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When Laurence Sullivan was 14, his parents pulled him out of high school because he was “doing nothing except messing about.” In his last school exams, he scored six per cent in science and four per cent in maths.
Now aged 31, Laurence, also known as Raureti, is about to graduate with a degree in Applied Science, and is already in his dream job as a Department of Conservation (DoC) ranger.
After years working on farms in Northland, followed by five-year spell in Australia, he realised what he wanted to do in a “light-bulb” moment at Whangarei Heads. Hearing the sound of a kiwi and then a possum, he immediately wanted to protect the kiwi from the predator – and suddenly knew that he wanted to work in conservation.
Laurence investigated study options and liked the sound of the NorthTec programme in environmental management. The structure of the programme meant that after a year he gained a Level 5 Certificate in Conservation and Environmental Management, and after two years he had a Diploma. Now in his third year, he is very close to graduating as a Bachelor of Applied Science (Biodiversity Management) - a Unitec degree delivered by NorthTec.
Laurence credits his wife, Tanja Sullivan, as being the driving force behind him completing his degree. Tanja, who works as an Executive Assistant at Whangarei District Council, insisted he should study full-time to enable him to get a job he is passionate about.
“She’d seen how many jobs I’d had over the years, and how miserable I was!” he said. “Tanja really wanted me to do a job that I liked. None of it would have been possible without her.”
Laurence also credits NorthTec for helping him succeed academically, and supporting him to reach his dream. After being out of school for so many years, he signed up for a foundation programme, which helped him brush up his study skills and learn new skills like managing spreadsheets, and also gave him the confidence to study at a higher level.
He said: “Coming to tertiary education was a huge leap for me. Doing the foundation programme eased the shock of going straight to the level 5 certificate.”
After receiving very low exam scores at school, he is delighted that throughout his science studies at NorthTec he has been scoring 90 per cent-plus. He said: “We are such a small class and the tutors have been putting in heaps of overtime for us. They work hard to get opportunities for us and have hooked us up with lots of their contacts. They strongly encourage volunteering, especially with DoC, because loads of people want to work there.”
Laurence took up one of these opportunities, and from there he was offered a full-time job as a DoC ranger in the Community Team. He turned down the full-time position due to his study commitments, so his employers have allowed him to work part-time until he completes the programme.
So far he has enjoyed running Conservation Week programmes in Whangarei and Kaipara, trans-locating kiwis in the Pataua area, and working on both the Poor Knights and Hen and Chicken Islands. His work also involves monitoring and inspecting farmland leased from DoC, and issuing permits for activity on DoC land.
In his spare time, Laurence has worked on a privately-owned island off Matauri Bay, in the area where his hapū, Ngāti Ruamahue, is based. This fits with his long-term aim of working to educate Māori in conservation and environmental management.
Laurence’s advice to anyone who is considering studying is: “You have to find your passion. You only live once so you might as well live that once doing something that you really love. If you’re interested in the outdoors I would definitely, 100 per cent recommend this NorthTec programme. What I am doing now is literally my dream job.”
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