A Mount Maunganui student and keen surfer is the inaugural recipient of the Toi Moana Climate Change Scholarship awarded by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
Jess Mitchell, 32, has just wrapped up the second year of her Bachelor of Climate Change degree at the University of Waikato and says she was “blown away” to receive the $7,000 scholarship, which will almost cover her third-year study fees.
Mount Maunganui is a far cry from East London where Jess grew up and went to school. Unsure about what she wanted to do for a career, she worked at Camp America and kept on travelling, ending up Down Under, first in Australia and then New Zealand, where she’s now lived for nearly 10 years.
“I ended up working in finance, but one day I thought ‘enough is enough’, and when I saw an advertisement for the Bachelor of Climate Change, decided I wanted to know more.”
She liked what she saw and enrolled. The degree was established in 2021, making it the world’s first degree to be focused on climate change solutions.
Jess especially likes the flexibility of the degree, and after initially focussing on Earth Sciences in her first year she switched to a Geography major with a minor in Strategic Leadership. “I like the social aspect of geography, people and place, where we come from, who we are and how that relates day to day. It’s about connections with communities.”
She says three people sent her details of the Toi Moana Climate Change Scholarship. “I thought scholarships were for school leavers, but I read the regulations and realised this one suited me perfectly. A second-year student studying climate change, and I had to answer questions about what the regional council was doing locally. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff.”
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council this year released its Regional Climate Change Risk Assessment, which covers aspects of risk across the entire region, taking in social, environmental, economic and cultural perspectives as extreme weather events and various human practices impact land, waterways and the ocean.
The council’s General Manager of Integrated Catchments, Chris Ingle, says it’s important to support this new degree at the University of Waikato as it aligns with the climate change goals the council is working towards.
“Jessica’s application stood out because it was clear that she understood the climate challenges faced by our country and our region, along with how her studies related to those challenges,” he says.
This year Jess has been working part time and studying full time towards her degree – four papers a semester. “The scholarship gives me a bit of a buffer for next year; it feels a bit like a dream.”
The University of Waikato Bachelor of Climate Change is a three-year degree and the way it’s delivered suits Jess. She takes the University shuttle to the Hamilton campus one day a week, another day may be spent at the Tauranga campus, and the rest she can do online, which she can fit around her work hours.
She has no firm plans for when she completes her degree, but says she’ll try to use her skills where they’re most needed, perhaps in vulnerable communities. “I think we need to normalise the conversation about climate change, so we talk about it more freely, discuss what we need to do and how we can apply solutions, and how communities can work together better.”
Applications for the Toi Moana Bachelor of Climate Change Scholarship are now open for 2024