Tom Miller admits the decision to quit his job, move from Auckland to Hamilton and commit to four years’ studying at Waikato University, was one of the biggest of his life.
Tom, 28, a fourth year student at the University of Waikato’s School of Engineering, had an unfulfilled boyhood ambition to become an engineer.
“It took me a while to do anything about it though. I finished high school, had a long break of about seven years and here I am.”
Tom has recently returned from an 11-week summer placement, an essential part of his degree studies, with New Zealand’s most successful rally driver Hayden Paddon in Cromwell.
Paddon this month [March] announced he and long-time co-driver John Kennard will compete in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 car in the World Rally Championships starting at Rally Estonia in July.
“I have been interested in cars and motorsport ever since I can remember and actually built and now race my own car,” says Tom.
Tom was born and brought up on the North Shore in Auckland and attended Birkenhead College.
Around Year 10 he filled out a survey which “spits out your career” and out came engineering.
“To be honest when I left high school, my grades weren’t fantastic though.”
He went into the signage industry instead – building and installing signs – and became a project manager.
But that hankering to become an engineer was still there.
A friend was at Waikato University and told him it offered practical learning opportunities that would suit Tom.
“Waikato University helped me out, they gave me a lot of options. Waikato has a very good engineering school and it’s very highly acclaimed in the world. Unfortunately, it’s not as well known in New Zealand."
So, at the beginning of 2019, Tom moved to Hamilton, bought a house in Dinsdale and enrolled in the Engineering School Jump Start programme to prepare him for a Bachelor of Engineering degree.
Tom says his approach to university life was different at 25 than if he had been 18.
“Your mindset at my age is a bit different. I walk into uni like it’s a full time job. I turn up in the morning and that’s my job. I do my work and I don’t leave till the end of the day.”
Every engineering student, as part of their degree, must work at industry placements.
“The team at Waikato really try to fit people into the industries they want to see themselves working in.
“There’s a big difference between being put into a job that you want to be in, something you’re very interested in or just getting put into a job for the sake of doing some hours,” says Tom.
“I already thought going through my degree, the motorsport industry designing and building race cars for rally or any other disciplines, was where I wanted to work.”
He emailed Hayden Paddon in 2020 for an opportunity which came in November last year.
Paddon takes on student placements every summer and says working in motorsport “is an engineer’s dream.”
The placements are a great initiative “a win win for everyone involved.”
“Motorsport is all about engineering new ideas and concepts. It’s also an environment that encourages outside the box thinking as it’s about having the competitive advantage while in the most extreme of conditions,” says Paddon.
Tom has two specific interests – the machining and manufacturing side of engines and aerodynamics both of which he was able to pursue at the Paddon workshop.
Paddon says there are many aspects that are important to a car’s performance. He pointed to his team’s electric powered rally car, the Hyundai Kona EV.
During his summer placement Tom helped in completely redesigning the rear wing on the Kona.
In his final year, Tom is president of the Young Engineers Society and co-leading Waikato Engineering Students Motorsport Organisation (Wesmo).
Wesmo is a student-run motorsport team which this year will build, from the ground up, Waikato University’s first car with a full carbon fibre aerodynamics package including a front wing, rear wing and undertray plus a new engine.
The team will compete in the formula style race car against other Australasian universities in Australia later this year.
By then Tom will be on the lookout for a job.
“I’m going to have to go where the work takes me. I’m not going to get given hundreds of opportunities. It will depend on where I get work.”
Armed with a Waikato University engineering degree, Tom is confident he can get a job anywhere.