Terry Halford has gone from being a “bit of a drop-out” to being an engineer. It’s been a long and complicated road, but Terry’s graduating from the University of Waikato this month with his Bachelor of Engineering (Hons).
He’s a father and grandfather who admits to slipping through the cracks at school and beginning his working life as a labourer. Luckily someone saw he was capable of more than sweeping floors and suggested he get a trade. That was in England, and Terry became a carpenter.
He met his partner Lu just as she was about to emigrate to New Zealand, and who had a sister living just outside Hamilton. Terry decided to come across the world too. The family grew from two children to four and Terry worked in and around Hamilton as a carpenter and became a registered master builder.
“For me to continue working as a carpenter, in the same capacity, the government made it compulsory to become a Licensed Building Practitioner (LBP), and I looked into that. I liked the idea of moving into building and construction management via a course at WINTEC , but a careers adviser said I should speak to the uni.”
And he did. First Terry did a CUPs course, a Certificate of University Preparation, and began studying for a Bachelor of Science majoring in materials and processing with the idea of researching and developing building products. “Then the head of Engineering called me into her office and said ‘Why aren’t you doing engineering?’”
So Terry switched and started to study chemical and biological engineering. “It might sound like a big change from carpentry but it’s actually more logical than its sounds,” he says.
Terry was the only person in his year who opted for the environmental engineering stream. Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They work to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control. He says Hamilton’s becoming a bit of a hub for environmental engineers.
Terry had a contact at BPO Ltd Environmental Success, an environmental engineering consultancy with offices in Hamilton and Dunedin, and he was able to complete an internship there between his third and fourth years of study. BPO subsequently offered him a job and that’s where he works today.
“I like the idea of being able to design new systems to be more environmentally sound. A lot of our work involves putting systems into existing buildings, which can be a challenge, and my building skills often come in handy.”
He says there are pros and cons being a mature student. “You have to learn to be flexible because you have a lot more things going on in your life, but at the same time your life experience often helps, and it’s sometimes easier to approach your lecturers when you’re having trouble meeting deadlines. They were usually pretty accommodating.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, working, bringing up a family, coaching football and studying for a degree. The workload was massive at times and my family had to make a lot of sacrifices, but we got there in the end, and it was worth it.”