Creating what matters for future generations is important for WSP Opus and this purpose has led to partnership with First Foundation to help Chris Hammond (pictured) achieve his academic dreams.

First Foundation brings together New Zealand businesses, individuals, schools and students, to remove the barriers that some of the country’s most talented but financially disadvantaged students face.

This resonates strongly with WSP Opus, which is taking bold steps to increase diversity and inclusion within the business. This has led to sponsoring the inaugural Te Taumata Tiketike Scholarship, of which Chris is the first recipient.

For 18-year-old Chris, who comes from a Māori European background, the scholarship is the difference between studying engineering at the University of Auckland, or not.
The former Aorere College star student is the first of his family to go to university. The scholarship covers part of his tertiary expenses, reducing the load and financial strain on his family.

“This is really important because my family’s income alone isn’t sufficient. I worked hard to achieve to the highest of my ability, but it simply wouldn’t have been possible without First Foundation and WSP Opus.”

About First Foundation

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Since being founded in 1998, First Foundation has awarded 612 Scholarships in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and more recently, Whangarei, Rotorua and Hamilton.

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All students are financially disadvantaged and, in most cases, first in their family to attend university. Research shows that these students are nearly four times more likely to leave higher education after the first year than students who have neither of these risk factors.

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Approximately 80% of First Foundation Scholarship recipients have completed or are still in the programme.

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Approximately 90% of students who have completed their First Foundation Scholarship have graduated with a degree or are still studying.

Research from the National Centre for Lifecourse Research (NCLR) at Otago University found that Māori and Pacific Island graduates were more likely to take out student loans, had more financial commitments and reported worse financial strain (e.g. not having enough money to pay for accommodation) when compared to other New Zealand graduates.

Even with a scholarship the financial burden remains and for this reason it’s important for scholarship students to find the course that will work best for them.

First Foundation’s Amanda Gilchrist says the organisation works closely with its students to help guide them into the most appropriate study path for them, which should focus on something they are passionate about.

“Sometimes there can be family pressure to go in a particular direction and young people can be pigeon-holed. For example, if you have an extremely intelligent young person who hates reading, they are going to really struggle at law school. So, we sit with them and work out their strengths and weaknesses and guide them through those decisions.”

At school Chris gravitated towards subjects he enjoyed which included science, physics and calculus. It was these strengths that made him consider engineering as a career although, like most engineers, he had a fascination for how things worked at a young age.

“I had a PlayStation and if something went wrong with it I’d pull it apart to see if I could fix it. To me it was like a puzzle that could be solved.”

First Foundation stays with its students on their academic journey, supporting them through the ups and downs of coming to grips with university life.

First Foundation stays with its students on their academic journey, supporting them through the ups and downs of coming to grips with university life.

“It’s a massive transition to go from school to university and our experience shows that if someone is going to fail it’ll be in the first semester. It’s our job to support them through this. These are young people who have excelled at school their whole life and are carrying the expectations of their families and, often, their community. That’s a lot of pressure to be under and failing a single paper can feel disastrous, whereas it’s not actually the end of the world, it just means they need to refocus.”

Along with financial support, WSP Opus provides Chris with paid work experience, enabling him to develop skills in a safe work environment and build new networks. Helping him within the company is WSP Opus Principal Electrical Engineer Raj Chand, who was keen to volunteer to mentor Chris.

“I was the first person in my family to go to university and was lucky to have people that took an interest in me. These are the people who helped me tackle problems and make decisions, they helped shape me – so I was keen to pay that forward.”

Raj says that being the first to attend university can be isolating for new students.

“It can be quite intimidating. I was studying with people who were going to be the second or third generation of engineer in their family and was a little envious of them being able to take their assignments home and have that support network to discuss with,”
he says.

Raj says the workplace experience aspect of the scholarship will be of huge benefit to Chris.

“When I was studying electrical engineering, I struggled with the abstract nature of the material. In hindsight, if I’d had the opportunity to go to a site and see things in action it would have been of huge benefit. Because WSP Opus spans every discipline we can support Chris by matching his assignments to projects, so he can incorporate real-world examples.”