Protecting the environment has always been important to Maketū-raised Ashleigh Ngow who completed the Bachelor of Environmental Planning at the University of Waikato in October 2022.
She says she is the product of her environment. “My family and I grew up protecting the environment which strongly motivated what I would do at university. We spent a lot of time at the beach and were lucky to be a part of the community in Maketū.”
Not only does she have a love of learning about the environment, she’s darn good at it. Ashleigh’s academic prowess qualified her as the inaugural recipient of the Dr Andrew Smith Medal for Academic Excellence, an award given to the most academically outstanding full-time student in their final year of undergraduate study.
The Te Puke High School alumna says, “Studying for my degree was fun. Not everyone can say that about their study; it was so varied and interesting. I enjoyed both the science and planning, and learning about how things work and connect between different worlds.”
Ashleigh majored in Society and the Environment which allowed her to choose papers that were policy and geography focused while also incorporating law and science. A highlight for her was the relationships she formed as a student. “Our cohort held similar values and motivations so being friends was natural and easy. The lecturers were very good role models and were experts in their field and understood recent research and decisions in environmental court. When you learn from interesting people, it makes learning fun.”
While Ashleigh was studying, she worked part-time as a graduate policy advisor at the Waikato Regional Council; on completion of her studies, she moved into a full-time position in the Policy Implementation Team. “A lot of our work revolves around preparing submissions on national legislation and district level planning. Biodiversity and climate change are big portfolios and those are things I am passionate about.”
Ashleigh was “surprised, amazed and very thankful” when she learned she was the recipient of the Dr Andrew Smith Medal for Academic Excellence. “I enjoyed my degree so much; to find out that I would get an award was a surprise bonus.”
The Dr Andrew Smith Medal for Academic Excellence was established by Distinguished Alumnus Dr Andrew Smith (BSc 1987, MSc (Hons) 1989). He is the University’s first Rhodes Scholar, is the CEO of Prolife Foods, and sits on the University's Foundation board.
He says he is proud to be supporting students at his old university. “I grew up in Hamilton, attending Knighton Normal, Peachgrove Intermediate and Hillcrest High, and I thoroughly enjoyed being a student at Waikato.
“Supporting high-achieving students helps show them their value, and encourages them to continue to achieve especially in those later years of university, where you start to get exposure to complex ideas and that critical thinking that is so essential in the workplace.”
Ashleigh receives a $2000 cash prize and a boxed medal which will be presented in April at a small ceremony attended by Dr Andrew Smith.