Foto: Matthew Lynch

Professors aren’t as bad as you think

First, he moved to another city and occasionally visited Tromsø just for our lectures. Then he moved to NTNU and taught his last course at UiT. This month he crossed the whole continent seeking new business and educational opportunities. But I couldn’t help reaching out to him with bothersome and curious questions I have always wanted to ask him and share with you all. I feel really sorry for you if you did not get a chance to get to know him before, but since life is full of surprises and might give another opportunity in the near future – let me introduce this incredibly amazing person and absolutely phenomenal professor – Federico (Fede) Lozano.

As professor of Design Thinking methodology here at UiT, Federico tried to inspire students to become not just future entrepreneurs, but human beings full of love and compassion for other people and creative individuals, open-minded and free of constraints.

“Not a typical guy cut with a cookie cutter”

You know that he is not any other professor from the moment he enters the room: “What the heck is this guy doing? Is this for real?” – and half of the class stares at him at a loss not knowing how to react. This weird guy jumping in front of you, making you ask your classmates weird personal questions and stare into their eyes for 4 minutes, encouraging you to be wild, to express what you think, because “there are no dumb ideas”. You are simply not used to this, not prepared. However, as days pass, you start to discover amazing changes in the class: you stop worrying about your image and just start being yourself. Because “learning is about expressing yourself and having people express themselves to you in the most human, honest and loving way possible”. And the more students open up their hearts to embracing everything they learn, the more they start loving it and the rest of the class joins too.

Fede says he would be much more worried if there were no students staring weirdly at him as he enters the class, because then he would not be able to make any difference and change people, because creative students do not need him – they will succeed in any case sooner or later. It is incredibly valuable to be able to “turn people around”, because very often those students that were the most skeptical about what he was teaching “become the most embracing” ones – and that is the most rewarding and “the best thing in my [his] job by far”.

This reaction is common not only for students, but for his fellow teachers too. Being different “is a double-edged sword”. Some will like you, the others will think that you are weird and “breaking the rules” of acceptable.

“Sometimes you have to push really hard for things to happen”

Many know that Federico Lozano co-founded Design Thinking lab (or simply DT lab) along with Uladzimir Kamovich at UiT’s Business School, which now became a creative collaborative space for design thinkers and almost daily home-place for BCE students, including myself. The room used to be rather small and was desperately asking for expansion. What Federico did with his colleagues was tearing down the wall to the room next doors, which caused immediate shock and opposition from the university administration. How can someone, sound in mind, do anything like that? It is outrageous, and simply against all the rules and norms! Later, during a trip with Crown Prince Haakon and Professor Martin Steinert from NTNU, university Rector Anne Husebekk got to know that UiT is home to such creative people as design thinkers. And so, she found Federico and visited the DT lab, falling in love with the whole concept and approving the removal of that scandalous wall. “It is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission”, – says Fede. That is one of the most important Design Thinking rules.

Professor of the month - Federico Lozano (pic by Matthew Lynch)

“Life is about attitude”

As a successful teacher, having earned love and respect of his students, Federico admits to be lucky teaching methodology that “matches perfectly with his value system”. We learned from him that “Design Thinking is all about love and fun and playfulness” and “not about IQ” in any case. Teachers are looking for smart kids that do well in exams and get straight A-s. However, what does it mean to be smart? Fede strongly believes that all that matters is “to adopt right attitude”, including “passion, love, compassion, respect for the other human beings, mutual understanding, […] As long as “you have right attitude, you will be fine” – and this is what he is eager to teach us.

Access to any information nowadays is so easy, it does not bring any value if a teacher comes and simply reads lecture material to you – you can just as well find it all online without wasting time and energy on attending classes. It is no longer about “coming up with the right answers, it is about asking right questions”. So instead of making his students read textbooks (which he does not even have), Federico encourages them to “explore things that do not exist yet”. He views education as “an opportunity to absorb a lot of different mentalities, and perspectives”, because life is about much more then “just learning frameworks and formulas, it is about constant change”.  In our conversation, he mentions Carol Dweck, the teacher of “Perspective of mindsets” at Stanford, who divides people into two kinds: those with fixed mindset and growth mindset. Fede believes that it is a privilege being a teacher when you can move people from one category to another.

“Grades can be misleading”

Moreover, in his new courses he does not even grade students based on their co-called “achievements”, because you cannot measure the level of learning with some letter or number. Traditional approach considers grades an important element in student’s motivation, and removing them would make students care less. You know what? Fede proved it all wrong! Removing grades makes students worry less about what they would get in the exam and makes care more about what they learn and what experience they gain through the course. They become more risk-taking, eager about “collaboration and team building”. Because at the end of the day, this is what companies are looking for too. We no longer live in 1960s or 1970s, when economy was about dry transactions and needed efficient factory workers. “Modern economy needs independent thinkers, problem solvers and collaborators”, people, who are good at communicating with other human beings – and no grade says anything about human relationships.

As an outstanding personality and a teacher with a God-given talent, Federico never particularly learned how to be a good teacher. “I have always thought teaching is about something that you feel – not something that you have to do”. There is no wrong or right way to do teaching as long as you communicate your message through your feelings and as long as you sincerely believe in what you teach.

He was lucky “to stand on the shoulders of giants” – the same kind of remarkable personalities in his life as he now has become himself, who influenced evolvement of his identity, teaching him “to communicate complex ideas”, to try things, fail and then move on, to embrace being eccentric, to value personal relationships and most importantly – to care.

And because he sincerely cares about his students, Federico happily shared three messages that, as he believes, should be of particular importance to all students.

  1. “Push yourself – students are way too safe. We are looking for a chance to shine – but only safe ones.” Challenge yourself as contrary to looking for an easy way out. Try to be as open-minded as possible, looking for new opportunities, creating new opportunities and embracing them.
  2. “Focus on human beings”. We are overly concerned about concepts, ideas and knowledge, forgetting that all these things come from human beings. “The traditional educational system many times ignores the human element”. At the end of the day, we all want to make the world a better place, so “learn how to be a good human”.
  3. “Have fun – this is critical”. According to Darwin, we are all focused on two things: pain aversion and pursuit of pleasure. “You will never learn if you are not enjoying yourself”, because adrenalin, that is released into your blood in stressful moments, will prevent your brain from absorbing information and learning. “Look for learning opportunities that are fulfilling and enjoyable”, says Federico.

And one message to teachers: bond. “You are not only a teacher and they are not only students”. We can all learn from each other, and you will miss out on enormous opportunities if you deny that. There is nothing wrong being good friends with your students, because through sharing your values and your dedication, you show that you care, and therefore you help create better human beings. That is the ultimate mission of any teacher, isn’t it?

Text: Anna Dranovska