When two Heads are better than one

23 January 2019

Leah Owen and Anaru Palmer start their tertiary journey at Waikato's new city campus in Tauranga this year.

The first day of school can be a scary prospect for any student; the first day of university can be just as daunting. But for Anaru Palmer and Leah Owen, departing head prefects of Tauranga Boys’ and Tauranga Girls’ colleges, there’ll be at least one familiar face at the University of Waikato when they start in February.

Both have opted to study at the university’s new city campus in Tauranga. Leah has enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Sciences majoring in Psychology, while Anaru will be amongst the first cohort of students in Te Tohu Paetahi, a one-year diploma in te reo Māori taught as a full immersion programme. The pair, who met seven years ago in their Tauranga Intermediate accelerate class, are excited to be kicking off a new year with new opportunities.

“Starting first year psych at the new campus will be a brand new experience for everybody, students and lecturers, so we’ll all be in it together,” says Leah. Anaru agrees, “I’m looking forward to meeting a diverse range of people from all walks of life who are coming together to learn te reo Māori,” he says. “Absolute beginners or more advanced speakers, we’ll all be able to teach and support each other and grow our knowledge.”

Anaru Palmer

Initially, Anaru was considering a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at Waikato’s Hamilton campus but says the “game changer” was discovering that Te Tohu Paetahi was being taught in Tauranga in 2019. Of Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui descent, Anaru believes that this is the start of a journey to greater connectedness – to his language, whānau, iwi, tūrangawaewae of Matakana Island, and to himself.

For Anaru, studying Te Tohu Paetahi is about "honouring my identity and culture, and developing myself as a person".

While Anaru’s interest in Māoritanga was sparked as a youngster in the kapa haka troupe at Welcome Bay School, his passion for te reo Māori didn’t fully ignite until year 9 at Tauranga Boys’ College. He was invited to join Tama Tū, a leadership programme for Māori boys, and was inspired by a trip to Italy and Greece following the footsteps of WWII 28th Māori Battalion. “It gave me an understanding and insight into how hard it would’ve been for those soldiers back in the day. I became more appreciative of the opportunities I have today, especially the opportunity to learn te reo Māori while still at school.” To that end, in year 11, Anaru joined the school’s bilingual unit, Aronui, where he became involved in Manu Kōrero, kapa haka, and took on more leadership roles.

Chosen as Head Boy last year, many of his peers were likely unaware that Anaru had always found school a challenging environment. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at aged four, Anaru had to learn the social and communication skills he needed to make friends and concentrate on classwork. His supportive parents always championed for him. “Mum told me recently that she thinks my way of seeing the world is a gift, not a disability,” says Anaru. “I’m not one to blow my own trumpet but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved.”

And achieve he has. Anaru claimed numerous awards at his year 13 prize giving including: First in level 3 Te Reo Māori, Ngāti Pukenga Rangatiratanga Award for leadership, Norman Morris Prize for Head Prefect, Monte Ohia Trophy for top Māori student, and the prestigious Silver Spoon service award. He was particularly ecstatic when he received the University of Waikato Te Ara Whānui and Tauranga Campus First-in-Family Scholarships, worth a total of $11,000.

Recalling one of the last conversations he had with his beloved Nan who lost her battle with lung cancer in 2017, Anaru says it sums up the direction he’s chosen for himself this year.

“Nan told me to ‘look after [my] heart’ and her words resonate with everything I have planned for this year. For me the timing is perfect to continue pursuing this passion and the chance to fast track my learning in te reo is too good an opportunity to pass up. It’s about honouring my identity and culture, and developing myself as a person.”

Leah Owen

As soon as Leah heard the University of Waikato’s new campus in Tauranga was opening in 2019, a year ahead of schedule and coinciding with her first year at tertiary level, she began picturing herself in the new city campus. Attending the university’s Study Options Fair at Baycourt last year simply sealed the deal for her. “The event was amazing,” says Leah. “I could discuss my plans with faculty staff face-to-face and I got to meet alumni working in the field I was interested in. After that, enrolment in Tauranga was a no-brainer.” Leah starts her undergraduate degree in just a couple of weeks and is looking forward to making connections with like-minded students who share her passion for wanting to help others.

Opting to study psychology at the Tauranga campus was a "no-brainer" for Leah.

Born in Greymouth, Leah has lived in Tauranga since she was 10 months old. She believes the education she’s received here, from preschool at Welcome Bay Top Kidz to Selwyn Ridge Primary, Tauranga Intermediate right up to Tauranga Girls’ College, has set her up for success at uni. She even had her sights set on becoming a teacher until a change in family circumstances took her in another direction. The catalyst to study psychology came about when her parents separated two years ago and Leah saw a psychologist to help process the changes happening in her family. “I remember leaving the psychologist’s office with the realisation that that’s what I wanted to do. I want to be there for people when they need it the most,” she says.

It’s fair to say that giving back is important to Leah. An accomplished sportswoman, Leah played representative hockey for various teams over the years, captaining a few, and was in the 1st XI team at Tauranga Girls’ for five years before an ongoing foot injury forced her to stop. Throughout high school she served on various school committees and councils and thrived in her role as 2018 Head Girl. Her academic achievement and service ethic was rewarded at her final school prize giving when Leah received the $15,000 Joy Owens Scholarship, $6000 Minola Grant Memorial Scholarship, Anna Cooney Cup, Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Hockey 1st XI, and the PTA Prize for Head Girl. But the icing on the cake was being awarded a coveted Te Paewai o te Rangi: The University of Waikato Scholarship for Outstanding Academic Achievement, worth $25,000. The day she got the news is one Leah will never forget.

“When I got the email I was sitting in my car waiting to see Andy from the university to talk about course selection. I started screaming, tears of joy were just pouring out and I had to steady my hands because my phone was shaking so much I couldn’t reread the email to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” says Leah. “By the time I rang mum to tell her the news she thought I’d been in an accident because I was still crying and talking so fast!”

Now Leah is enjoying the last weeks of summer before classes start in February. Not overly concerned about parking in the city, she’s happy to ditch the car in favour of cycling to uni from either her mum’s in Welcome Bay or her dad’s in Papamoa. She may have to brush up on the culinary skills though. “Thanks to the new campus in Tauranga I’ll be saving on accommodation costs. Of course I’ll help out at home and do my fair share of cooking – that’s one of the conditions of living at home,” she laughs.

Applications are still open to study at the University of Waikato in Tauranga in 2019. To check out your study options email or call 0800WAIKATO.

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