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CAP Finland Initiatives project aims to create global professionals

Passionate donors want to foster connection to one of the great architecture cultures of world

Don and Maria Johnson are contributors to CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning Finnish Initiative project

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER - Thanks to the generosity of donors who have deep ties to the land of a 180,000 lakes, the College of Architecture and Planning is forging strong ties to Finland and its world-renowned architecture and design culture.

Through a donation from Don and Maria Johnson, CAP has created a "Finland Initiatives" project that includes funding for scholarships, a Director of Finnish Initiatives position, student mentorship, exchanges, guest lectures and other opportunities for engagement between Finland and CAP.

Finland is small country with a population of only 5.3 million, but a wellspring of architectural design that blends nature with humanism. Don Johnson, a University of Colorado alumnus and architect, wants to create a connection between a paradigm of design excellence and CAP.

"Their culture is ahead of ours in many ways," Johnson said of his wife's native country. "They have a lot of very talented architects, and I think they're doing something that many others are not, which is an emphasis on humanism."

Pipsa Happo from the Tampere University of Technology is the first Johnson Scholar under the program, which provides scholarships for Finnish students in CAP's Master of Architecture program. After a second Finnish student is admitted next year, the program will continually enroll two Johnson Scholars -- the second-year scholar serving as mentor to the newcomer Finnish student.

Taisto Mäkelä, Ph.D., who recently stepped down as chair of the Department of Architecture, has been appointed director of Finnish Initiatives. Mäkelä is a Finnish speaker who, in partnership with Ann Komara (chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture), has taken architecture and landscape architecture students to Finland seven times for summer programs. They hope to do so again in 2014. He appreciates the Johnsons' passion for both Finland and enhancing experiences for CU students. Besides being longtime donors to CAP, the Johnsons support 27 scholars in the CU-Boulder College of Music, all Colorado residents.

"You have a life-changing experience here made possible by the generosity and insight of these two donors," Mäkelä said. "The idea is to provide the most dynamic, relevant and exciting education to prepare students for architectural careers. We're really responsible for helping to create global citizens and global professionals. That's the way it is today -- there's no choice."

In September, to further establish relations with Finland, Mäkelä lectured and introduced the Johnson Scholarship at the three universities in Finland with architecture programs -- Aalto (Helsinki), Tampere and Oulu. The Johnsons had planned to accompany him on the trip, but had to cancel due to the Colorado floods.

"It's going to build on itself. Pipsa is already telling her friends about the program," Mäkelä said. "You start with something small -- and if it's good, which we know this is -- it will really start to grow."

Happo (pictured at right with Taisto Mäkela, director of Finnish Initiatives) learned about Colorado's only graduate architecture program when she researched National Architectural Accrediting Board-accredited MAarch programs. "I am from Finnish Lapland and appreciate nature, an active lifestyle and sports," Happo said. "Colorado and Denver offer a great possibility to experience those, together with an urban university life. So, I found CU Denver is one of the few universities that can provide a good quality education in such an environment."

The Finnish Initiative joins CAP's international partnerships with the Dar Al-Heckma College, a women’s college in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and with Tongji University in Shanghai, China. 

CAP Dean Mark Gelernter said the Finnish Initiative is a perfect fit for the college. "It's a great deal," he said. "We have passionate donors to promote this relationship. It fits the strategic mission of the college with our focus on international programs. And it connects us to one of the great architecture cultures of the world."

Johnson said he and his wife have a basic three-phase philosophy of life. In the first phase you learn about the world and acquire skills. In the second, you earn using those skills. In the third phase, you return.

"When you meet someone like Pipsa it warms your heart to learn how they feel about it," he said. "It's a very touching moment to know you have changed someone's life forever, and they in turn will change someone else's life. When it's your turn to return to the society from which you received so much, then do so, if you have the means."

(Photo at top: Through a donation from Don and Maria Johnson the College of Architecture and Planning has launched a "Finland Initiatives" project.)





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