Aalto University: Aalto Mathematics professor wins Outstanding Teacher of the Year from the Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion’s

This year the Outstanding Teacher of the Year is Fabricio Oliveira, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Operations Research. Aalto alumni Joonas Govenius won the Young Researcher of the Year

Aalto University Professor Fabricio Oliveira, 35, teaches mathematical optimisation to technology students. The aim of this discipline is to optimise a system by using mathematical modelling. This can be used to solve problems like working out the most economical solution for a company, or what actions will have the best environmental impact.

The themes of the courses taught by Oliveira are some of the more difficult themes in system and operations research. However, students praise his way of relating complex, technical themes closely to everyday life: in the course, students learn modelling and optimisation through real-life examples. His interactive and energetic teaching style also generates enthusiasm for the topic among the students. This year was also the first time that the recipient of the Teacher of the Year award was an international technology expert.

‘The exceptional year was also reflected in the nominations for the Outstanding Teacher award. The students commended Fabricio Oliveira for the wonderful ways in which he has succeeded in organising his teaching at a time of remote studying. For many years, international experts have played a big role among the Foundation’s grant recipients. It’s wonderful to see that these international recruitments are also positively reflected in teaching,’ says Johanna Lamminen, Chair of the Board of the Finnish Foundation for Technology Promotion.

According to Oliveira, the past year and the Teacher of the Year award provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been successful in teaching and which aspects could still be developed.

‘I believe that, in the future, we can combine the best elements of distance and contact teaching. I’m not going to stop doing lecture videos that allow students to study at their own pace. However, nothing can beat face-to-face encounters — in the lecture hall, I can immediately see on the students’ faces if my explanation was not clear, or is missing something,’ Oliveira says.

After having worked in Finland, Brazil, the United States and Australia, Oliveira has noticed some differences in teaching between countries. In Finland students are used to musing on what they have learned in peace, and take more encouragement to join in discussions. On the other hand, the high level of comprehensive school teaching is evident in the lecture halls. ‘Students are students regardless of the country. However, it has been really great to see how high a knowledge level the students have achieved even before their university studies,’ Oliveira says.

The Young researcher of the Year, Joonas Govenius is an employee of VTT whose work looks at building quantum computers. He defended his PhD thesis at Aalto University in 2016.

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