College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Mason School of Education Faculty Selected for Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program

March 13, 2024

Risto Marttinen

Risto Marttinen, associate professor in the Health and Physical Education program within the School of Education at George Mason University, has received a Fulbright U.S. Core Scholar Program award to conduct research in Finland beginning in January 2025. Marttinen will be collaborating with faculty in two top research universities in Finland—the University of the Arts Helsinki (Uni Arts) and University of Jyväskylä—to study the impact of a program that guarantees a free out-of-school activity for every child in Finland. This program serves over 400,000 youth attending 1900 schools located in 262 municipalities throughout Finland.

The Fulbright award is fully funded by the Fulbright Finland Foundation, an independent not-for-profit organization based in Helsinki, Finland committed to promoting a wider exchange of knowledge and professional talents through educational contacts between Finland and the United States. The Foundation collaborates with a range of government, foundation, university, and corporate partners on both sides of the Atlantic to design and manage research scholarships, leadership development programs, and internationalization services.

Upon learning that he had been selected for the prestigious Fulbright award, Marttinen stated, “I am really excited for this. It is a great academic milestone for me, but more than that, it is an opportunity for me to take my family to Finland and for them to really understand my culture and roots and my community. On top of that all, I get to provide a service to Finland, in rigorously studying a student-centered program all while teaching pre-service teachers and making future connections. I could not have hoped for a better opportunity.”

Marttinen will be studying the Finnish Model for Leisure Activities that promotes the wellbeing of youth.

During his stay in Finland, Marttinen will be assessing the Harrastamisen Suomen Malli (HSM), also known as the Finnish Model for Leisure Activities, a program established to promote the wellbeing of Finland’s children and young people. Piloted in 2021, this initiative provides every child and young person in Finland the opportunity to participate in a leisure activity such as dance, horseback riding, hockey, or other activity that interests them free of charge during the school day. While the program has been praised for its potential to become a blueprint for free-time physical activity across the globe, it has not been the subject of rigorous empirical research. Therefore, questions on whether this initiative is accessible to all students, particularly minority students, students with disabilities, immigrants, and other marginalized populations, have not been addressed. Marttinen’s research will focus on these populations to determine if they encounter any barriers or challenges in accessing the program and how their experiences compare with non-minority, able-bodied Finnish students.

While Finland was once a homogenous nation, its makeup is rapidly shifting. According to Statistics of Finland (2021), the percentage of “foreign born” Finns in 1990 was 1% of the population. By 2020, this number rose to 8% of the overall population and 9% of the student population. “Unfortunately,” Marttinen commented, “such rapid diversification has not been welcomed by all Finns.” He cites the results of a European Union (EU) 2018 survey conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights which found that Finland was one of the most racist countries in the EU. Marttinen says these findings show a need to ensure that future educators shift their approach to include social inclusion and cultural integration.

Marttinen will be collaborating with Dr. Eeva Anttila of Uni Arts who is a pioneer in the study of the use of culturally responsive pedagogy with Finnish physical education teachers. Culturally responsive pedagogy is an educational approach that recognizes and values the diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences of students, aiming to create inclusive and equitable learning environments that support their unique needs and perspectives. The goal of this collaboration is to develop culturally responsive programming which can be used by coaches who teach in Finland’s HSM model.

Marttinen’s research will involve a partnership with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.

Marttinen’s work as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar will involve a partnership with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, through which he will have access to data about the HSM program that would otherwise be unavailable to researchers. He will be collecting data from students who are participating in the program, coaches, leaders, and parents in and around Helsinki, Jyväskylä, and other nearby regions of Finland. Marttinen, who was born and raised in Finland, is fluent in both Finnish and English. He says this will help in conducting interviews on Finnish and immigrant experiences in the language that people are most comfortable with.

In addition to his research activities, Marttinen will be teaching pre-service teachers, graduate students, and postgraduate students at Uni Arts and the University of Jyväskylä, with a focus on providing supplemental instruction and co-developing curriculum on culturally responsive pedagogy.

His research project in Finland aligns with Marttinen’s academic interests in after-school programs in the U.S. and South America.

The work that Marttinen will be doing in Finland aligns with the more than ten years of research he has conducted on the positive benefits of after-school programs in the U.S. and South America. He has also edited a book on out-of-school physical activity programs and has engaged in extensive fieldwork that has culminated in over 50 peer-reviewed publications in this area. “I pride myself in making connections with others and I’ve worked with a vast network of scholars through professional organizations and research,” he states. “I am confident that my ability to connect with others will help me build lasting relationships with Finnish scholars. So, in short, this is right up my alley! The Finnish model for leisure activities, such as out-of-school activities, is exactly what I study. I think this can be a blueprint for other municipalities around the globe to replicate or learn from. My intent is to share this widely once I learn more about it.”

Marttinen’s Fulbright research project will allow him to integrate the knowledge he gains in Finland into his teaching at Mason.

After completing his Fulbright term, Marttinen intends to channel the experience and knowledge he gains in Finland into expanding the syllabus and content of the course he teaches at Mason. “One area that I have not had a lot of experience with is the refugee child’s experiences in physical education and sport,” he explains. “The Fulbright will help broaden my understanding of the immigrant experience as Finland has taken in a considerable number of refugees, including those from Ukraine. I can share what I have learned and apply it in relevant contexts in my teaching and research.”

Marttinen added, “This research and teaching endeavor will grow my network with the major Finnish research universities in my field and allow me to potentially support PhD students at Jyväskylä and Helsinki [Uni Arts]. The doctoral students at George Mason will also gain from relationships I build that will lead to student exchanges.”

Please join us in congratulating Risto Marttinen on being chosen for the esteemed Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award and for the exciting research opportunity that awaits him in Finland.