04 Oct Graduate returns in totally new role
As Te Aponga Uira focuses on changes in the electricity industry, the company welcomes a familiar face and new university graduate Teiiti Nia.
This year the 28 year old assistant engineer completed a four year bachelor of electricity engineering degree at the Auckland University of Technology and is now back at her earlier workplace in Tutakimoa.
The degree is an achievement she and her family are stoked about and one in which her employer takes great pride. In fact, they’re hoping it will be a beacon to other staff to further their knowledge.
Tei went from being a student in Mangaia College to working as a customer services officer at Te Aponga in 2007.
After rising through the ranks and training in work-related skills, she felt a longing to broaden her knowledge of the electricity industry and was encouraged by management to take on further study as an investment in her future.
Te Aponga CEO Apii Timoti said: “I saw her potential from the day I engaged her into some spreadsheet work. It was clear that she had the brains of an engineer. She was always asking ‘why’?”
She took this advice to heart and said the tipping point for her occurred while she was on a training course in India.
“Many of the participants there were engineers and when they spoke to each other it was on another level. I wanted to be able to relate on that same level. So I went online and filled in course application forms to training institutes in New Zealand and Australia.”
She was accepted by Auckland University of Technology in 2012 to do a foundation year in the physics and calculus subjects which hadn’t been taught at Mangaia College and were a prerequisite to enrol in a full degree programme.
Then came what she described as the hard part, which was working out how to make the transition from the workforce in Rarotonga to a fulltime university student in New Zealand.
Te Aponga came into the picture and offered to pay her tuition costs.
“I am thankful that TAU has a very supportive Board and manager that encourage staff throughout their working years. Randolf (George) would always ask me if I was okay when I saw him.”
There were family considerations. She and her partner Michael Nia had a mortgage to pay, and she was pregnant with their second child. They had family in New Zealand who could help her cope with child-raising. And the Bank of the Cook Islands gave a helping hand with the mortgage.
“They were really good to us, very accommodating; they found ways to help us.”
Michael was happy about the AUT study offer. “My husband was very supportive. He just said, ‘accept it, we’re going’.
“I really went into this blind. I had never lived in New Zealand and didn’t know what life there would be like. We didn’t have a plan when we left, just packed up our stuff and we were going.”
While studying, she nursed her baby through the first few months before her grandparents took full care of him.
“My husband moved to Perth so he could support us (with living costs). We knew it would be hard to have a life overseas, remembering we still have to pay for our mortgage here.”
Now that she has graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering degree, Tei is proud of the achievement. “It’s more than a piece of paper. It’s what you learned in the time you were away.”
Perhaps her only sadness this year is that her grandmother who raised her died two weeks before her final exam. That was tough for her to bear and she still misses her presence.
Tei hopes her story will inspire other young Cook Islanders to have the confidence to take on challenging goals.
“When it comes to overcoming great hurdles, I’m living proof it can be done.”