MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
The month of February presents a paradox of sorts. On one hand, it signals the end of winter and on the other hand, it is also the month in which our Spring semester starts. Even though Winter might be leaving us, this year our beautiful campus was adorned with lots of snow that has blanketed the entire area, including the forest around us and our campus buildings. This absolutely fantastic campus becomes even more so when covered in white snow hanging down from the branches of the beautiful pine and other trees that populate our unique environment.
Normally, heavy snow like this would have brought upon us the decision to probably close down the University, likely leading to some friendly tension between us and the students. Alas, this year is like no other and in a way, as we enjoy the snowy scenery all around our campus and Istanbul, maybe being confined to our homes this time and not dealing with the substantial hardship the snow brings with transportation and life in general is a blessing in disguise. I know our campus longs for our return; however, this beautiful scenery around our campus brings me optimism and hope as I am always excited to begin a new semester. As mentioned in my message from 3 weeks ago, we are starting the Spring Semester 2021 in an online modality as we did in the Fall, but I still believe that we are merely postponing our face-to-face rendezvous to a further date, where the progress of the pandemic may be more controlled and contained. In the meantime, continuation of limited number of high priority research projects in our laboratories since June 2020 and our progress in our experimental research and scientific efforts indeed makes me quite happy.
This pandemic facing us today and other crises that may come our way in the future shall surely pass and I do believe that our university shall come out of this period as a stronger institution than ever before.
Last year this time, we had no clue what challenges we would be faced with in a matter of weeks; however, we did have an inkling of what we might have to brace, seeing an almost desperate Europe with lockdowns and cases of COVID-19 spiking up almost on an hourly basis. Looking back, all that feels like it was such a long time ago. February, with the start of the new semester, has always been traditionally quite busy and full of many events for us. This year was no different.
I was very proud to be able to represent our University at quite a wonderful event in Ankara at the 'National Athletes Scholarship Introductory Meeting'. Our University has been one of the signatories of this program, initiated last year by the Ministry of Youth and Sports where athletes that have competed as members of our national teams in international sports have the opportunity to study at 52 foundation universities with full scholarships. We were one of the top universities with 9 athletes, 5 women and 4 men pursuing their education in a wide range including Law, Business, Engineering, Economics, Visual Arts, International Relations, while simultaneously working very hard to represent our country in water polo, athletics, taekwondo, rowing, volleyball, karate, basketball and sailing. This program, which we embraced with great enthusiasm, supports our University's main mission of cultivating Turkey’s most competent graduates, well-rounded adults who are internationally qualified; who can think creatively, independently and objectively; and who are confident leaders.
During the 36 years I spent at Stanford University in the US, I personally worked with the Athletics Department to recruit very successful Olympic champions to that university, and I personally met those Olympic athletes with gold and silver medals in the classes I taught. Watching with great admiration one gold medal athlete, who came to class at 8:00 am after waking up early every morning and swim practicing for 4 hours, taking on my class with the same drive and ambition, I always thought, "why not in my country". Now, seeing a similar initiative here in Turkey, I cannot be happier. As an educator who have experienced firsthand how academic learning and sports complement each other, increase the potential of students and shape their personalities, I am very pleased that our university has made an important contribution to education in this aspect as well. With our 9 freshmen national athletes this year, we have now added to our roster of other national athletes and look forward to sponsoring more national team athletes in the years to come.
On February 19th, we were happy to host a visit by the Deputy Minister of Industry, Science & Technology, Mr. Mehmet Fatih Kaçır, who came to visit some of our laboratories and meet the faculty members who received the new type of TÜBİTAK grants (2232 - International Fellowship for Outstanding Researchers & 2247/A National Leader Researchers Program). It is very pleasing to see that government officials appreciate the very special opportunity that we have at Koç University to make significant contributions to the development of science & technology in our country and we are grateful for their extensive and generous support of our efforts.
I was more than pleased to have been invited to give the opening lecture of the new semester at İzmir Institute of High Technology where I shared my thoughts with students and faculty on education and research in general and how innovation can thrive when the right environment is created for able people. I did touch upon the notion that there is not necessarily a direct correlation between creativity and innovation and knowing a lot. It might in some cases be just the opposite, where not knowing much might open the gateway to ask the questions that were never asked before. I told the viewers of my favorite tale of serendipity and Prince Serendip and how one should pursue the ‘unknown unknowns’, representing the ‘R’ of R&D, in addition to pursuing the ‘known unknowns’, often representing the ‘D’ ...These thoughts also very much echo my recent LinkedIn article, my third op-ed, 'Innovation in Uncertain Times: How to Trigger it and Cultivate it? Some Insights to Leaders.' Please do take a look and I look forward to hearing your thoughts...
On a final note, February 25th marks the 25th anniversary of the passing away of the Founder of our university, the late Vehbi Koç. He was at the same time an incredibly successful business leader, an outstanding philanthropist and a visionary person who, above all else, loved and believed in his country. Vehbi Koç has had many advice and meaningful words he shared during his lifetime which time and again I like to quote myself. One of those, perhaps lesser known than others, striked me as very fitting to our current predicament and would like to share it in the hopes of encouraging all of us during these challenging times. "When things go wrong, one tends to get depressed. One suddenly sees everything as black and gets caught up in bad thoughts. If you are just, determined and you take every means possible, then everything will be okay."
For the past 2 decades, Vehbi Koç Foundation has been presenting the Vehbi Koç Award to commemorate our Founder and remember his legacy in many different areas. We have been introduced to so many brilliant people and had it not been for this award, we would not have had the chance to know, understand and appreciate the talents of our country. This year, like all similar events, it was held online, and was presented in the area of ‘Education’ to İLKYAR - İlköğretim Okullarına Yardım Vakfı (Foundation to Support Elementary Schools) and its founder Prof. Hüseyin Vural. The foundation provides support to students in villages, who relatively have limited access to education. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in equal access to education, this year’s award recipient Prof. Vural is a true unsung hero and I congratulate him for his contribution to education, so very much in line with the motto of our Foundation: ‘the onus is on us' (‘üstümüze vazife’).
As I wish all of you a great Spring, please continue to be cautious, be healthy, and do take care of yourselves and your families.
My best wishes and regards to you all,