University study broadens horizons for young community leader

Attending the University of Waikato has opened up new possibilities for Ngaruawahia’s youth action group leader Wirihana Eriepa

Going to university was always in the plan for former Ngaruawahia High School Head Student Wirihana Eriepa. Although neither of his parents attended university, his dad had always encouraged Wirihana and his siblings to pursue their goals.

The University of Waikato’s Te Ara ki Angitū: Pathways to Excellence programme was established to support hardworking and passionate students like Wirihana. The programme makes university more accessible to students in the greater Waikato region. They can live at home, use a subsidised daily bus service to and from the University and receive support and mentoring throughout their university study.

“I always loved learning and school, so I always planned to go to university,” Wirihana says. “The University’s Te Ara ki Angitū programme made that dream a lot easier – especially the bus system, which cuts down my travel time and reduces my costs a lot.”

In his first year of a Bachelor of Arts with double majors in English and psychology, Wirihana had a good idea of the direction he wanted to take. He’s also discovered other possibilities. He took a sociology paper as an elective and liked it so much he’s considered picking up a sociology major as well, opening the possibility of a career in local government.

Wirihana is enjoying the new friendships and connections he’s made at the University, especially his friends in the whānau room. “We’re all part of a big community and have really good relationships with the University’s staff, who help provide us with really cool opportunities.” Wirihana recalls organised visits from guest speakers such as Te Ururoa Flavell from the Māori Party, invitations to community events, organised workshops and internship opportunities.

Living at home in his home town of Ngaruawahia while studying also helps Wirihana stay involved in his community. As the Youth Co-ordinator for Ngaruawahia’s youth action group, Embrace the Future, he and his team support young people to have a voice as well as empower and engage others. “I dedicate about five hours a week to my community involvement, so it sits nicely alongside my studies. I want to give back to the town I was raised in and improve our young people’s experiences,” Wirihana says.

The University of Waikato’s Te Ara ki Angitū: Pathways to Excellence programme was established in 2016 in South Waikato and expanded to other regions in 2017. The programme now reaches 25 schools and communities across Hauraki, Thames-Coromandel, Matamata-Piako, Waikato, Otorohonga, South Waikato and Waitomo districts. Apply now or talk to us about your options.