Dorothea (Tia) Strauss was a familiar face as “the organic bread lady” at the Tauranga Farmers’ Market for 10 years. Now she’s swapped kneading for reading as she works toward gaining a bachelor’s degree at the University of Waikato in Tauranga.
The 55-year-old, proving that age is no barrier to study success, rounded off a stellar first year where she smashed out an A+ average and was awarded the Acorn Foundation Eva Trowbridge Scholarship, worth $3,000. Tia is modest when speaking of her achievement, opting instead for a whakatauki to acknowledge the people who have helped her along the way.
“Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takimano – my strength is not that of an individual but that of the collective,” she says. “The learning facilitators and tutors with their humour, patience and knowledge, the baristas with their delicious coffee, the librarians, my fellow students, and the caretaker who on a rainy day offered me a lift on his little cart to drive to the other end of Windermere campus – they have all contributed to my success in receiving this award and for that I am so grateful.”
Chef-trained, Tia’s culinary skills came in handy when her two daughters were at school and the busy baker could work around their schedule. Also heavily involved with Playcentre when the girls were young, Tia held several positions with the organisation, and credits the experience with developing her passion for early childhood education. “The relationships built by our Playcentre families saw us all through some difficult periods in our lives,” she says. “We learnt resilience and resourcefulness by being listened to, working things out and knowing that there are many points of view that are valid and have meaning.”
When her daughters were grown, Tia followed her dream by working as a relief teacher in an early childhood centre (ECE). She supplemented her income with cleaning jobs and worked as a chef at weekends. Two years ago, wanting to become a fully qualified ECE teacher, Tia enrolled to study through an online provider. “I soon realised that the dual commitment of studying and working full-time was impossible for me so I made the decision to enrol at university and pursue a full-time degree.” Once she’d passed an IELTS exam to prove her proficiency in English, Tia started a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood) at Waikato’s Tauranga campus.
Proud to be following Te Whāriki, the national curriculum in early childhood education, Tia says she can’t wait to apply her knowledge and skills to the early childhood sector once she graduates.
“I’m looking forward to supporting tamariki in their development and learning, while acknowledging what they bring from home and their ancestors. My studies have enabled me to find some answers in human development, but a lot more questions have since arisen: why is our youth suicide rate so high when we follow the world's leading early childhood document, and how is the positive image we hold of children in the early years not carried through to when they are adolescents? I hope to be able to share the resilience and resourcefulness I’ve learnt with some of our youngest citizens.”
Tia is already back into study mode – she’s knocking off an Environmental Ethics paper at summer school before the new term starts. The move from the Windermere campus, just 13 minutes from home, to studying at the city’s Bongard Centre hasn’t fazed her at all. She sees it as preparation before the new Durham Street campus is completed in Semester A. “I’m resetting my attitude to attend uni in the city,” she says. “The tyres on the bike are pumped, the bus ticket is topped up. If all else fails, there are free car parks at the Domain at 7 in the morning. My aim is to study at the University of Waikato and that’s where my focus will be, not moaning about the distance to travel.”
Eva Trowbridge was born in Sunderland, England and immigrated to New Zealand with her husband, Norman, in 1962. Eva did domestic cleaning at the Tauranga Hospital for 25 years while Norman was a painter for the Railways. The Acorn Foundation Eva Trowbridge Scholarship was established to financially assist adult students (25 years and over) studying at the University of Waikato Tauranga campus. Annual awards are made on academic merit, financial circumstances, leadership, and contribution to the community.