Water polo and volleyball rising star Bae Fountain’s uni career just got a whole lot easier. At his recent Mount Maunganui College graduation he was awarded a University of Waikato Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship.
Bae’s opted to study a Bachelor of Science majoring in Environmental Science and Aquaculture, and that means he can stay in Tauranga next year, amongst the first cohort of students to study at the city’s new campus.
Bae says he’s thrilled to stay in his hometown while pursuing his tertiary and sporting goals and is “super grateful” for the financial support the scholarship will provide. “There really isn’t funding available for my discipline and the cost of competing is significant,” he says. He wants to be playing water polo at the Olympics one day.
As a kid, Bae aspired to be a professional athlete, initially a pro-skateboarder, but he credits his school-teacher mum Sheree with kick starting his water polo career. “Mum needed an extra kid to join her Flippa ball team so I was a ring in,” he laughs. When the family shifted from Hamilton to the Bay of Plenty, the natural sportsman got into water polo. “My teacher, Dor Kayes, encouraged me to join the Mount Maunganui Intermediate team and the Tauranga Water Polo Club.” Moving to the Mount also saw Bae pick up two more disciplines to excel in – volleyball and beach volleyball.
First selected to represent New Zealand at just 15 years of age, Bae played for the youth men’s water polo team and represented NZ Schools at volleyball. Last year, aged 16, he became the youngest goalkeeper selected for the New Zealand open men's water polo team and was a member of the New Zealand junior men’s volleyball team. Juggling two national sports was challenging, and expensive, so Bae has put volleyball on the back burner while he focuses on his dream of Olympic selection for water polo.
Of Ngāi Tahu descent, and with a natural affinity for the ocean, Bae also wanted to pursue his interest in the sciences and looked for a tertiary qualification with a point of difference. “I like the idea of identifying issues and solutions relevant to our whenua/moana while looking to create ecologically sustainable practices,” he says. Waikato’s Bachelor of Science, with new Aquaculture major, fitted the bill and now he’s keen to see where the degree will take him.
“As far as a career goes, I don’t fully know what I want to be or do,” says Bae. “I suspect that as my uni experience unfolds I’ll have greater clarity about what I can do.”
Established in 2005, the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship is worth up to $10,000 a year for full-time undergraduate enrolment, and offers school leaver students personalised academic support, access to leading sports coaches and tutors in the arts, and a tailored leadership and personal development programme.