Headshot of Petri Ajo
Fulbright Finland News Magazine

At the Nexus of Academia, Industry, and Society

17 December 2023 • Text: Petri Ajo, Photos: Teemu Leinonen, LUT University
Fulbright alumni can augment their impact by building bridges between U.S. and Finnish institutions, sharing their research networks, extending cooperation beyond their grant year, and recommending Fulbright to their colleagues and students. Petri Ajo talks about his own Fulbright experience and his current work as LUT University’s Chief Growth Officer.

Ground drilling, surveying, and soil restoration projects made my first summer job. Looking back is fun. Analyzing your walk of life, it’s easy to get a feeling that it was all part of a greater plan – the little things that happened at a certain time and place, leading to the present. 

Maybe it is this thought that keeps me looking for the next project in life, making sure I do my part in the great, universal adventure. I did my undergraduate degree at LUT University in environmental technology, and a doctorate in chemical engineering. First year into my dissertation, there was a seminar called “The world is our oyster,” promoting researcher mobility. The idea of an exchange period intrigued me, so I went to my Principal Investigator and asked if we had a policy on researcher exchange. Where should I go? How does this work? I was new to the business and totally clueless. She raised a brow, and gave a single piece of advice, the value of which it took me years to realize: “Check the Internet. See if you can find a good university.” At the time, I frankly didn’t understand the brilliance of this suggestion. 

It later, however, came to me that I had been asking what the typical thing to do was, but she made me carve my own way. I was looking for limitations. Instead, she removed them all in one simple, elegant maneuver. I did as I was told, and it was easy to find that the #1 place for me to go would be Caltech. I then went again to my PI, and this time she said, “If you are considering the U.S., consider Fulbright.” Another sound piece of advice, and this one I understood right away.

A Game-Changing Scholarship

The ASLA-Fulbright Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship at Caltech in 2015-16 was really a game-changer for me. I grew as a scientist, as a professional, and as a person more than I could ever have anticipated. Back in Finland, renewed by the experience (and energized by the So-Cal sun), I preached about certain cultural practices that we should benchmark from the Americans. I believe I will carry those ideas with me always, and I do think I have managed to spread some good vibes. Today, several years later, I have the ultimate privilege to work with the brilliant and good people around me, at the nexus of academia, industry, and society. I’m often asked what a Chief Growth Officer does, followed by wry guesses if it has “something to do with plants.” To play along, I could say my job is to discover potentially fruitful seedlings sprouting around the university, and then help them bloom.

Recently, a perfect opportunity stemmed for me to give something back to both the Fulbright Finland Foundation and my alma mater. Finnish universities are now looking at an excellent landscape for boosting U.S. activities, and we are really putting some skin in the game at LUT University. And I’d be sure to remember: if you consider the U.S., consider Fulbright. 

Just a few weeks ago, as a manifest of a fantastic dialogue, LUT University and the Fulbright Finland Foundation signed a cooperation agreement to boldly explore new and trailblazing ways of cooperation. Goes without saying, I am very proud as an alumnus of both! Still from my perspective, this is merely a milestone marking one step in the Fulbright experience, and I can’t wait to reach the next one. No doubt, there are more game-changers ahead.

Petri Ajo
Chief Growth Officer, LUT University
2015–16 ASLA-Fulbright 
Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow
California Institute of Technology

Read the Fulbright Finland News 2/2023!

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