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A NorthTec environmental degree student has landed on her feet, going straight from graduation to a full-time, permanent job as a Biosecurity Officer.
Ashlee Lawrence, 24, from Whangarei, is now working for the Northland Regional Council’s Biosecurity Department.
She works on pest-plant programmes from the Whangarei area down to the region’s southern border, and is also involved in a five-year control project at the Kaipara’s Kai Iwi lakes, working to eliminate the Sydney golden wattle there.
Ashlee studied for a two-year Diploma in Conservation and Environmental Management. Through NorthTec’s academic links with other institutions she was then able to complete the Unitec Bachelor of Applied Science (Biodiversity Management) at NorthTec, graduating in December 2014.
During the course of her diploma, Ashlee’s practicum took her to an internship at Northland Regional Council (NRC). She spent a year on a part-time contract for the council, working up to and over 20 hours a week and also maintaining her full-time studies.
The contract gave Ashlee a chance to show how hard-working, committed and passionate she was, so when an opening became available she was offered the permanent role.
Ashlee said: “I didn’t envisage this job when I started the programme. When I first got into the Biosecurity Department I thought it wouldn’t be very engaging. But once I got involved it was brilliant – you are working with all kinds of plants, communities and feral animals, and the training is amazing.
“I absolutely love working in this team and this position. It’s really interesting and diverse. You do a different thing every day and you are working outside with people on their land and their farms.”
She attributes her employment to her studies at NorthTec: “I definitely wouldn’t have got this position without studying at NorthTec. You have to have that ecological and scientific knowledge; you must have a good understanding of how ecosystems and environmental systems work, and strong base botanical skills to identify the different types of plants.”
Ashlee was also grateful to her tutors for accommodating the fact that she was working and studying at the same time.
Having come from a background in retail sales, also working at a radio station and a bike company, Ashlee first applied to the NZ Air Force. For medical reasons she was declined and asked to re-apply after two years, and decided to study at NorthTec in the meantime to get a back-up qualification.
She enjoyed the subject so much that she decided to stay in environmental science, and hasn’t looked back since. However, she initially found studying quite daunting: “I was a bit unprepared for the academic level that was expected of you, as most of the work was research-based. It is definitely university level! But the tutors were great and they really helped me.
“Now I think it’s so great to have learned all the science background to what I do, and to know how to read, write and format scientific reports.”
Ashlee is now looking forward to a great career. “Long-term I’d love to stay with NRC, maybe branching out into land management or working with the Ministry of Primary Industries. I really love my job and can’t see myself going anywhere else in the next few years.”
Tanya Cook, NorthTec Conservation and Environmental Tutor, said: “Our Conservation and Environmental Management programme provides plenty of opportunity for students to network and gain experience with industry. All the best students make the most of these opportunities, and often it pays off, as it has for Ashlee.”