Right place, right time for industrious grad

3 May 2017

Sarita Withers

Sarita Withers graduates from the University of Waikato’s Bachelor of Engineering degree at Claudelands Arena on Wednesday 3 May.

Sarita Withers has seized every opportunity that came her way while at the University of Waikato, kickstarting an exciting career in engineering.

The Tahiti native moved to New Zealand in 2012 to begin her Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Chemical and Biological Engineering and hasn’t looked back. “When I went to a couple of open days, Waikato really stood out to me. I always was good at maths and knew that my career would have a science focus, but I didn’t really know what engineering was until I came to the open day and was mindblown.”

Sarita devoted herself to her studies and took on part-time work as a waitress. As it turns out, this part-time job helped her to make the connections that launched her into a world of new opportunities.

One day while waitressing, she encountered AgResearch employees, to whom she casually mentioned her research interests and goals. This led to an opportunity to join AgResearch as a student researcher, which eventually included representing the organisation overseas in Spain and France, broadening her cultural experiences and adding great value to her CV.

It’s clear that Sarita isn’t one for half-measures. Outside of her studies she holds a black belt in judo, competing in national and international tournaments. She also volunteers on campus, teaching self-defence classes and promoting the sport.

Although Sarita is highly accomplished, she puts her early professional success down to good luck. “I saw my classmates who studied really intensely and thought that they probably deserved these opportunities more than me, but I think they really liked the way I worked and how my interests fitted with theirs.”

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, Sarita would encourage students facing challenges to just “focus, because the end is worth it”. She began her degree without having ever undertaken schooling in English, so the first year was fraught with the challenge of learning to think in English rather than French: “Even though there were so many numbers, there were still differences that mattered. For example, in French a comma is a decimal point.” She says that the engineering degree could get “complicated and challenging”, but she enjoyed the inherent creativity and exploration it offered.

Sarita’s next step is to pursue her Masters in Project Engineering, with the hope of stepping into managerial roles that will allow her to travel and try out different projects and new areas.

Nearly 1000 students will be graduating at University of Waikato ceremonies over the next two weeks with three ceremonies on Wednesday 3 May at Claudelands in Hamilton, one at the university’s Te Kohinga Mārama Marae this Friday 5 May, and another in Tauranga on Wednesday 10 May.

There are 308 Waikato Management School students graduating at the 10am Claudelands ceremony on 3 May. A total of 237 students from the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Computing and Mathematics, Law, and Māori and Indigenous Studies graduate at 2pm on 3 May and, at 6pm, 231 Education, Science and Engineering students will have their qualifications conferred. One hundred students will graduate at the marae, and 118 at Bay Park Arena in Tauranga following a student procession from Red Square down Devonport Street starting at 11am.