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Teacher Ahmad Shahgordi:” After graduation, our international students have managed well”

Studying construction engineering at HAMK is at an exceptionally international level. The degree programme has both Finns and international students of over 30 nationalities, and it has also attracted several teachers from abroad. One of the teachers is Ahmad Shahgordi, an Iranian who has traveled a long and exciting path to Finland with high ambition.

Interview and photo: Jaana Siljamäki

I ended up in HAMK… Well, in quite an interesting way, actually. The year 2019, I was in a cafeteria in Espoo when a student from HAMK approached me. He saw I was reading a book about civil engineering and got interested. We started to talk, and when he told me that civil engineering is taught in HAMK and there is a lack of teachers, I got interested. I sent an email to a guidance counsellor, and at some point, I was hired as a part-time teacher, then full-time.

As a teacher… I’m pretty tough, I would say. Back in the day, I had some restrictive teachers, and I’m still using what they taught me. I try to keep the highest standard. For example, I renew my teaching material every year – exam questions and homework. And it is essential to me that students really learn to calculate. Nowadays, students might rely too much on computers and calculation applications. Why this matters? Look at the situation in Turkey’s earthquakes. There are a few undamaged structures in one of the cities that are now ruined. So, it shows that civil engineers designed them properly.

A unique feature of the Construction Engineering degree programme is… It is more demanding than usual. I have studied engineering at diverse universities like Aalto and Oulu. So, I think I can compare. Many universities have courses for steel and concrete structures at the master’s level, whereas we have those in the bachelor’s degree. This is an advantage. Some students have continued to Aalto university or other universities for a masters. They can have a demanding job and study simultaneously because they already know the basics.

My goal for the degree programme is… That our students’ reputation is so good that companies want to hire people who have graduated from HAMK as a primary option.

Our group of international students… There are people from all around the world. I am familiar with some of them, and in my groups, there are people from China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Germany, Russia, and France, for instance. About 30 percent are women in the current second-year group.

To come from abroad and start teaching foreigners feels like… Well, in Iran, I started teaching to earn money when I was 13 years old. I taught mathematics to this rich guy. And actually, I continued teaching even when working at civil engineering companies after graduation. So, I was very familiar with different attitudes – not culture, but at least attitude.

To my understanding, a successful teacher is a person who can balance everything in the classroom in a way that the weakest students to the strongest ones are considered. That no one will either drop out or lose passion. So as a teacher, I think what matters is the difference in learning skills, not culture.

What matters is the difference in learning skills, not culture.

After graduation, our international students… They have managed well, I suppose. For example, out of the group of 19, I know that three have moved out from Finland, the rest are working in places like Ramboll or Sweco, some work here at HAMK Tech research unit, and some continue studies for master’s degree at universities.

The international workforce at construction sites is widespread, but… If you don’t know Finnish, getting a supervising position is difficult. The situation is different in engineering consultant companies. For example, 25 percent of the engineers were international when I was working at Ramboll, based on my observation.

I got used to hard work from an early age.

Besides teaching, I work at Andritz as a chief structural engineer… And it is not easy all the time. I got used to hard work from an early age; I’m from a low-income family. Earlier, I was working as an engineer, a part-time teacher, and driving a taxi. In Iran, you must have a plan B. And now I’m just used to long hours, still.

I came to Finland… About seven years ago. My original idea was to go to New Zealand, where I had been admitted to PhD., but officials rejected my visa. I was exhausted and took a holiday in St. Petersburg. I ended up on a cruise in the Gulf of Finland, which made me think of the country and the excellent reputation of its education system. I applied to Oulu University to study Environmental Engineering.

I chose this field… My uncle was a civil engineer, and my father was a car mechanic. I worked with him for many years. I got familiar with mechanics and the dirtiness of that kind of work. Funny that now I am in a mechanical engineering company, but not dirty. I was also keen on aesthetics and architecture. Then my uncle said to look at the companies. They have one architect but 16 civil engineers. I didn’t forget this number.

Ahmad Shahgordi

Work: Senior Lecturer (Construction Engineering for Finnish and international students), Häme University of Applied Sciences. Chief Structural Engineer at Andritz.

Education: M.Sc. Environmental Engineering, University of Oulu. M.Sc. Marine Structures, University of Tehran. Civil Engineering courses at Aalto University.

Place of birth/Living: Tehran, Iran 1979/Espoo.

At working history: Aalto University, Pöyry, Ramboll, among others.

Hobbies: Piloxing (mix of boxing, dance, and pilates), salsa, swimming, and sky diving.

Favorite building: Golden Gate.” I like the appearance of it and the way it is built.”

Special feature/skill: Coding and numbers.” I don’t even think about writing the code; I just start writing it. I’m very good with numbers. Especially at work, I look at things from the number point of view.”