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The classroom gardener

Pär Jönsson at the black board in a class room.
While he holds the position of Head of the ITM school, Pär Jönsson's true roots are firmly planted in the classroom. Photo: Anna Gullers
Published Jan 23, 2024

Combining the philosophy of gardening with a touch of classroom magic, Pär Jönsson has recently been honored as the 'Teacher of the Year' at KTH. We sat down with the Head of the ITM school, who not only cultivates an impressive kitchen garden but also grows future talent.

In Pär Jönsson 's garden, tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, and students not only grow but thrive. Being a teacher and a devoted gardener, as Professor Jönsson points out, share more similarities than one might imagine.

"Much like good soil, sun, and water are needed for seeds to grow into thriving plants, students also require a nutritious environment and diverse teachers to flourish," he notes.

Pär Jönsson in the City Hall
Pär Jönsson in the City Hall.

While he holds the position of Head of the ITM school, Pär's true roots are firmly planted in the classroom. Recently bestowed with the THS student organization's prestigious 'Teacher of the Year' award—an ice bucket cleverly disguised as an apple, a diploma, and celebrations in the City Hall—he is visibly touched. And his popularity is evident, particularly across social channels associated with the award.

Despite his deep passion for materials research, Pär's journey started with the intention of becoming a chemist. Someone pointed out the impracticality of a color-blind chemist, and he chose another course. 'Soy lipids weren't really my style anyway,' he chuckles. If his mother had her way, he might have become a priest. However, Pär's heart found its home in metallurgy, where he has unraveled most of the industry's processes.

"The attraction lies in the lingering mysteries, like high-temperature metallurgy; We can fly to the moon, yet we don't fully comprehend what happens at extreme temperatures—we can't calculate it; we can only observe how it works," Pär explains.

Love for teaching

The transition to the classroom was a natural one. His early experiences as a youth leader in sport fishing made him realize how much he enjoys passing on knowledge and witnessing the results. Like guiding someone to catch the perfect fish. This love for teaching has been a constant thread throughout his career, be it in industry or academia. And then came the challenge of getting young minds to listen—how do you achieve that?

Pär at the black board
Pär often uses everyday examples in the classroom.

"In a classroom, it's crucial to infuse energy and use everyday examples," Pär emphasizes. A quick diagram on the board and an explanation of thermodynamics and kinetics using coffee and sugar illustrate his approach.

However, Pär believes the classroom has its limitations. He prefers to bring teaching directly to the companies he collaborates with—an approach that is widely appreciated.

"It works well for a program with few students, like Materials Science, since it's costly," Pär notes. Seeking funds from scholarship programs, he enables students to visit steel and aluminum companies; In the morning the students can attend a theory session that would otherwise be conducted at KTH. Meanwhile, a lecturer from industry, who would have visited KTH, now shares insights at their workplace, giving students a glimpse into real-world applications.

"People in the industry possess knowledge we can't convey at KTH. Understanding the broader picture and the role of materials in society is crucial," says Pär.

Just like his meticulously tended garden, Pär aims to see his students grow and flourish as independent individuals who benefit from their acquired knowledge.

"Take, for instance, my former student who worked as a salesman at ABB. He used the analogy of coffee and sugar to sell the company's agitators. This 'plant' has grown and can now help others. It's incredible that I've been a part of someone's life in this way."

Text: Anna Gullers

Belongs to: Materials Science and Engineering
Last changed: Jan 23, 2024