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He helps students grow

Portrait of Mark Smith
Mark Smith spends weekdays and weekends at Kista Mentorspace. (Photo: Marc Femenia)
Published May 05, 2022

At Kista Mentorspace there are only two rules: if you do not know, you must ask and if you do know, you must teach. The philosophy comes from Silicon Valley, the tech and innovation hub on the West Coast of USA where the founder of Kista Mentorspace, Mark Smith, has worked for over two decades. He is now awarded KTH’s pedagogical prize for encouraging mentorship.

“It’s an honour, but to be honest I don’t feel like I’m doing more than what I should be doing with the experiences I have,” says Mark Smith , professor at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Since 2006, when he first came to Sweden, he has been building Kista Mentorspace into a meeting place where people from different disciplines come to cooperate and exchange ideas about future technology. Students from KTH, the University of Arts, Crafts and Design and the Karolinska Institute as well as high school students and industry representatives visit.

It is a way of bridging gaps between academia and the industry, in order to ensure that the university education evolves with the market. And, it’s always open.

“It’s a place to be inspired, which means it’s important that it is open 24/7. This is a place where ideas are created, developed and tested,” Smith says.

Ideas from Silicon Valley

A common misunderstanding is that Kista Mentorspace is a makerspace, a workshop. Rather, it is a place for exchanging knowledge. The idea is that everyone can be a mentor. A ten-year-old could mentor a 70-year-old. Everyone has knowledge and experience worth sharing.

“All successful technologists have in common that they’ve had a mentor. Someone to ask questions and discuss different matters with. As mentors we can help each other find inspiration and purpose in what we do,” Smith says.

Mark Smith has previously worked in Silicon Valley for 21 years and Kista Mentorspace is heavily influenced by his Silicon Valley experiences. He says he got his first job in the American tech hub because he provided new answers to old questions, and raising new perspectives is an important part of Kista Mentorspace.

“In Silicon Valley no one cares about where you come from or what you look like. Your ideas and capabilities are what matter. I carry that mindset with me,” he says.

Wanting to help students

Mark Smith spends weekdays and weekends at Kista Mentorspace. It is evident why he is referred to as a driving spirit in the prize motivation for KTH’s pedagogical prize. He says his motivation comes from wanting to help students reach beyond their limits, because that is where talent comes from.  

“My education is never copied from a textbook. I view teaching as mentoring. I gladly tell my students about learnings from colleagues and companies I’ve worked for. For example Disney, whose business idea is telling stories. And the way they do it! It’s the result of an incredible management system I’ve been privileged enough to take part of. And now am able to share with my students.”

What does the future look like for Kista Mentorspace?
“I’m getting older but for me retiring doesn’t look like it does for others. I have a lot more to give and I usually say that I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. Kista Mentorspace’s future is my future. Even if I don’t continue as a professor I will keep working with Mentorspace and sustain the KTH relationship. I’m also passionate about the development of Kista, diversity is always rewarding and there is so much potential here thanks to diversity and the amount of motivated people.”

Text: Nicky Rosenberg

Prize motivation

Mark Smith is a driving spirit who has shaped Kista Mentorspace into the creative and inspiring meeting place it has become for students, teachers and representatives of the industry. The mentorspace for exchanging knowledge and experiences in electrical engineering and computer science is always open for new ideas, prototypes and solutions. It is a place for practical and creative ideas and Mark Smith always leads the mentorspace in a stimulating and encouraging way. With a background in Silicon Valley he has an inspiring innovation thinking, useful for everyone who visits Kista Mentorspace. Mark Smith is a worthy recipient of KTH’s pedagogical prize.

Ninni Carlsund Levin, associate professor in numerical analysis, is also awarded KTH’s pedagogical prize 2021 for her work with developing the online education.

KTH’s pedagogical prize

KTH’s pedagogical prize is awarded to teachers at KTH, for notable contributions within undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate level. The prize amount of 20 000 Swedish crowns is awarded yearly to one or two people to be used for travels to further advance in their discipline.

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Last changed: May 05, 2022