SIT graduate, Mikayla Swanson, is a motivated achiever whose positive, can-do attitude to life has helped her overcome obstacles with dyslexia in gaining an education.
Mikayla says of her dyslexia, “I’ve never let it get in my way.” When teachers told her she couldn’t do something, it strengthened Mikayla’s resolve to do it anyway. A couple of teachers at high school encouraged Mikayla and found ways of helping her to learn, and that was all she needed.
“I’ll soak up knowledge like a sponge,” given the right environment, she says. Through that support Mikayla flourished; during her senior years at high school she collected a swathe of awards, from sports – athletics, basketball, and cross-country champion (three consecutive years), to home economics prizes, to diligence in her studies and outstanding citizenship awards. She was also awarded Head Student in her final year.
For a while, Mikayla wasn’t sure what career path to choose. “... I love horses “(her parents run a horse stud) but couldn’t see a future job in it. She had tried out construction before she finished Year 13, then the tutor recommended she try joinery; more women are entering trades and have an aptitude for joinery. Having loved woodwork at school, Mikayla enrolled in the New Zealand Certificate in Construction Trade Skills (Level 3) – Joinery Allied Trades. “I went to SIT to keep my Mum happy,” Mikayla says with laugh. She also knew Invercargill well through having family there; it was her preferred location.
Prior to the course starting, Mikayla and her mum met with Joinery Tutor, Phil Johnstone. “Reading and writing is quite hard,” being dyslexic, she explains. “Phil was fantastic. He wasn’t phased by my dyslexia; he didn’t treat it as a problem...” and ensured all of Mikayla’s course notes for the year were on yellow paper and typed in the specific font she found easiest to read. “That was just huge. It was amazing and such a big help,” she said.
Mikayla says what impressed her was all the equipment in SIT’s machine shop. “There were so many tools, and machinery as well, some of it I didn’t even know existed, it was really cool,” she added.
Mikayla would utilise her evenings to study. As a result, she finished her paperwork before everyone else. The theory requirement of the programme was her main concern, as well as numbers, cutting and measuring. “I didn’t want to stuff up and look like an egg... says Mikayla, “but Phil was amazing... it ended up not being my biggest worry.”
There were great experiences with the other students as well. “I met some cool people,” Mikayla says. The two days work experience each week gave her variety; to begin with, she worked on headstones, and then moved onto working at a casket building business.
“I helped build coffins. They were really interesting experiences and I met really interesting people. It was probably a good introduction into adulthood - taking that next step into maturity – it was a good eye-opener without being thrown into the deep end.”
Mikayla studied in Invercargill during the week, driving home at weekends to help her parents on the farm. Being away from home was the toughest part of her year and Mikayla wasn’t into the student lifestyle. “...I’m definitely a country person... I’m not a huge social person, I had nice room-mates...”
Mikayla says her course highlight was building the hardest project. “We made a TV stand with drawers, it was ... one of the last projects. I hated it, but actually, looking back, it was quite fun, it’s really cool.”
“For me, everything [on the course] was pretty valuable... I learnt lots of skills, but I worked out I didn’t want to do it [joinery] as a career. It was like a gateway or an open door to see if you wanted to go through it ...the value in it was working out I didn’t want to take this on...” Mikayla explains.
After graduating, Mikayla did a season on a dairy farm, followed by calf rearing. Out of the blue, she was approached by a business woman she’d met previously through the equine community, who owned her own Equine Laser Therapy business, and offered to teach Mikayla. Seizing the opportunity, Mikayla learnt the laser therapy. “ ... I bought the laser, and currently that’s what I’m doing.”
Mikayla has no regrets over the journey she took to find her vocation - citing the great skills she has to fall back on whenever she may need them – and she’s now in a business she loves. “Horses are my natural passion... My ultimate goal is to have a fully functional, successful laser business, and be looking to buy my own farm.” she says.
Looking back on a memorable time training and studying, Mikayla notes it was the people she met along the way who enriched all of her experiences. “If I hadn’t done the joinery course I wouldn’t have gained the work experiences; I met some amazing people at SIT.”