Waikato student’s scholarship leads to seaweed opportunity

7 May 2020

Robbie Maris
Robbie Maris speaking at this year’s high achieving scholars ceremony at the University of Waikato campus in Hamilton.

Valuable workplace skills and real-life experience of theory learned in the classroom were the benefits of a Waikato University summer research scholarship for Robbie Maris.

The second year Economics and Chemistry student immersed himself in the world of seaweed farming last summer as he worked with a team to develop a business case for cultivating ecklonia radiata (brown seaweed) on existing mussel lines in the Bay of Plenty. The project was jointly funded by the University and, the Western Bay of Plenty region's economic development organisation, Priority One.

Robbie applied for the research scholarship as a first-year student at the University and was surprised at the opportunities available.

“There were 80 or 90 different projects to choose from for the scholarship, but because I was studying science and business, I saw the seaweed business case as a perfect combination of marine biology, chemistry and business.”

He was supported throughout the project by Lead Supervisor Tim Coltman, from the Waikato Management School based in Tauranga, and Marie Magnusson, from the Marine Biology Team and Coastal Marine Field Station in Tauranga.

Robbie says the project involved a lot of primary research, going out to speak with stakeholders and meeting people in the industry.

“I was surprised at how much freedom I had. I thought it would be a lot of desk-based research, but it was quite the opposite. I was given a broad concept and given the opportunity to go out and do what I wanted with it.”

He enjoyed having the freedom to define the scope of the project and the direction he wanted to take, and the regular interviews with his supervisors helped him keep on track.

“I definitely gained some key workplace skills through the project and my confidence in communication and leadership has really grown.”

Robbie say he was responsible for organising what was happening on the project, stepping up to lead the team and interviewing stakeholders in the seaweed industry.

“It’s quite nerve-wracking the first time you call someone, particularly when you’re speaking to CEOs of large companies, but once you start speaking with them you start to understand the jargon and you understand people just want to have a conversation and you develop your confidence about what you’re talking about,” says Robbie.

Along with workplace skills, Robbie says the experience also helped him understand the theory he has been learning in the classroom.

“It’s easy to get lost with the wording or jargon in a lecture, but the scholarship and real-world experience it provided has really helped me pinpoint things that are relevant for working after study.”

Through the scholarship he was also involved in Summer Open Labs, where he met with other students in internship positions to discuss topical issues and listen to industry experts from the likes of Zespri and Blue Lab.

His advice to other students thinking of applying for the scholarship is, just take the leap.

“You’ll never be able to learn these soft skills and make connections by sitting at home and hoping that it just happens, you’ve got to go out and make that first move.  It might seem daunting and scary but there is so much support, systems and processes in place to help you succeed.

“Everything’s in place for students to thrive even if you’ve never done it before.  Just apply and the hard part is done; those skills just develop naturally. It’s really rewarding,” says Robbie.

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