This year, August had a lot to offer, starting first with the all-important undergraduate student recruitment and placement period, which ended on August 20th, lasting longer than the usual two weeks. Collective vacation period for Faculty/Staff at our university started on the same day, continuing until September 3rd, 2021.
Last year, having just come out of the first wave of the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, we had changed the modality of the 'open days' that were the hallmark of the placement period to online, which, I have to admit, presented a huge sense of loss with one-sided rendezvous -- not seeing the faces of student candidates and their parents, their mimics which show their feelings - sometimes approving, sometimes admiring and even proud, sometimes surprised, sometimes disappointed but human all the same. However, despite all these challenges, being present and accessible to students and parents has always been the key, and we successfully completed the preference period, followed by excellent placement results last year.
This year, with better progress on vaccinations and handling of the pandemic in general in our country and around the world, we formulated a 'hybrid' modality of a face-to-face presentation on campus with live broadcast in addition to all our student representatives, Deans and Faculty Members being available online every day. We opened up our campus to thousands of visitors, candidate students and families who had a chance to visit our wonderful campus. I enjoyed talking directly to them every day for nearly ten days in a row. I cannot tell you how elated I felt to have a face-to-face engagement with excited prospect students and their families. After spending a year and a half in front of the computer screen, this feeling of a 'human touch' was beyond words. This experience once again shows us the importance of the rendezvous between generations in a University environment which needs to happen in person. Many of these visitors may not end up enrolling at Koç University; nevertheless, we strongly feel that our ‘rendezvous’ with them is an outstanding opportunity for us to orient these bright students in making healthy and well-founded choices, wherever they eventually decide to go.
In my opening remarks, I always state that we help create the leaders of tomorrow, not necessarily foot soldiers ! As a leader of a prominent institution and an educator, I feel the responsibility to guide the young minds of our country to follow their passions, whether they choose to do that at our University or elsewhere. I tell them that no matter where they end up, they should follow their own paths and take classes from different disciplines. Tomorrows are uncertain even more so after the pandemic; however, we have been stating this notion of not knowing what the future holds for us and the necessity to thus have a broadly-based and multi-disciplinary background to be better prepared for the future, long before this pandemic completely changed our lives.
Having our gatherings this year outside at our wonderful Koç Square with the beautiful view of the Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge and the Black Sea behind us was exhilarating and gave us a chance to talk about the design of our campus. More so than in any other years, I was able to talk about the brilliant architect of our campus Mozhan Khadem and how he designed the campus in the form of courtyards surrounded by buildings, very much in the Ottoman architectural style. Facing our Portal of Knowledge at the Koç Square every day also allowed me to tell our visitors how the Koç Square is designed like the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, with its slanted side opening to embrace the beautiful sunrise. Please see my presentation on our YouTube Channel.
In these gatherings this year, one of the more common questions was about the upcoming Fall Semester. My response has not been different from what I have shared with our own community, that we remain cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Fall Semester 2021 and for the new Academic year 2021-2022 and we are getting ready for a full return to our campus for all students, faculty and staff with all of our dormitories full to capacity as well as with face-to-face teaching, learning, working and interacting with one another.
Another aspect of these recruitment periods that I enjoyed every year is my one-on-one conversations with candidate students, which I used to have in my office, usually with their parents present. This year, naturally, was different and I felt like a broken record where I spoke and uttered basically the same things to more than 150 candidate students -- double the number than last year -- either online or on the phone, averaging 10 to 15 minutes with each. I am also very pleased to know that based on past years, close to half of the students I speak during the recruitment period choose to become Koç University students. During my conversations with them, I always advise that they follow their hearts and passion and choose wisely since 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, given the fact that most close and long-lasting friendships are formed during high school and college years; therefore, university life is a crucial period of their journey to adulthood and spending those years in the right place would be one of their best life decisions. Realizing fully that many of the students I speak with may not come to Koç University for one reason or another, I nevertheless hope that my conversations might help guide them in their selections.
Our other excitement during these recruitment periods is the selection of the Anatolian scholarship students who come from far corners of our beautiful country and who are quite successful in the national placement exam, but are ranked just below the lowest rankings of placement at our university with full scholarship. This year, we were able to select a record number of 201 students from among more than 6000 applications from all over Anatolia. In a year where we could not meet face-to-face with our existing donors or find the opportunity to get together with prospect donors, we were still able to talk and converse about our wonderful program online and in writing and generated enough interest to bring in that many students from 66 provinces, surpassing all of our targets, about which we are elated.
We are very grateful to our donors, both companies and people, who sponsor these bright-but-needy students. Since 2011, a total of 782 students were placed at Koç University under this program and the placement of an additional 201 students this year is thus an amazing accomplishment. The program has now acquired a truly national character, with a total more than 300 sponsoring companies supporting almost 1000 students ! Our alumni classes continue to provide enough funding to support their existing 20 students and two additional classes have added 2 new students for a total alumni-class-supported number of 22 students. I thank our alumni for their generous and continued support despite the challenging economic situation in our country and hope to see growing participation on their part in this program.
As the month of August came to an end, we celebrated the August 30th Victory Day, giving us a chance to once again remember the sacred importance of the Republic that has been entrusted to us by Mustafa Kemal ATATÜRK. Exactly 99 years ago on August 30, our brave soldiers marched to decisive victory, chanting “Independence or Death“, with the Final Offensive at Dumlupınar, where the Earth meets the Sky, ending our War of Independence and laying the foundations of the modern Turkish Republic.
September is already here and promises to be busier than ever, as we get ready to open our campus after more than a whopping eighteen-month hiatus. There are to be definitely some adjustments and changes for students, faculty and staff when we return to our campus for Fall 2021. Detailed information about COVID-19 principles, health and safety protocols and rules for life on campus are to be communicated throughout the month of September.
I would like to re-emphasize that our plans strictly depend on the development of the pandemic in the coming days and that they are incumbent upon new guidance from the Ministry of Health and other related government authorities. With our own health experts, we are monitoring the current situation quite closely, evaluating each step with due diligence and allowing ourselves as much flexibility as possible so that if circumstances change, we can adapt swiftly and decisively.
As usual, we still eagerly look forward to meeting and welcoming our new incoming class, faculty and staff members across the range of Colleges & Schools & Units as we aim to continue our traditions of welcoming the coming academic year of 2021-2022.
On a final note, I would like to share a few words with our community regarding the recent announcement of our Chairman of the Trustees, Prof. Nur Yalman. As he so eloquently put in his message, even though our Board of Trustees would have wanted to extend my term of office, it is unfortunately not possible due to the 67-year age limit for appointment of a University President per the Higher Education Law No. 2547. Until a new president is identified and appointed, I have agreed to continue, as the Advisor to the Board of Trustees, to administer the university together with our Acting President, Prof. Zeynep Gürhan Canlı. I now very much look forward to working with Prof. Canlı, whom I have a great working relationship with and total respect for. My work as Advisor is to encompass all administrative and academic units of the institution as well as serving as a bridge between the Board of Trustees and the Acting President. Our utmost goal is to preserve and improve the standing of Koç University as the premier research university in our country and our region during this transition period until the arrival of the next President.
With my very best wishes to all of you,
Umran S. Inan