Southlander Sharon Anaru Hill’s lifelong love of the environment and the outdoors led her into full-time dairy farming for eleven years. “I loved the environment, I loved being outdoors, I loved supporting good farming practices,” she says. As much as she enjoyed it, Sharon was ready for a change.
When one of her sons enrolled in a Carpentry programme at SIT, quite unexpectedly, Sharon had a light-bulb moment. “I thought, why don’t I go back [to study]?” When she came across SIT’s Bachelor of Environmental Management programme, she knew it was the right fit for her.
Enrolling just prior to classes starting in 2020, Sharon says “It was meant to be and so perfectly timed, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.” Study was challenging for Sharon; she discovered she was dyslexic in her teens, when she had difficulty with her high school exams. “I failed exams I should have aced,” she explains.
Sharon says she was completely open-minded as she began her studies. “I had ... no expectations, I was absolutely terrified once I got accepted.” With no computer skills whatsoever, she says “I had no idea what I was getting into. I would’ve scared myself out of thinking that I had the ability to do it.”
“My only fear was that Environmental Management would have people who were anti-farming, and this was a misconception.”
Sharon explained it was the personal growth experienced while studying which has been life-altering, discovering strength and resilience she didn’t know she had.
“I found the ability to persevere under extreme pressure ... I’m more capable than I thought I was... I also learned my learning style - how I best learn and the many facets to that,” she added.
“The course uncovered the wealth of knowledge I had accumulated throughout my life... I already had in my tool kit where to find this knowledge - it flowed into my learning,” she explains. Sharon relished all the new learning as well, which provided opportunities to advance her abilities, like how to read and write scientific papers.
“I could never have read scientific papers beforehand, and how to use the language – I can even write them myself now.” Also developing her dialogue skills, Sharon is conversant in subjects such as the RMA (Resource Management Act) and more. Describing herself as a straightforward person, who in the past, would have put this type of learning in the too-hard basket, Sharon believes her degree studies have helped her to think with a more open mind.
“I understand how information is not just sourced, but delivered; how you can use the data to present ideas and come to findings.”
“The strength of the programme is taking students out into the field, we went up Mount Luxmore to look at rock formations and why they were there, and taking students out on the water in kayaks, to take water samples – it’s getting out into the real world and seeing how it’s done.”
“That’s part of their [SIT’s] success – their community involvement and engagement. It’s vital to the success of the programme, it’s an asset to the community and the learning.”
Sharon described the camaraderie she had with her classmates; they did things that helped them to connect, like the Borland Lodge camp, which was great for building relationships.
“Classmates would have lunch together ... we had some really good discussions. It was good to have a mix of different ages and personalities ... I enjoyed the tutors and other students.” She spoke highly of all her tutors. “[They] were friends... they’re all gold.”
During her studies Sharon reached out to Student Services and Disability Liaison (now Student Accessibility) to access learning assistance for dyslexia. “The support there was really important, I couldn’t have completed the degree without them. It built my confidence,” she says.
Student Accessibility assessed Sharon for Irlen Syndrome and this discovery had a profound outcome of improved learning for her. SIT supplied a green overlay for Sharon’s computer screen, which led to better concentration and the ability to read on the computer for much longer, without her eyes becoming tired.
“I could concentrate on the learning, I was less distracted, I had better comprehension... ” Sharon was provided a reader-writer for exams and assignment work as well, which further supported her academic success. Now she knows what she needs for effective learning, Sharon can take it with her into the future.
Since graduating, Sharon is enjoying a break and taking time out; after fourteen years of go-go-go, she’s prioritising family and having some time for herself. And the personal growth has continued. “I have a new acceptance of myself which has been just wonderful. I don’t need to prove myself any more.”
Sharon has a field in mind within Environmental Management that she would like to pursue. “In an ideal world I’d like to be doing research,” she says. Endorsing SIT, she encourages others to take it on. “Jump in, just do it! You’re never too old to learn, don’t second-guess yourself; you’ll love it.”