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“If he still lived, I'd ask him how he made such an impact”

Martin meets JML* enthusiasts

Published Jun 09, 2022

Martin Edin Grimheden went to a funeral for an old colleague and returned with an eagerness to make an impact in people's lives. A man told his story about coming to KTH from abroad, being distressed by the Swedish culture and getting support from the old colleague – something that changed his life.

"Last week, I participated in a funeral for a colleague who had just passed away. When I studied at KTH, the colleague was one of my teachers and later became a colleague. He retired a few years ago but continued to show up now and then at KTH. Even though the farewell was a sad story, at the social gathering afterwards, friends and family told stories of the colleague, helping to preserve him in our memories, with many laughs.

Stories were told from when the colleague studied at KTH, in the early 70:s, by his classmates. His family told stories about his love for teaching, engagement with his students, and work. But one story in particular really hit me. A man of my age told a story about his journey at KTH. This man came to KTH as a young international student, leaving his home country to study at KTH. His home country was quite strict and regulated, and he was used to following rules, structure and authority. He explained feeling huge distress in Sweden and at KTH, not being able to cope with freedom and having to take many decisions, particularly related to studies and future career.

He then went on to describe how the now buried colleague took him under his wing, supported him during his studies, and how this changed his life. The colleague could see and understand the struggles of the student; he could understand how the change of culture became a struggle for the student long before the student himself understood. The colleague saw the challenges and could guide the student during the years at KTH. The student explained it as a pivotal moment, even though it was just a few meetings and brief interactions. But these discussions led to him giving this speech, perhaps 30 years later, explaining how these meetings had changed his life.

How can such a small input from one person create such an impact on another person? Did the colleague have a sixth sense for handling the situation? I have struggled with this. How was he able to put himself into the position of the international student so that he could see what was needed?

I wish I could create an impact in the same way. I wish I could support my students and colleagues in the same way. I wish I knew how to practice and develop this ability. I have taken several management training courses, I have studied pedagogy. But I can’t say that I have practiced how to increase the awareness of the needs of my fellow students and colleagues. I don't even know how or where to start.

One thing became clearer after this funeral. If I want to improve my skills in treating people equally, in gender equality, heterogeneity etc., then I need to focus more on understanding from the other's perspective and see things with different eyes. The colleague was one of the best teachers we have ever seen, a real problem solver. He was even awarded an honorary doctorate after his retirement. If he still lived, I'd try to ask him how he did to create such a large impact on the student, but, knowing him, I'd only get a smile and a laugh as a response. And a story about a completely different topic".

Text: Martin Edin Grimheden, JMLA** at the ITM School

* JML = a KTH concept that stands for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal opportunities

*​​​​​* JMLA = Gender equality, diversity and equal treatment manager