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Source: University of Waikato

Last year, Shayla Thompson made Te Puke High School history when she became the school’s first head girl of Waitaha descent. This year she became the first in her whānau to attend university and did so as the recipient of a Waitaha-A-Hei/University of Waikato Scholarship, worth $14,500.

The 18-year-old is studying a Bachelor of Health, Sport and Human Performance, majoring in Sport Development and Coaching, at the University’s Hamilton Campus. The scholarship covers Shayla’s accommodation costs in a fully-catered Hall of Residence, with the added bonus of free WiFi, $500 towards compulsory course costs, plus a one-year membership to the on-campus UniRec fitness centre.

With the closing date for 2021 scholarship applications drawing close, Shayla wants to see more Waitaha rangatahi aim high and apply.

“To anyone who is on the fence about applying, my one piece of advice would be to 100% just go for it,” says Shayla. ”This scholarship has changed my life in so many ways and to think that there are multiple opportunities for others to promote change in their life as well is beyond amazing.”

Established in 2018, the Waitaha-A-Hei/University of Waikato Scholarship was designed to provide a supportive student environment that fosters the mind (opportunity to study at university), body (healthy lifestyle) and soul (a supportive community environment), all of which are beneficial to academic and life-long progress.

According to Waitaha Charitable Trust education services manager, Te Arangi Anasta, it’s proving to be a winning formula.

“The Waitaha Charitable Trust is fortunate to have such a great relationship with the University of Waikato that enables us to offer such significant scholarships to our Waitaha students such as Shayla,” says Te Arangi. “We have seen students blossom into adulthood through their transition from high school to university and it has been a pleasure to be a part of.  Our main goal is to support and nurture our Waitaha people to be as successful as they can be by minimising burden and maximising opportunities/capabilities.”

Shayla is grateful to her iwi and the University for their belief in her, but the humble teenager had her sights set for success from an early age. For as long as she can remember, she’s dreamt of a career with the Police.

“There were experiences in my life that led me to seek a career that keeps people safe. I want to make a difference in my community to help those in need,” she says.

Tauranga-born, Shayla grew up in Hamilton and relocated back to the Bay of Plenty when her parents were unable to care for her and her younger sister. The pair went to live with their nan and koro in the small beach community of Ōtamarākau, on the outskirts of Pukehina. Shayla attended the local school for her primary and intermediate years before starting at Te Puke High School. She took full advantage of the school’s extensive extra curricular activities and displayed natural talent on the stage and the sports field.

Shayla participated in talent quests, lip synch competitions, played rugby (in the girls 1st XV), A grade netball, Ultimate Frisbee, table tennis, indoor bowls and was part of the Plus Ultra Sport Academy. However, volleyball was where she really excelled. She captained the school’s junior A and senior A teams, captained the Bay of Plenty volleyball team, and played for the North Island volleyball team.

Her passion for sport prompted a shift in career goals and Shayla explored her options for studying sports science. The University of Waikato offered an excellent programme of study at a campus that was still close to home. Shayla found out about the Waitaha-A-Hei Scholarship through her small group teacher, Whaea Te Whetu Hawera, and last year’s recipients, another former Te Puke High School student Travis Moke and former Tauranga Girls’ College student Shyanne Erueti. With encouragement from her teachers and whānau, she submitted her application.

When the end of year prize giving rolled around Shayla was “amazed” when she was awarded two Waikato scholarships – the Waitaha-A-Hei and Manaaki Tangata Scholarships, with a combined value of $19,500. She also received the year 13 All Rounder Cup, and claimed two special prizes: the Te Puke Business and Professional Women’s Trophy and the Waikato Graduate Women Educational Trust Prize.

With her first year of tertiary study nearly done and dusted, Shayla says the routine she has established at university helps her stay positive and focused.

“Every morning I write down what I am grateful for and a personal goal to achieve for that day,” she says. “I still aspire to be in the Police, but first I want to finish my degree and gain more life and work experience. Right now, I’m working toward a career that involves sport and helping others become their best self.”

Applications for the 2021 Waitaha-A-Hei/University of Waikato Scholarship close on 15 September 2020. For more information and to apply, visit the University website.