chairman Rahmi M. Koç, while also recognizing the outstanding position that Koç University has now attained as a comprehensive ‘Research University’, and as a beacon of excellence in education and scientific research in our region.

It is surely one of the most memorable times of the year for our university and nothing, even a pandemic of this magnitude, could deter us from celebrating it this year. Due to first a health mishap and then COVID-19, we had to twice postpone the ceremony for the presentation of the 2019 Medal. Thus, we had a double celebration this year for the recipients of 2019 and 2020 Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Medals of Science. We are proud of each of the recipients who are so worthy of this accolade, extraordinary scientists and wonderful, positive people.

The fourth and fifth Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science were presented to Prof. Filiz Garip from Cornell University and Prof. Hatice Altuğ from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EFPL) respectively at an online live ceremony held on December 17th.

The most significant innovations of the future are to emerge at the intersection of medicine with engineering, natural sciences, social and administrative sciences, humanities, and law. The emphasis at Koç University on interdisciplinary work, on greater collaboration, diversity, and global connectedness, and the associated de-emphasis of hierarchy and established norms represents a huge shift away from how universities used to operate just a couple of decades ago. But these changes may pale in comparison with upcoming revolutions in scientific understanding that have started to be measured not in centuries and decades but in years and months. New disciplines are born by the day and old ones resurface in unexpected new partnerships and fields.

Our two new recipients could not have been better examples of such intersections and visionaries in their respective fields. 2019 Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science Recipient Professor Filiz Garip was awarded for her development of groundbreaking modern methodology and for her sophisticated theoretical intervention to demography, reaching beyond multiple disciplines including political science, computer science, and statistics. 2020 Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science was presented to Professor Hatice Altuğ in the fields of Science, Engineering and Medical Sciences for her pioneering contributions in the areas of nanoscale light-matter interactions, manipulation of light-on-chip, and innovative nano-bio-photonics applications.

As I once again congratulate both Professor Garip and Professor Altuğ for their remarkable work, I am also very happy to announce that both recipients are soon to be invited to become Distinguished Researchers at Koç University, allowing us to create and harbor mutually beneficial collaborations and research opportunities. If you have not had the chance already, please do watch their research seminars (Prof. Garip and Prof. Altuğ) where they shared their research and projects with students and faculty.

On a final note, one of the other great things about the Rahmi M. Koç Medal award is the fact that many more people get exposed to scientists and Turkish success stories, which are inspiring to all of us. Our recipients have typically been already highly accomplished scientists who have been somewhat celebrities in their own fields; however, this award gives them access to a wider audience, and especially young people who aspire to achieve great things in their own lives. This year, in addition, we have had our first and second women scientists added to the roster of the awardee list, which in itself triggered a tsunami of response from the public. As an individual who believes that countries and societies that do not effectively engage their women in education, economy and business are destined to compete in the global environment with one hand tied behind their back, I would like to take the celebration of these two amazing scientists as an opportunity to once again realize the important position and defining contributions and potential of women in our society.  

Last year, in my final newsletter, I had stated that 2019 was the best we had so far as we ran faster to new endeavors, cementing our place in the top ranks in terms of research in Turkey. The pandemic naturally had a major impact on our scientific production and publications because faculty members who normally worked in a laboratory and Master’s and PhD students who needed physical space to complete their experiments were restricted in these activities. Despite these difficulties, Koç University faculty, students and staff had been doing amazing work on multiple research efforts and our faculty continued to be recognized nationally and internationally for their research in 2020 -- continuing from where we left off in 2019; in fact, this year we had a larger number of recipients of national and international awards and significant grants from prestigious institutions, including the European Research Council, for projects on a variety of fields.

In closing, I want to reflect on being grateful for the things that we all have. Gratitude for being blessed and indebted to having the wonders of life, brings happiness and serenity, especially important during times of great deprivation and anxiety, such as what we have been living through most of this year.

Therefore, as I share what I am grateful for in my life,

  • being the President of this wonderful university, my home for the last decade,
  • leading this great institution, a beacon of light and hope for our country,
  • top-notch students who successfully made it through a tough academic year,
  • top-notch faculty working hardest to excel in education & scientific research,
  • great team of administrative colleagues, hardworking, relentless & responsible,
  • to be healthy and in good spirits,
  • to be with my family and loved ones,
  • to have hope that, challenging days may soon end via science & research,

I want to thank each and every one of you for making me the luckiest person ...

I wish all of you and your families Happy Holidays and a great New Year, full of nothing but health, happiness and success.

My best wishes and regards to you all,

Umran Inan