Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
placeholder article
placeholder article

Laura Luoto: “I Enjoy Learning New Things and Challenging Myself”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Helsinki chapter.

Meet Laura Luoto, a passionate politics major and member of the Students’ Union (HYY). Find out what motivates Laura in her challenging job, what kind of responsibilities she has and why everyone should get involved with student politics.  

Who are you and what do you study?

I’m Laura Luoto, a fourth-year Political Science major and a board member of the Students’ Union (HYY) board in charge of education policy and international affairs. I actually started my university studies as a mathematics major before moving onto economics and finally politics, so this is my seventh year as a student here at Helsinki.

What does the educational policy and international affairs representative do?

The official job of the HYY board and its members is to take part in weekly meetings and decision making. The function of the board is to be in charge of the political side of things at the Students’ Union and also to make sure that things are running smoothly. In addition to that, we manage projects around specific issues given to us by the Representative Council. As an educational policy and international affairs rep, I’m currently in charge of three projects: the first is helping student representatives in the university administration as well as study affairs responsibles and supporting them in their posts. The second is a project revolving around multiculturalism and how to best take into account different cultural backgrounds in teaching. The aim of the project is to transform teaching in a way that allows students from different cultural backgrounds to integrate. We want to make our university a more welcoming place for international students. The third project is about making the students’ union a genuinely tri-lingual place.

How did you get involved with student politics?

My first experience was with student associations at the university back when I first started studying. When I was still a freshman, I got involved with the Erasmus Student Network, which organized events for exchange students. I spent three years there, after which I became involved with Kannunvalajat, the student association of the Faculty of Social Sciences. That really became my home here at the university and I wanted to stay there for a longer time and make it even better. After three years with Kannunvalajat, I felt like it was time for new challenges so I joined two HYY committees: the Committee for Student Organizations and the Committee for Academic Affairs. When HYAL (League of subject organizations in the University of Helsinki) then asked me to run for the Representative Council it was easy to say yes! There’s so much to see and learn in the Council and the time was ripe for new adventures.

What motivates you to do politics in the Students’ Union?

My main motivation is to learn more: about politics, yes, but most importantly, about how people do politics at the Students’ Union and how they make things happen. I enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. At first, I really felt like I was out of my comfort zone in the Council and I had to really push myself. Being a politician, or a political actor, doesn’t come naturally to me but I know that I have a lot to give and I want to make the Students’ Union a better place. At the end of the day, though, when you’re really busy and tired, what really motivates you is the people, both those who you work with and those who you work for.

What is the most challenging part of your job at the Students’ Union?

The most difficult part is trying to be the mediator between the university and the student body, two entities which sometimes have conflicting interests and goals. Also, remembering what’s important about this job and why you do this can be difficult when you’re overbooked and running from one place to another all week long.

And the best part?

I go to the office every day feeling happy about being able to do this job. This might sound like a cliché, but working for the brighter future of students and making sure that their voices are heard is amazing. Especially now that big changes are happening at the university, it’s a privilege to be able to work to make sure that things are done the best possible way.

How would you describe HYY in short to someone who doesn’t know much about it? What should we all know about HYY?

I think the best thing about HYY from a student’s perspective is that HYY is a home to many different communities and it helps students find the communities that they feel most at home in. These communities enable students to become active in the larger university community as well and to bring about change. Students become aware of their strengths and skills and, that way, they can reach their full potential.

The official, legal definition of HYY’s role as a student organization is somewhere along the lines of raising critical citizens who take actively part in society. And the way this is done in practice is definitely one of the best things about HYY. Furthermore, our main function is to represent the interests of our students. Unfortunately, it is also the part of HYY’s work that students are the least familiar with, and this is something that we are constantly trying to improve on. It’s essential that all students are aware of our role as their interest representative and just how much work we do to make sure that students’ voices are heard. It is of course our responsibility to make this side of HYY more known to students! The tricky part is, when we do our job well, people don’t necessarily notice its effects. If we fail to do that job well, however, that’s when people notice that something’s not right.

How can you get involved in the Students’ Union activities? What different ways are there of making a difference?

The easiest way to have your say is to vote in the Representative Council elections that are coming up this fall and which are held every two years. If you want to become really active, you can run for a position in the Representative Council and become a student rep. HYY also has a plethora of other activities for students. We have committees ranging from environmental issues to international development that anyone can join. As for more flexible ways of taking part, we regularly recruit volunteers to help us run big annual events, such as our annual ball and the Flora Day celebrations. We want our volunteers to have a good time when organizing these events so we really focus on making sure they have the best experience and get the thanks they deserve! Our biggest event is the Freshman Adventure which is organized every fall and which showcases the work and activities of HYY and of different student associations.  

Are the budget cuts that are hitting the University of Helsinki hard going to have an effect on HYY’s work?

As for our funding, not directly, since HYY funds itself independently through membership fees and the HYY group. But of course we are representing students and the situation in the university is extremely difficult at the moment. Students are going be directly affected by the cuts as there will be less resources to provide teaching and guidance. Nor should we forget those who have been let go, they are the ones who bear the brunt of the current cuts.

A 28-year-old Global Politics major and former Campus Correspondent. International and national politics, current affairs, feminism, and societal and political issues fascinate me. Other than dreaming of one day travelling the whole world, I drink loads of cappuccino, eat too many cakes, and try to find the time to read more books. My guilty pleasure: American Late Night Shows.
Helsinki Contributor