Our History & Heritage


Finlandia University was founded as Suomi College by Finnish Lutheran immigrants in 1896 on land ceded by the Anishinaabe people in the Treaty of 1842. We seek to honor and respect the sacred and enduring kinship of the Anishinaabe people with this land. We reject the ongoing injustices of colonization and bear witness to the dignity of all Indigenous peoples.


Finlandia University was founded in 1896 as Suomi College, but its heritage extends hundreds of years before that. Finnish people developed the attitude of “sisu” (pronounced – see’-soo) or “persistence and determination” during the early years of their country’s formation. It is with this steadfast attitude that Suomi College was established. After years of hard labor in the Upper Peninsula, Finnish immigrants began to dream of a better life for their children and future Finnish-American generations. They found their answer in Suomi College.

Although the first graduating class consisted of only 11 men and women, the college persisted and in 1899 acquired its first building, Old Main. The Finns recognized the need not only to educate their children, but to maintain their cultural heritage. Hence, the two-year college served many purposes in its early years: preserving Finnish culture, upholding and teaching the tenets of the Lutheran religion, training Lutheran ministers, and educating students in English and other skills that would provide job opportunities in their new land.


To the Finnish people, sisu has a mystical, almost magical meaning. Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.

Sisu is an inherent characteristic of the Finnish people. You might call it backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance.  It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end.

Sisu is the quality that lets them pick up, move on, and learn something from previous failures. It’s the hard-jawed integrity that makes them pay their war debts in full. In short, it’s the indomitable will that sets Finns apart and explains many of the incredible things they do.

Due to its cultural significance, Sisu is a common element of brand names in Finland. For example, there are Sisu brand cars (and Sisu armored vehicles), the icebreaker MS Sisu, and a brand of strong-tasting pastilles manufactured by Leaf. Mount Sisu is the name of a mountain first ascended by mountain climber Veikka Gustafsson in the Antarctic.


Finlandia is one of 26 U.S. colleges and universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the only private institution of higher learning in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is the only remaining university in North America founded by Finnish immigrants. The institution is made up of two schools and two colleges: the International School of Art & Design, the International School of Business, the Suomi College of Arts & Sciences, and the College of Health Sciences.


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