Waikato students can "breathe easy" thanks to the Thomas Pay-it-Forward Scholarship

jay-thomas-headshotWhatever step of the tertiary journey a student is on, ‘struggle street’ is a destination all would rather avoid. The worry of making financial ends meet can be a barrier to some students starting or completing their qualification.

A scholarship available to University of Waikato students aims to alleviate that pressure for successful candidates, whether they have just completed the first year of their bachelor’s degree or they are in the last year of their PhD. The scholarship has been available to students since 2019 and will continue to be for the next three years thanks to the generosity of University of Waikato alumnus and Tauranga entrepreneur, Jay Thomas.

The Thomas Pay-it-Forward Scholarship will be awarded on the basis of academic potential and serious financial hardship, or personal circumstances that may hinder the candidate’s ability to continue studying and complete their undergraduate, masters or doctoral degree. Awarded annually, up to two scholarships a year will provide a tuition fees credit of up to $5,000.

Jay has worked hard for what he has and has been successful in his chosen field of IT. Yet, despite this, it was hard going in the early days. At one point, Jay was juggling study and multiple part time jobs just to stay afloat. “When you’re trying to pay rent, food and bills taking on extra jobs or more debt can see a rise in the stress levels and a drop in the grades.”

Due to the financial burden, he never completed his undergraduate degree in the US. He was lucky enough to fall into IT during the dotcom days when he says it was possible to “ride the wave” without a formal qualification. He enjoyed a successful career in the industry for 20 years but always regretted not finishing his qualification.

When Jay moved to New Zealand from North Carolina, USA, he decided it was finally time to get the degree. He enrolled in a Master of Information Technology at the University of Waikato and drove to Hamilton four days a week for classes.

The Thomas Pay-it-Forward Scholarship came about after Jay graduated in June 2019. “I’d been harping on to my kids about the importance of going to university, even though I never graduated with my undergraduate degree. I’m actually an example of what not to do,” laughs Jay.

Jay’s decision to renew the scholarship was easy, saying there will always be students in need. “Waikato gave me the opportunity to gain my qualification so I’m happy to give back and support students who aren’t in my position. I figured if I could help someone else out, at least part of the financial pressure could be alleviated so they can just go to school,” he says.

“There are some smart, talented, motivated, capable people out there who may just not have the resources to make it through. I’d like to have somebody be able to breathe easier to finish their degree.”

Applications for the Thomas Pay-it-Forward Scholarship, for study in 2022, are open now and will close on 15 November 2021.