Gap year reflections to University of Waikato graduate

Top student among his Bachelor of Business cohort, Rawiri Tonga graduates from the University of Waikato.

19 Apr 2024

Rawiri Tonga

Rawiri Tonga (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) was a top student among his Bachelor of Business cohort at the University of Waikato, but the decision to forge towards a career in finance and economics wasn’t a natural step on his journey.   

There’s all this pressure when you finish high school that if you’re not doing anything impressive or haven’t gone straight to university, you’re not doing enough. 

Born and raised in Taupō, Rawiri chose to take a gap year after secondary school to explore his options.   

“It was a pretty good use of my time actually. I was working and able to save a lot of money. It really depends on how you choose to spend that year – you can waste it and do nothing, but I’m grateful my use was productive looking back.” 

Initially enrolling in a Bachelor of Science, because he was naturally curious of physics and chemistry at high school, Rawiri’s exposure to personal finance during his year off prompted a change of heart before his first day.  

“It was definitely driven by an interest in investing. I found the media and culture around finance and investing really exciting. After taking the first-year economics paper, and loving the content, I decided to include it in my degree as a second major after the first semester.” 

Opting for a double major in Finance and Economics, he found Waikato University to be the perfect fit.  

It’s close to home, a happy medium between Taupō and a big city like Auckland or Wellington. One of my favourite parts about Hamilton was going to campus every day and going to the Unirec.

And it was Professor Michael Cameron’s paper, Economics and Society (ECONS102), that was a true standout to Rawiri, describing it as “the best management paper you can take”. 

“It has everything you need to know about economics – but it’s applied to tangible, real-world situations.” 

Rawiri encourages other students to get themselves a core group of people that they can bounce ideas off, spend time with and go to class with.  

Now employed as a consulting graduate in Finance & Economics at PwC in Wellington, Rawiri is taking what he learnt at university, and using it to help solve problems with some of New Zealand’s largest companies and agencies.  

The business acumen and soft skills he acquired during his studies have been invaluable to how he navigates the corporate world. 

During his studies, Rawiri completed two summer internships at Contact Energy in Wellington, gaining firsthand insight into one of New Zealand’s largest companies.  

His main project was focused on geothermal cost data analysis, where he forecasted cost-estimates for future geothermal power stations. He also experienced a hīkoi into the history of the Wairakei geothermal area and assisted in integrating a dynamic video conferencing system for the sustainability team based in Taupō.   

My life would look so different now if I decided to go to university because I felt like I had to. I love what I’m doing and wouldn’t change it. 

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