Inspiring women

In order to get to know the new board members and since we recently celebrated the International Women’s day, we thought of presenting some examples of inspiring women from our international backgrounds. We hope this post will inspire you to tell us about a strong women from your hometown.

Helen Velando, Uruguay.

It is a difficult task to choose one representative women from my hometown, because there are a good amount of inspiring Uruguayan women working in the different fields.

This time I choose to talk about Helen Velando, one of the most relevant writers of children’s literature in Uruguay. Her adventure books have become a benchmark of contemporary Uruguayan children’s literature. She published around 26 books and she had been awarded several times.

She studied three years in law school but abandoned when she realized that art was the engine that moved and motivated her. She began to sing and study theater and puppets, and even came to have a blues band. Before becoming a well known writer, she had many jobs, such as selling books, shoes and clothes, doing surveys, knitting, teaching theater and writing humor segments for some television programs. 

Her books were an engine for my imagination and I learned to fall in love with literature. She has the tradition of visiting different schools in order to talk to her readers and that is how I met her. Her impact on me was enormous, I remember her closeness and warmth while speaking to us, her inventiveness in each story that always takes place in familiar environments for any child that lives in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and how she transforms common children of a small and serene country, into extraordinary characters who live unforgettable adventures.

María Eugenia Vidal, Head of Communications

Inspiring Women

In order to get to know the new board members and since we recently celebrated the International Women’s day, we thought of presenting some examples of inspiring women from our international backgrounds. We hope this post will inspire you to tell us about a strong women from your hometown.

Asma Jahangir, Pakistan

Asma Jahangir is a symbol of Pakistan, possessing an unique voice to defend the fundamental aspects of human rights of women, children and the oppressed people. She was a lawyer and activist that fought her entire life against religious extremism and for women’s and oppressed minorities rights.

Her accomplishments were enormous. She was a funder member of  Women’s Action Forum and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; she was the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association; she opened the first legal aid centre and refuge for battered women in Pakistan, and she continued fighting as a lawyer for the oppressed, in very complicated cases.

The United Nations has called her Asia’s Joan of Arc: a fighter who represented the weak. It is obvious from this that she really was not simply a woman on the move but she was an entire movement in a woman.

“There have been times that I have cried. But does that mean you give up in the face of brute force? No, never!”

Asma Jahangir, 2010

Ayesha Kousar, Head of Careers and Partnerships

Inspiring Women

In order to get to know the new board members and since we recently celebrated the International Women’s day, we thought of presenting some examples of inspiring women from our international backgrounds. We hope this post will inspire you to tell us about a strong women from your hometown.

Natalia O’Shea, Russia.

I have always been inspired by strong and clever women, one of them is Natalia O’Shea (Hellawes). She is a musician, the leader of probably the most popular folk-rock bands in Russia – “Мельница” («The Mill»).

Apart from being an amazing singer, Hellawes can play many different instruments such as Celtic harp, guitar, piano, castanets and so on; she also composes her own music. Natalia is also a PhD in Philological Science and used to work as a teaching professor at Moscow State University. She has also published some books and articles, had her own clothing line and keeps having different projects all the time.

Tatiana Pospelova, President of Women of Aalto.

Never be afraid to try

It is spring time and “Women of Aalto” is busy planning our annual summer event, which will be dedicated to the topic of interesting career paths. While discussing this topic with Heta (president of Women of Aalto) and sharing our own stories, Heta noted that my story is quite an unusual one and she would like me to share it. So, here I am trying to figure out what is the best way to make a public confession on how a foreign marketing graduate ended up as a teekkari studying materials science and engineering, and being totally in love with it. Perhaps, I should simply start from the very beginning. Apologies that the story might take a while.

Ever since I was 12 years old I was telling everyone that I will be a “businesswoman”, and that I will study hard to become one. I did not quite understand that there is no such school that could teach you how to be one, and that my entrepreneurial inspiration — my father — was in fact a sea captain and an engineer by education. Entrepreneur is a character, it is a way of living. Nevertheless, at the age of 17 I made my first big decision and moved to Finland to study exactly that — “business”. Luckily, my education actually provided me with a marketing profession, and ever since I found marketing to be an extremely powerful and attractive tool. However, doing solely marketing turned out not to be exactly what I wanted from my life. Couple of years after graduation, I became self-employed as an art agent, which was an undoubtedly enriching and interesting experience, but selling art was not what I felt dedicating my life to either. I wanted to something meaningful, that can actually help -be it a cliche or not- make this world a little bit better. This is when I faced my first ever “life crisis”, being only 22 years old.

