Ilze Speķe, administrator in the Department of Political Science: working with students is inspiring
One of the benevolent spirits in social sciences studies at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) is the administrator in the Department of Political Science, Ilze Speķe. Her daily routine involves spending time among students. "I'm their psychotherapist, detective and mom at the same time", laughs Ilze and admits: "If I didn't like working with students, probably, I wouldn't work here."
Former dean of the Faculty of European Studies, Professor Ilga Kreituse, who has worked alongside Ilze for the longest period of time, explains: "We had developed a wonderful equilibrium over the years – if I made someone cry, then Ilze pampered and calmed that person down." The professor characterises I. Speke (pictured) as a very punctual and professional person: “I’ve always appreciated it and trusted that everything will be done. When she took the liberty to criticise me, I always took her opinion into account, because she does so rarely and with good reason."
How did you start working at RSU?
When they established the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1998, I was invited as a secretary. I was interviewed for the job by (at that time) the Dean, Assistant Professor Ilze Ostrovska. And I immediately started work in two departments – both in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Regional Economics and Business. This was the time when the central RSU building had a newly-built block, where my office was located.
I spend my working day among students, because they come to the department to submit their summaries and essays. I know almost all the students and remember their names even several years later. Work with the students is interesting. And I remember both the most and least diligent ones.
I'm now working together with the fourth dean of the faculty. And I must admit that I feel like a part of a large and friendly family among my colleagues. It can't be any other way, because you spend the greatest part of your life at work.
How have your duties changed over these years?
In my first years, I was the secretary in two departments, because the number of students was relatively small – around 25 students every year. Later, the number of students increased and so did the amount of work. Each department had their own secretary. I stayed in the Department of Political Science. I worked not only with the students, but also with the teachers, helping to prepare their study materials. Since we have a module system, we work intensively and have exams not only at the end of the semester, but every month. Now I work more with the teaching staff and Masters students who have classes on Friday evenings and Saturdays.
During these 20 years, the university has changed and developed. New technologies and work methods have advanced rapidly. The greatest challenge in my work is to follow all the innovations that are introduced at RSU, for example, e-studies and the student information system. It makes you learn new skills and makes your work easier at the same time. Today we can't imagine our daily routine, for example, without e-mail. But we used it less often 20 years ago. Communication was direct or via telephone. Applications were written on paper. Back then we used technologies that are now obsolete, for example, overhead projectors that were used for projecting slides with written information. A formal application was necessary for every lecture that required a computer or a projector. We used to photocopy all the academic literature. It was a time-consuming and physically taxing work. But the introduction of scanners made this work much easier. The materials became more available to students. The required literature is now available digitally and in the databases provided by the RSU library. Nor do students need to print out their work. They can submit it in the e-study system. The study process has become more dynamic, focused and eco-friendly, because we don't need to waste stacks of paper any more.
Technological progress has been huge. The university itself has advanced rapidly: the central building has been extended, there are new rooms for social sciences. Now, I have a beautiful view through the window of my department – a clean yard and a student hostel, but this was once a construction site, because they were building a new hall.
What has been the greatest satisfaction in your work with the students?
Everyone likes to be thanked. I can also say that those are unforgettable moments, when a student comes up after a graduation ceremony and says: "Thank you! If it wasn't for you, I'd have abandoned my studies a long time ago!" I feel satisfied when my work is appreciated. If I didn't like working with students, probably, I wouldn't work here. I have tried to listen to the students and try to find solutions for their problems during these years. Sometimes I'm both a psychotherapist and a mom to them at the same time. That's what I always remind the first-year students: that they should come and talk, if something isn't clear to them.
What were the students like 20 years ago and what are they like now?
The number of students following the demographic decline has stabilised: 40 students on average every year. Observing these young people over the years, I have concluded that the first-year students were more mature and grown up in the past. I think it's largely related to the secondary education system and the ability to adapt or rather not to adapt to modern requirements, including studies at university. It’s almost always clear in the first months of the studies, who will make it through and graduate. But I feel the greatest joy for those students who had it hard in the beginning but managed to pull themselves together and finish their studies with good grades. I feel a sense of satisfaction to witness how the young students mature and form their personalities during their studies and become specialists in their field. I think that all the Faculty of the European Studies study programmes are competitive in the Latvian market, because our graduates are in demand and are already recruited during their internships.
We joke that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a subsidiary of RSU, because many of our graduates work there.
Our students stand out with their ability to process large quantities of information, and it definitely helps them in their careers.
The first social science student graduation ceremony was in 2002. There have been 17 graduation ceremonies since then. The number of graduates who have finished the social science programmes of the Department of the Political Science is about to reach one thousand.
Do you know anything about your graduates' lives after graduation?
We have graduates who have stayed in the university to work after their graduation, for example, Māris Cepurītis, Mārtiņš Daugulis, Māris Andžāns – they have completed the whole cycle from bachelor to doctoral studies. We are proud and happy that they see career and development opportunities at the university. We also try to involve the graduates as lecturers for different modules. We are happy about the graduates who have chosen RSU as their work place and work in other structural units at RSU. Our former students work in a wide range of different areas: ministries, municipal institutions, international companies and non-governmental organisations.
This year, on 19 October, an alumni evening event "Kopsavilkums" (translated as Summary) will be held in honour of the 20th anniversary of RSU social science programmes. Who would you like to see there?
I would be very glad if the graduates would arrive in great numbers. And I would particularly like to meet the first graduates. I would like them to see how our university has grown. I hope that it's going to be a great opportunity for them to meet their ex-groupmates and to reminisce about their studies in our university.
Ilze Speķe (pirmajā rindā centrā, gaišajā žaketē) kopā ar fakultātes mācībspēkiem un absolventiem Eiropas studiju fakultātes 2014. gada vasaras izlaidumā