Meet our students: Taru Itäpelto
She is ranked ninth in the world of Olympic weightlifting, holds a Master’s degree in computer science and music, is CFO/CIO of a childcare institution, CEO of its parent organisation and was until recently a lecturer at a Finnish University. The latter job she gave up after joining the EIT Digital Summer School in Eindhoven, where she was inspired to become a full-time student at the EIT Digital Master School. Taru Itäpelto talks about how she has put what she learned into practice, and how she is changing her life.
Itäpelto felt she needed to update her IT knowledge. This is despite having multiple degrees, being an IT teacher at the Lahti University of Applied Sciences, and holding management positions at the childcare institution Perhekoti Pallo Oy. “After many years at Perhekoti Pallo Oy, I felt my knowledge in the IT field was outdated. I wanted to know about the newest tech in wellbeing and where we are going with it. Enterpreneurship studies are a very good extra which EIT Digital offers. I have never learned a single course about entrepreneurship before.”
Itäpelto signed up for the EIT Digital Summer School in Eindhoven on healthy lifestyle and behavioural change via Fitech. In this two-week summer school, one of the many held every year across Europe, participants follow courses on key digital technologies, gain expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) and immerse themselves in business case studies originating from EIT Digital's partners.
How did you find the summer school?
“I was surprised by how much time it took. I had planned to practise also for the World Championships Olympic weightlifting in Montreal two weeks later. So, I took time out during the day to do this and woke up at 5 am to work on the group task. I did not sleep much those two weeks and I lost two kilos. To my surprise, I could do this. Apparantly, you can push yourself more than you think. The weightlifting competition did not go so well though. But, I am still ranked ninth in the world.”
The EIT Digital Summer School differs from other business summer schools by allowing professionals to join the same classes as EIT Digital Master School students. How did you feel about that?
“Excellent. There were people from all around the world. It was nice to get to know them. I didn’t even regard them as students. They were people with ideas and different roles. I had a really good group.”
What did you learn from the students?
“You know, the best way to get a Finnish person to be silent is to ask him or her to recommend him or herself or tell you how good they are. The students in my group were giving me positive feedback and I learned to give positive feedback in return. I took this back to my own company where we recently changed the structure. We now have six different teams. They need to share and encourage people to take responsibility and take part in discussions. We have introduced giving each other compliments. That works. When it comes to fostering children there are no right and wrong answers. When you make decisions, you’re not alone.”
What did you experience of teamwork at the Summer School?
“The group members did not know each other at first. I was interested to see how the teams formed. I kind of work like that in my own job too at the child caring institute/children’s home. There is almost always one person who has natural leadership skills. But the interesting aspect is how the team can work efficiently, taking into account each other’s strengths and hearing each other’s ideas. We managed to get the most silent people active in the groups. When I went back to my company, I told my wife, CEO of Perhekoti Pallo Oy, about my reflections on how to recognise strengths and encourage people.”
What was your role in the team?
“I oriented on giving ideas and testing ideas and calculating profit possibility and potential. This was good for me. I have learned to be more business savvy and that has helped me at the children’s home. The CEO got the idea of expansion and buying an additional home in the eastern part of Finland. I validated the idea and checked first the profit possibility. The idea of establishing a new home was good, but there were too many risks regarding the house in terms of costs and maintenance, and the operation of the company during that renovation.”
How do you evaluate the lectures as a teacher yourself?
“The lecturers were really good. There were many different lectures on interesting topics. I liked the pitch training. I am a performance artist, I can play for an audience with an instrument, but I didn’t feel confident pitching on a subject I didn’t yet own and where the subject kept changing. Pitching is the hardest thing I have ever done. Also, the idea of selling or marketing something was hard. But that is a skill that I think everyone needs these days. The students gave me feedback that I should dare to do more pitching, and, in the lecture, I learned how I should formulate a pitch, to start and end it.”
“The other lecture that I recall is the one by Dr Fleur Jongepier about ethics. I even started to follow her blog, even though it is in Dutch. And I use her lessons in my work now. We are dealing with ethics in the social sciences a lot. For example, people ask if we can track our children, this occupies a lot of discussions. What I learned is that for many questions there are no clear right or wrong answers - but that you do need a coherent explanation of why you ended up with this decision. We always have to try to make the right decision. Ethics in tech was a new world to me.”
What happened when you came back from the EIT Digital Summer School?
“I quit my job at the university. The EIT Digital Summer School was the reason I quit. I saw opportunities. My friends told me when I came back my eyes were shining when I was telling them about the Summer School. It was like I was high. This was a once in a lifetime experience. I then decided to apply for the Master School. I want to either do the programme Cyber Security or Human Computer Interaction Design. My wife says I had already sacrificed six years and my passion for IT in lifesaving her company, a home for 21 children and an employer of 20 people. Now it is my time.”