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A day in the life of a sustainability consultant—Embodying knowledge

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Ritva Vilppola reflects on education, different learning paths and determining success through knowledge sharing. This is ­Ritva’s third story in our graduate voices series.

Acknowledgement of Country

I would firstly like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land, the people of the Turrbal nation, where I am writing my blog today in Brisbane, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. Furthermore, I would like to acknowledge the land and communities in the areas devastated by recent bushfires throughout Australia and pay my respects to all those who volunteered and provided help during these challenging times.

Embodying knowledge

By Ritva Vilppola

“It’s important to understand what you want, keep an open mind and find flexibility.”

As much as I remember and reflect on my past and present, I also enjoy looking into the future and setting goals based on my realisations. I have always wanted to earn my post-graduate degree ever since my second year of undergraduate studies, a goal that has not changed. On the other hand, there are other plans that have changed. I originally thought I would specialise further in architectural sciences but after a few years of working in the industry, I’ve realised that I am more passionate about designing communities with the theoretical understanding of urban development on a more systemic scale.

Goals can adjust to your current situation based on how you have grown and what you have learned since you made them. It’s important to understand what you want, keep an open mind and find flexibility. It may be more difficult or take longer to find the right opportunity at the right time but, it can also be far more rewarding! And regardless of whether it is expected or unexpected—always remember that you are constantly learning.

The subjectivity of success

Similar to self-identity, success to you is defined by you. We see media on business productivity throw this word, “success,” around a lot: “most successful people”, “how to be more successful”, etc. However, these articles are only evaluating one form of success and that may not be your definition of success.” Peter Sims discusses this in his blog here. Becoming famous, earning a lot of money or being your company’s top performer is not a goal everyone aims for, nor should it. I have a friend whose idea of success is getting married to a caring partner and spending time raising a wonderful family rather than following a career in their studies. Success is what fulfills you and your endeavours can be completely different from your parent’s, friend’s or classmates’ goals.

“Not everyone has that [same] learning style or those goals in mind”

Theoretical vs. practical

One of the most challenging realisations I’ve had during my university, graduate and professional years is determining the purpose of university, which in the private school culture I was educated in, was the expected path. I found that tertiary education options for students deciding what to do after high school had an imbalanced focus—mainly set towards attending university. However, not everyone has that learning style or those goals in mind. Many students thrive by pursuing cadetships (apprenticeships), polytechnical schools and even just learning on the job, so why do we value one form of learning over another when starting our career paths?

Embodying knowledge
Ultimate UrbanistsThe International Federation of Housing and Planning (IFHP) course I took studied the local urban design and planning context. As part of our project above, we were required to assess our site using our sensory experiences.

We also tend to have preconceived thoughts that university is going to prepare us for the profit-driven workforce, when it wasn’t founded to do that. University is there to challenge you to think outside the box, expand your creative limits and help you understand the world, so you are prepared for your first professional job (or encourage you to pursue a career in research/academia). That’s why to the more practical minds out there, university can get very frustratingly theoretical—even in practical degrees like engineering! Universities are starting to embody businesses, and they are marketing themselves towards equipping students for work in our current political economic model, but is this what we should expect as students and youth representing the future of our society?

An ode to overseas experiences

Everyone I know who has taken gap years or went on overseas exchanges at university always raves about their experience, which was something I never thought much of until recently. It seems harder to do as you start working; however, more people are taking time from work to travel and study throughout their careers and there are always alternatives ways to achieve this! I was fortunate to be able to attend the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the International Federation of Housing and Planning in Finland during the summer session last year. Being able to learn from a different cultural, political and educational system with a classroom of people from other parts of the world is incredibly eye-opening that I strongly recommend. It also allowed me to realise that I have a strong interest in the social political aspect of designing more sustainable urban development, which I would not have delved into if I had not been exposed to this learning opportunity.

Learning is giving

“We all have the capability to lead, inspire and ensure that we work together using all our differences to our advantage.”

Embodying knowledge
Mad about Mapping—I have been learning a lot about mapping buildings and roads for areas affected by disasters and encouraging WSP offices as well as local Engineers Without Boarders (EWB) chapters to hold Mapathons for the Missing Maps collaborative project between Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). We had over 50 offices join us last year for International Geographic Information Systems Day!

Of course, what better form of learning is there than to share what you have learned! It seems that the best way to learn and retain information is to teach it to others and there is something very rewarding through the act of giving knowledge. Our teachers are fundamental to helping create communities of innovation and empathy. However, this responsibility is also held by all of us that are the leaders of our own communities. We all have the capability to lead, inspire and ensure that we work together using all our differences to our advantage. The best managers, mentors and coaches are the ones whose passion you can sense from their dedication and willingness to share the abundance of their knowledge in order to help you thrive in what you do.

Engaging confidently with people on the knowledge you have is a key sign of being in your element. Find the thing that energises you and this can in turn help you set goals doing what you enjoy in order to achieve your own definition of success.


Ritva Vilppola completed their schooling at St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland, New Zealand before continuing their studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Prior to joining WSP in 2017 as a Sustainability Consultant and relocating to Brisbane, Ritva worked at the New Zealand Green Building Council. Passionate about helping communities thrive, Ritva is the local Queensland Chapter Vice President of the non-profit organisation, Engineers Without Borders Australia. In their downtime, they enjoy being immersed in art at the local printmaking studio. You can also reach Ritva on LinkedIn or via email at

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