I spent about a year trying to figure out what exactly it is, that I want to dedicate my life to. I got interested in the human body, bit by bit discovering the beauty of our immune and nervous systems, and the charming complexity of cellular mechanisms. If you have never studied human physiology, read about it, it is really captivating how complex our body is. So, should I be a doctor then? Perhaps only a pathologist, as dealing with people much too often exhausts me. Yes, I am introvert marketer, funny, right? So not a doctor. Who then? At that point, I did not even dare to look at Aalto University technical school’s pages, as I always thought that mathematics and physics are, to put it mildly, not my things. I found the faculty of molecular biology in Helsinki University and decided that this is probably it: all the cells, viruses, and engineering them sounded like fun. At that point, I did not realize that the word engineering is actually the key word here.

My high school education did not provide me with required level of mathematics, or physics, or chemistry, or even biology, as I went to a “humanitarian” school. My knowledge of these subjects was rather poor, definitely not enough to participate in any entrance tests. So not a surprise, that I did not get in then to the molecular biology program, which in the end turned out to be a good thing. I realized, however, that I have to study more, much more, if I truly want to “do something with a human body”. I really wanted it. I studied chemistry and biology on my own for two years, and managed to push my level much higher. I also struggled with Finnish language and had to overcome my fear of failing with it as had happened many times before. I succeeded in reaching level C1 from an embarrassing A2 in two years, which was enough for me to be able to study in it. I still find it challenging sometimes to have those easy “day-to-day” conversations in Finnish, but at the same time I write scientific reports fluently, although it should be the other way around. In spring 2016 after one year of studies I sat the entrance exam again, and failed. I felt close to despair, but stubbornly continued. Here, I feel necessary to say that I had so much support and patience from my family, that without them I would not be able to achieve what I have achieved. They survived my stubborn desire to change my life, and I will be forever grateful.

It is autumn 2016, and I am still kicking and trying to do what I want to do. I attend courses aimed at preparing high school students for medical entrance exams, as I feel that I still need to get better at chemistry. It is hard to study on your own, and you do need help sometimes. It is when I dare for the first time to widen my options and look at the engineering entrance exams, and it turns out that I am not that stupid in mathematics after all. Perhaps, I can study math in addition to chemistry? There are 24 hours in a day after all. The decision is made, I am applying to Aalto to the program “Chemical, bio- and materials engineering”. I think that I will choose the “bio” one to continue to be a biomedical engineer, but life prepares something more interesting for me. At this point, I become so excited about how the engineering aspect of medicine actually opens so many new perspectives, that molecular biology becomes only a shadow in my life. So, I start studying math on my own, dedicating to it full days now, and attend a short preparatory math course in April in Otaniemi. This is when I fall in love with Otaniemi’s atmosphere and realize totally and forever, that this is where I belong. In May, I write the entrance tests in the Undergraduate center of Aalto university, silently dreaming that maybe I would study there.

I did not think I would get in, however. I had less chances than other exam attendees. First of all, Finnish is not my native language, regardless how well I knew it back then, it is an extremely complicated language. In addition to all that, I am no longer a “first-timer” (meaning I already have a Bachelor degree), which means that I have to get many more points than others in order to get in. Plus, let’s face it, I studied mathematics for only half a year and had to “compete” for places with some really smart kids.

But I did get in!

It was truly the best day of my life, I remember crying from happiness, realizing that all my work paid off. I was about to become a teekkari — a Finnish engineer, the greatest title I could imagine having.

Later on, I found my greatest passion — biomedical materials, and also discovered many new fascinating areas like energy materials. Along the way I became a citizen of Finland, and I feel home. So, all my dreams came true and I finally found where I belong, and this is the best feeling you can have. I am still a marketer at heart, but I am also an engineer, a woman engineer — we are not so many, and I am very proud to be one.

Teekkarilakki is the greatest gift

Oh, and I am also a “businesswoman”, apparently, I was born this way 🙂

Thank you, Women of Aalto, for this opportunity to write my story, I looked at it from a different perspective.

PS: Never be afraid to try, you will fail many times, but it will pay off in the end. Surround yourself with supportive people, you will need them when you fail, and especially when you achieve your goal. Remember the key words for your life, and let “support” be one of them. And dreams do come true.

Daria Hedberg May 15, 2018