Hafrun Hauksdóttir: Val Bjornson scholar

When someone says to you “visiting exchange student” or visiting scholar, what image comes to mind? A callow youth, a shy young woman, someone a bit insecure perhaps, in need of some mentoring, mothering, feeding?

How about a young woman with a Masters in electrical and computer engineering? The kind of person who is a specialist in her field, who been a project manager at the Innovation Centre in Iceland with the job of helping innovators and inventors to bring their ideas from concept to reality?

Someone who has worked on the development of an SME based sensor technology to measure the calving of cows, a technology that is needed because of problems with calves dying. A monitor that will warn a dairy farmer that a calving is about to begin so that if there is a problem, there can be early intervention. Someone who has worked in signal processing and automatic diagnostics? Someone who has started a company after receiving support for the product concept? Who has simultaneously worked on a PhD project based on the idea and received the Val Bjornsson scholarship to continue research?

We all have stereotypes and Hafrún Hauksdóttir breaks them all. You know what I mean. Women aren´t good at maths. Physics and chemistry are for boys, the world of business is a competitive place where you need a lot of testosterone to succeed. Those kind of stereotypes. The kind, although so simplistic as to be worthy of ridicule if stated out loud, that a lot of people, including businessmen, politicians and even some academics still desperately cling to. It goes with the idiot attitude that most jobs today require brawn in spite of daily evidence everywhere that brawn has been replaced by mechanization and micro technology.

When I was growing up, there were lots of jobs for the semi-educated. There were ditches and graves to be dug, gravel to be shoveled, buildings to be built using a hammer and nails. My father even rowed out to his nets. Men were admired for being able to chisel holes in the ice with a needle bar. Machines have replaced it all, even the hammers. And that’s at the simplest level. Nobody uses a hammer to develop sensor technology.

Hafrún has been responsible for planning, funding and execution of various projects under ISO 9001. She´s supervised projects involving several different companies and institutions. She´s been involved in software development in .Net#C and Matlab, data managment and control design in Labview. Hardware developemnt and implimentation of noise filters and data fusion from accelerometers, magnometers and gyroscopes for distance measurement to be used in gait anlayses.

She belongs to organizations like DSP (Digital Signal Processing), the Image Processing Interest Group and Medical Signal and Image Processing plus others.

There are Arab countries where men don’t believe that women should be allowed to drive cars. There are still men in North America who think women should stay home and have babies and don’t grasp the fact that the reason they or their sons are unemployed is because they haven’t grasped that “work” requires more and more education.

When Hafrún leaves Minnesota, she´s going to Norway to work for a company that services the oil industry.

I think Kristjan Valdimar “Val“ Bjornson (1906-1987) would have been proud of Hafrún. I think he would heartily approve that she has been the Val Bjornson scholar.

Val was a Minnesota writer, a newspaper editor, a politician and, for two decades, the Minnesota state treasurer.

He was born in Minneota, a village subsequently made famous by Bill Holm. A village that made Bill Holm.

During WWII, Val was in Navy Intelligence and was stationed in Iceland. His interest in Iceland was life long and intense. He was an Hon. Consul for Iceland and Co-founder of the exchange program between the University of Iceland and the University of Minnesota.

The future runs away ahead of us. The truth is, even though I‘ve been involved with computers since they first appeared on campus, even though I read widely, even though I‘ve got a son who has his own virtual reality company that creates products for individuals and corporations, I don‘t know what SME is, I‘ve heard about ISO 9001 but forgotten what it is. I don‘t know .Net#C or Matlab.

Hafrún is the future. Our future. The future in which our children, our grand children and great grandchildren will live. I think the Minnesota Icelanders can be proud that they have a scholarship that will bring scholars like her to live among them and also to send Minnesotans to Iceland.