Nathan (Nate) Laurie has taken an unconventional path in education. Not many people can say they dropped out of high school and polytech and university. Nate can, but here’s the good news: he hasn’t been afraid to embrace change as he’s worked out his career choices.
Originally from Waikato, Nate’s dairy farming family moved to Southland when he was five and he spent his childhood attending country schools, then went onto Southland Boys’ High School, with his senior years at Waitaki Boys’ High School in Oamaru. Nate says he reached a point in his schooling where he was “over it”.
“I thought high school was dumb. I dropped out at the end of year twelve.”
Nate moved to Invercargill, with a plan to continue his learning at SIT. “I wanted to do a Level three certificate in business admin and computing, which was brilliant – it transformed my idea of education.”
“I took it nine years ago and it’s still probably the handiest course I’ve taken because the content has rippled throughout the rest of my journey. It was all steeped in office admin learning. It was meticulous ... and really strengthened my attention to detail.”
Nate said what made the course so rich and useful was learning best practice, “ ... because it holds you to a standard of excellence... “
The level 3 course gave Nate momentum to continue, and he enrolled in the New Zealand Certificate in Business (Level 4), which was a stepping stone for gaining conditional entry into university to complete a Bachelor of Commerce. Now aged 18, he was ready to spread his wings and have that young person experience of studying in Dunedin. Unfortunately, Nate dropped out about a year-and-a-half into his degree. “ ... it was not for me. SIT has such an awesome classroom environment, you can raise questions with the lecturer and talk it out as you go. You get next to none of that at uni,” he explained.
“There can be 500 people in the lecture theatre and you’re reliant on that one expert in the room ... I felt like a number, I felt invisible, it was too competitive as well... it was damaging and limiting...”
Feeling he wasn’t cut out for study, Nate went labouring for a year and then tried for a building apprenticeship, but he hadn’t done a pre-trade course and doors weren’t opening. Instead, Nate enrolled in the Diploma in Tourism and Travel (Level 5) at Otago Polytechnic. One of the first positives in returning to education was Nate recognising his capabilities. “It made me realise, I’m not anti-study, just anti-uni. The course was brilliant! I felt the sparks fly, the same as SIT. I really found my groove in the polytech environment.”
Nate’s eureka moment in choosing an events career, came from a benign remark made by a member of the public while he was volunteering at Dunedin’s Ed Sheeran weekend, Easter 2018. “I still remember it, I was sticking temporary tattoos on kids and this mum said to me ... “You just can’t help but be proud, eh?” Something clicked for Nate and it marked a turning point for him. He described it as “creating a sense of fulfilment and like a new purpose had been born inside of me”.
For the rest of the year, Nate did heaps more volunteering, including organising his first Bush Doof event - Equinoxium – an overnight, open-mike music event held in a paddock. “I am now very strongly, significantly in community events and overnight music events (Bush Doofs).”
The diploma led to Nate completing a Bachelor of Applied Management (Event Management). In year two, he was elected Student President of the Otago Polytechnic Students’ Association, managing the well-being of 6,000 students during the pandemic. “It was leadership in action ... it was character defining. At the time I was definitely growing grey hairs!”
After the degree, Nate enrolled in a level four IT course. “ ... [the course] was free. I thought, I probably won’t be student president, I’ll step back.” However, this didn’t happen; exhausted, Nate ran out of steam and dropped out of everything.
This watershed created another new move; Nate began working for a Whānau Ora (healthy families) provider, where he remains in community help.
Not quite done with his studies yet, Nate felt ready to try an online course. “I decided to enrol in a Graduate Diploma in Event Management with SIT2LRN. On SIT’s webite you could see the specific papers,” including specialist topics which interested him. “I had done four of the eight [papers], and was able to cross-credit and gain RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning).”
The course content “quite strongly” mirrored real-life situations. Nate says “it was all such critical stuff – money, marketing and risk – in a post-covid world. It helped me paint a fuller picture and fill in some gaps.”
His first assignment was a particular highlight, because Nate felt it showed some of his evolution in education. “ ... I really delved into the critical analysis and backed up my argument. I was really stoked [with it]... “
The distance study allowed Nate to continue with his life. “I could carry on with my job at Valley Project; the course fitted in well with my commitments.”
“I had to count on myself much more than in an on-campus course. I had to manage my own time, organise my own class sessions.” That self-directed, independent mode provided a natural impetus for Nate to form his own business, Fortify Events. He knew it was time to make it happen.
“I didn’t feel like I had everything at the start of the year, [but] SIT2LRN absolutely helped me with those things. It just clicked during the course, it gave me the confidence; [from] all my previous courses, I actually have the know-how, skills and ability to start my own business.”
The programme helped Nate to focus on what services he could offer. “ ... abilities are fine-tuned at postgraduate level. Permeated throughout [the course] there was this great sense of being able to forge my own path and do it on my own terms.”
Fortify Events provides event management and event professional services. “It comes back to the notion of best practices and knowing how to apply best practice in a diverse array of event settings,” says Nate. “I have the skills to do key background work – some of the more boring stuff - which allows the events to fly.”
“The key [to events] is connecting to people, which I truly love.” And there’s fun to be had in it, the managing of resources and people is “a lot like herding cats”, Nate laughed.
Nate’s philosophical about his extensive journey in education which reveals an interesting pattern: each time he pulled out of studies, he found something considerably better. “Struggle and despair can provide the greatest revelations in life,” he says. Now successfully positioned in a vocation which utilises his strengths and abilities, Nate has learned much about himself.
“After each of those withdrawals, the courses I enrolled in next have been extremely valuable ... education should be transformative, it should open your eyes to new opportunities and new ways to leave your mark on the world,” Nate says, encouraging others to take their own individual journey. “Each person should use education to be empowered to find their own path.”