Alvis Sokolovs: "My desire is to bring inspiring and interesting people together!”

At the end of last year, Alvis Sokolovs took up the post of Dean of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences Faculty of Engineering. We met to talk about the priorities and goals of the new dean at the university, find out his opinion about the role of higher education today, and discover the sources of energy and joy in the daily hurry of the dean.

How were the first months as a dean at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences Faculty of Engineering?

I try to adapt because each place has its own specifics. The first months passed very quickly. I have become familiar with the people, I feel that we can work well with the colleagues, but the details of the work of the institution as a whole are not completely clear. I think it will take some time to start working at full capacity.

What's on your to-do and priority list right now?

Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences has a well-organized project and research work. I see that the technical infrastructure of the training laboratories still needs to be improved. We are currently negotiating with a number of partners who can help us update our equipment and technical infrastructure. We will definitely work on the study format. It is important that not only lectures and laboratory work take place, but students get more involved in different challenges and implementation of projects, work in interdisciplinary teams. I also try to integrate this into my study courses - students come up with ideas, solve fictional or real tasks, and see the application of the knowledge they acquire.

In your opinion, why is it important to get higher education nowadays?

Young people often think that after graduation they will have a career and future provided, but it is worth remembering that studying and knowledge only offer opportunities, but you still need to know how to use them - meet peers, strengthen new skills, continue to acquire new knowledge and develop yourself. Studying at a university allows to look at things more broadly and understand the various processes and relationships - not just to consume information, but to develop and create something yourself.

Do young people understand what mechatronics is? Do they know exactly what they have chosen to study?

There are cases when students come and do not understand what exactly they will be studying. I have also seen parents bringing their children to the university, which is completely wrong. But right now I see very motivated people with a clear vision coming – it makes me happy. When I was studying, the situation was similar. There were only a few of us who really understood what they wanted. I went to our programme director to ask if I really was in the right place.

How to make children interested in exact sciences?

We can certainly promote this through extracurricular activities, by visiting various science centres, helping to understand processes through games and play. I think it is very important to try to find out what a young person is really interested in, what she/he likes and is good at well in advance before the beginning of studies, and also to pay attention to that in the family because it is what helps to understand and form an idea of a person's future profession. I have visited schools and talked to children and young people several times. It makes a big difference whether I visit a rural school, a big city gymnasium or a vocational school. Their values and motivation to learn also differ, but if you speak the language of young people and try to look from their perspective, you can see that they have an enormous interest and passion for technology, science and other things.

What would you recommend to young people - how to find your "future profession"?

I would suggest looking for the answer to the question: what would I be happy to do without pay? In schools, when I talk about mechatronics, I'm often asked: "What will I be able to do after graduation"? It's up to each individual person! A university gives kind of a backpack with knowledge and skills that each one can take as much as they want and are able to. It is up to each person to decide what to do with it next.

What did you want to become as a child?

I don't remember anything specific, but I remember that I liked to explore, and I was interested in physics, chemistry, even though I was not doing exclusively excellently in these subjects at school. In childhood, I also liked to have friendly relationships. I wasn't the leader of the children in the backyard, but if a strange and an unfamiliar kid joined in, everyone backed off, but I was curious and tried to find out: “What's going on in your yard? What are you doing? What are you playing?" It was a natural interest that I think every child has. I also see it in my children. However, at a certain age it fades and has to be re-learned again.

How do you spend your free time?

I have reserved weekends for my family. Also yoga is another extremely important tool in my life. I have to conclude that yoga has entered my life and permeates everything. Maybe I am not doing things that may seem strange - I am not standing on my head in a public place or walking half-naked on the street - yoga is about working with myself, my mind, my emotions, not just my body. If there was a time when I was unable to speak in front of an audience, now I can deal with my anxiety by using yoga exercises. Yoga helps to answer the question - who am I? You just have to have the courage to find out and get the answer. I also enjoy taking photos and making music. About once a year, I gather a small interesting group of three to five people and we create a little performance together. We did not manage to do it last year, but this tradition should continue.

What are your plans for the near future?

I am urged by the desire to bring inspiring and interesting people together who could share their experiences, motivate and tell their life stories, for example on a podcast or another platform. I do not find myself very inspirational, but many of the people I have met certainly are. I think it would be great to tell their stories. I would also like to re-unite the musical project, and to fully fit in my new position at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences.

The information was prepared by:

Dārta Rasa Ozola