University major priority for Sabancı Holding chairwoman

University major priority for Sabancı Holding chairwoman

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
University major priority for Sabancı Holding chairwoman

Students pass by the main entrance of the Sabancı University on the outskirts of Istanbul. Güler Sabancı (inset) spares time from her busy schedule to attend to the university.

Lütfi İlke Kaya, a graduate of Sabancı University and now a program manager working at Microsoft’s headquarters in Seattle, was getting ready to address those assembled.

“It’s a bit technical, but I will explain it to you in one minute,” Kaya said, speaking of a web-relevance program he works on. “Seriously, I will,” he said. Many in the audience laughed at his optimism about explaining a highly complicated program in one minute.

Kaya was the first of a dozen Sabancı graduates to speak at a recent gathering with their former professors to share their experiences in the international careers they embarked upon after graduating from Sabancı University. The audience at the event also included Güler Sabancı, who as the founding president of the university has been presiding over its board of trustees since its establishment in 1996. A third-generation member of one of Turkey’s leading business families, Sabancı is also chairman and managing director of Sabancı Holding, the parent company of the Sabancı Group, Turkey’s leading industrial and financial conglomerate. In 2011, Sabancı was named second on the Financial Times’ list of the top 50 women in world business.

University key for Sabancı

As one of the most important and influential businesspeople in Turkey, one would assume that Sabancı must have a loaded schedule. But attending university activities seems to be equally important to her, if not more thrilling, than attending one of her billion-dollar company’s meetings.

“‘Her eyes shine differently when she speaks about the university,’ Paul McMillan, who used to manage the university’s public relations, told me once,” said Zerrin Koyunsağan, the general manager of the Sabancı Foundation. Sabancı listened to each and every graduate’s five-minute presentation on their career. The graduates present at last Monday night’s event work in diverse fields, ranging from visual art to bioengineering. Ayşe Kıvılcım Coşkun, a 2003 graduate of the university’s micro-electronic engineering program, currently teaches at Boston University and recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career award. Tolga Sütlü, a Sabancı graduate in biological sciences and bioengineering, was a member of the team that performed the first artificial organ transfer in Sweden.

“When the 2001 economic crisis broke out, Güler Sabancı was in New York, together with other officials from the holding. The first reaction she had was, ‘Oh no! The university!’ The fact that she mentioned the university before any of the other Sabancı companies that were sure to be affected by the crisis apparently irritated the other representatives of the holding, I was told,” Professor Tosun Terzioğlu, who is a founding president of the university, told the Daily News.

Since 2000, 3,541 graduate and 1,826 post-graduate students have attended Sabancı University. The ratio of Sabancı graduates entering a profession is 89 percent. Sabancı University is the only university in Turkey that has no “departments,” but only “programs.”

“The principles that form the foundation of our academic programs and institutional structure are based on an interdisciplinary approach, with the absence of traditional departments. This organizational model allows different faculties to interact and collaborate, in contrast to a traditional structure composed of discrete institutional units,” the university’s website states.

“After studying economics for three years, and realizing that I couldn’t count money, I switched to the political science program. I was able to that do thanks to the fact that the university provided me that opportunity,” said Melih Özsöz, who is currently working for the Economic Development Foundation.
“We are progressing toward becoming a world-class university,” Sabancı said in her opening remarks at the alumni event. The guiding principle of the university is to produce graduates who can work anywhere in the world, she said.

Twenty percent of Sabancı graduates continue their post-graduate studies at prominent universities including Harvard University, Brown University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Our graduates’ desire to make a difference makes a difference,” Sabancı said.