photo of Minttu Aaltonen

Finnish architecture student Minttu Aaltonen comes to Denver for hands-on experience

October 11, 2019

When Minttu Aaltonen arrived in Denver on Aug. 7, she was undoubtedly tired (the shortest flight time from her university city to Denver is approximately 16 hours)—but she already had a friend in Pipsa Happo. 

Both women received the Johnson Scholarship, which funds international students enrolled in graduate architecture programs at the College of Architecture and Planning. As one might guess from their names, Minttu and Pipsa both hail from Finland, the country that served as the testing ground for the international exchange program funded by Don and Maria Johnson.

Minttu in the studio
Minttu in the studio with a model for a proposed cheese tasting room in Fraser, Colorado.

Minttu heard about the scholarship from Professor Taisto Makela, who then served as director of Finnish Initiatives at CU Denver. Makela gave a talk at the University of Tampere, where she was enrolled. Minttu was intrigued, so she found out more from Aleksi Vuola, a previous Johnson Scholar. “He spoke so highly about the teachers and the level of teaching,” she said. “And, of course, of Design Build.”

Design Build is a certificate program offered by the College of Architecture and Planning that “centers on the practical application of architectural theory.” Students accepted into the program design and construct buildings for communities in need. It is this type of experiential learning that attracted Minttu: “I’ve been feeling the lack of hands-on experience; it’s definitely what drew me to apply here.”

Minttu's site plan for a tasting room in Fraser, Colorado
Minttu’s site plan for a tasting room in Fraser, Colorado.

The Design Build program has yet to announce the students accepted for the 2020 project, but Minttu is already gaining practical experience studying with Design Build’s director, Rick Sommerfeld. She has examined “real-life examples of how preliminary stage sketches and drawings could be developed into physical constructions that consider unpredictable variables unique to a project.”

Minttu comes to Denver as an accomplished student. Johnson Scholars also receive a Fulbright Finland Partnership Award. The Fulbright Finland Foundation works with the University of Colorado Denver to support Finnish students interested in graduate studies in architecture. Makela, now serving as director of Bixler International Initiatives, said, “It’s like a double coronation … they get the Johnson Scholarship and then they get the Fulbright ambassador training.” 

In 2018, the Finnish Initiatives program became Bixler International Initiatives, expanding to include scholarship applicants from Italy and Japan. The 2020-2021 academic year will be the first time the College of Architecture and Planning can accept students from other participating countries—making Minttu the last Johnson Scholar in the Finland-only era.