Profiling of a rector as STEM researcher

Dr İsmail Koyuncu is an excellent example of a STEM academic who has expanded his research to generate impact for the broader society. As we were interviewing him, it was easy to notice the excitement in his eyes while talking about engineering which he holds very high since his early school life. “Being the son of a primary school teacher was influential in my career” he explains. Besides having his father as a role model in helping the society, his teachers in science and mathematics inspired him on the value of production and progress. He was very determined to become a STEM researcher in high school. His determination along with his ambition to succeed opened a new chapter in his life when he was accepted to the oldest and most prestigious technical university in Turkey: Istanbul Technical University – İTU. This was a life-changing milestone for a young professional who grew up in Antalya, a small town on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The journey then continued in this inspiring institution: First as a hardworking student, then as a devoted academician, as he transformed from being a learner to a researcher, then to an administrator.

Dr Koyuncu’s research mostly focuses on finding ways to improve membrane manufacturing and process improvement on water and wastewater applications since 2007. He has engaged in product development and commercialisation for more than ten years in the National Research Centre on Membrane Technologies (MEM-TEK) which he founded in 2010, with the support of the Turkish Republic State Planning Organisation. He positions his research largely with valorisation. “I have always prioritised problem-solving even when I was concerned with publishing through my academic career” he explains. The practical solutions offered to the industry problems in the context of environmental engineering have always been at the heart of his academic life from the very beginning of his career.

Appointed as the rector of İstanbul Technical University in 2020, İsmail Koyuncu holds a similar perspective of STEM valorisation at the broader context of İTU, especially in its relation with society, in terms of İTU’s pioneer role in constructing and developing Turkey. That is why he sees academic staff at İTU mostly as “applied scientists” working to meet the needs of the society, and valorisation as transferring their research results into societal benefits:

“Discovering the needs or the opportunities, that is to say finding out relevant solutions through research and offering benefits are at the heart of the STEM research. It is equally important to gain a business-minded approach and not to be reluctant in terms of figuring out the income model.”

Parallel with this belief, Prof. Dr İsmail Koyuncu is introducing a new engineering education approach, integrating students with the industry while studying by adding a year to the curriculum and integrating a master degree, taking the university closer to society. He believes that research-based learning will help students practice engineering while studying and they will gain a lot from working on real industry problems, which in turn will support STEM research. He has recently announced the Deanship of Research, a position directly reporting to the Rector, focusing on valorisation processes for the STEM researchers at İTU. We are delighted to witness these changes at İTU’s educational and academic approach which will pave new ways towards the future of STEM research and valorisation!

Zeynep Erden Bayazıt
Şebnem Burnaz
İstanbul Technical University
Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation / İTU GINOVA

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