April 13, 2011

Emory Profile

Satu Riutta: Informing decisions at Oxford

Satu Riutta
Riutta is Oxford College's institutional researcher.

By Cathy Wooten

Leaving her native Finland for an internship at the 1996 Olympic Games, Satu Riutta remarked to her mother, "Something tells me that this first trip to Atlanta won't be my last."  Self-fulfilling or not, those were prophetic words for Riutta. 

In February 2008, she joined Oxford College as its first institutional researcher. In this role she designs and conducts research that helps Oxford know itself better and accurately describe its context in liberal arts education.

Her findings assist Dean Stephen Bowen and other leaders in evaluating alternative strategies and making informed decisions.

For example, one of her recent efforts focused on measuring how Oxford students engage when they continue to the Atlanta campus as juniors and what they do following their Emory graduation.

Hiring an institutional researcher was one of Bowen's primary goals when he came to Oxford in 2005. 

"As a scientist, I have some appreciation for the value and the limitations of quantitative information in guiding decisions," says Bowen. "Dr. Riutta's strength in qualitative methods combined with her broad understanding of American higher education has proved especially helpful to me and to many others."

Riutta's doctoral study made her realize that research was where her career interests lay. 

"I have always been intrigued by everything international."

At the time of that 1996 Olympic visit, she was a student in hospitality management in Espoo, Finland.  "I have always been intrigued by everything international," she says.  

But as she thought about her career choice further, she realized that the best route to her goals was an academic one. 

She entered the University of Helsinki to study social policy, but through a connection with American friends decided to complete her undergraduate education at a small college in Nebraska. 

Melding her academic concentration in political science and her international interests, she interned in 1999 and 2000 in legislative bodies in three different countries—the U.S. House of Representatives, the European Parliament in Brussels and the Parliament of Finland. 

Following these internships, she returned to Atlanta in 2000.  She received a graduate assistantship at Georgia State University, where she completed MA and PhD degrees in political science.

Her doctoral research was conducted from 2005 to 2006 in Tanzania and Zambia, where she studied the impact of civic education on democratic participation among rural residents. Her research took her throughout both countries, visiting numerous small villages, observing and interviewing.  The experience, she says, was transformative.

"I had studied hospitality, but there among the people of the villages I experienced true hospitality.  It was humbling," she says. 

Riutta felt it was important not to forget those who had helped her in her research; in 2007 she returned to Tanzania and Zambia to share her results with the international development community as well as in the villages.

"I wanted them to know that I remembered them," she says.

When not engaged in research in her current position at Oxford, Riutta can often be found enjoying another of her passions, tennis.  She usually finds tennis partners among her faculty and staff colleagues at Oxford, which she calls "a jewel," one that her research is helping to define and refine.

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