Waikato University changed my life

26 August 2016

University of Waikato graduate Blaine Rakena looks back on his journey and how far he's come.

University of Waikato graduate Blaine Rakena looks back on his journey and how far he's come.

University of Waikato graduate Blaine Rakena believes life is all about taking chances. “And lucky for me, Waikato Uni was willing to give me a chance.”

Blaine’s got a bachelors degree, masters degree and a PhD. He’s the programme co-ordinator at Wintec in Hamilton – and loves it. But it wasn’t always this way.

Blaine (Tainui/Ngapuhi) started at the age of 15 working in the freezing works in Moerewa, Northland. The freezing works was where all his friends were going and he wanted to be with them.

When the works closed in 1988, Blaine struggled to find another job. He was unemployed for three years until his five-year-old said something that changed everything.

“We were at a parent-teacher session and my son told everyone that his daddy spent all day at home watching TV,” says Blaine. “That wasn’t the example I wanted to set for my kids.”

Blaine’s wife encouraged him to become a teacher. Both his parents had been teachers and Blaine had a talent for working with people.

“I wasn’t too keen on the idea but my wife is a persistent woman,” says Blaine.

He applied to several tertiary options with no success. After a series of rejection letters, Blaine gave up on his university dream.

“And then I got the call from Waikato.”

Secretly, Blaine’s wife had sent an application to the University of Waikato on his behalf, and it was successful.

“The University of Waikato changed my life and my family’s life. They gave me an opportunity that no one else would and because of that, I couldn’t let them down.”

Blaine studied teaching for four years. During this time he developed a love for computer science and went on to complete a two-year Master of Education (STEM Education).

“Adjusting to being a student was tough,” Blaine says. “But the support I gained from my lecturers and tutors was incredible - I could feel the aroha. My whanau (wife and seven kids) was also a huge support to me.”

Once he got his job at Wintec, Blaine decided to enrol in a PhD at Curtin University in Perth.

His thesis covered case studies of mature Māori students who had succeeded in computing degrees.

Blaine’s academic journey has been published in a book, He huinga whetū, he huinga korero, A gathering of stars, a gathering of stories, that shows what you can achieve with the right mind-set.

That mind-set has flowed through Blaine’s family with his eldest daughter having completed her Science and Management degree, his son working towards his IT degree another daughter studying Law and Business management and his wife soon to pursue her PhD. Even his grandchildren are talking about studying one day.

“One good decision was all it took to break the cycle. Not only for me, my wife and children, but for our grandchildren and other generations to come.”

Blaine says the key is in determining what’s important to you.

“Once you know that, you can figure out what you need to do to make it happen and then go out and do it – and give it everything you’ve got.”

Follow in Blaine’s footsteps and become a teacher. Applications are now open for 2017.