Scholarship fuels dream to keep culture alive

For Tokoroa student Mikaela Pennefather, university was not on the cards until she received a University of Waikato’s Te Ara ki Angitū scholarship. Now she’s working towards her dream of teaching in Kōhanga reo, revitalising Te Reo and Māori culture.

Mikaela Pennefather remembers a University of Waikato Future Student Advisor visiting Tokoroa’s Forest View High School to talk about what the University had to offer, but her plans did not involve tertiary study. Mikaela had seen her brother struggle with the financial burden of university and thought she’d forgo uni and travel overseas and work as a nanny instead. That was before learning about the University’s Te Ara ki Angitū - Pathways to Excellence Programme.

Mikaela’s teachers encouraged her to pursue university study and to apply for the scholarship. “It was a pretty straightforward process and my principal really supported me,” she says.

Being awarded the scholarship cemented Mikaela’s decision to enrol in a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) at the University of Waikato. As part of the first cohort in the University’s Te Ara ki Angitū programme, Mikaela experienced a smooth transition from high school to university. With the subsidised, daily bus service for students living in outlying areas of the Waikato region and the support and mentoring available to students, Mikaela has been able to maintain her connection with the Tokoroa community.

“On my first day, the bus was filled with other Te Ara ki Angitū students in the same situation I was – no one knew what to expect. Being able to stay at home while studying is great, I’m not stressed about financial needs, and my mum is always really excited to see my latest assignments.”

For someone who never planned to attend university, the opportunities available to Mikaela at Waikato are something she never expected. Currently learning Māori and working towards enrolling in Te Tohu Paetahi, Waikato’s full Māori language immersion programme, Mikaela is closer to achieving her dream of working in Kōhanga reo. “Although I’m not of Māori descent, I grew up in Tokoroa surrounded by cultural diversity and would love to help keep Māori culture and language alive.”

The University of Waikato’s Te Ara ki Angitū: Pathways to Excellence programme was established in 2016 in South Waikato and expanded to other regions in 2017. The programme now reaches 25 schools and communities across Hauraki, Thames-Coromandel, Matamata-Piako, Waikato, Otorohonga, South Waikato and Waitomo districts.