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Alumna Rebekah Ruth van Kerkhof shares her journey from undergraduate to prestigious leadership programme

Tuesday 21 June 2022 2:39pm

Rebekah van Kerkhof 226W (main content)
Rebekah van Kerkhof

Rebekah van Kerkhof’s journey to-and-through the University of Otago has not been without its challenges, but the rewards have been great.

Her journey started like most, as she spent her first year of study at the Otago Business School trying to get involved in all the programmes on offer.

“I made friends, joined clubs – quickly realised that I’d joined too many clubs and so I spent some time dropping out of clubs. The usual antics most people get up to at University,” Rebekah says.

However, things took a turn when Rebekah ended up getting a concussion towards the middle of her second semester.

She needed speech therapy, occupational therapy and other medical treatments to help recover from the incident and make it through the mid-semester exams that were coming up.

“It was only because of the amazing staff in the Disability Assistance Office that I made it through,” Rebekah says.

“It was probably the worst grade I have ever gotten, but I passed the class and I’ll always be super grateful to the people who helped me get through that.”

Overcoming this enabled Rebekah to continue her studies and eventually achieve both a bachelor’s degree in Commerce and a master’s degree in Marketing.

The challenges that came from this experience, as well as the others she faced while at University, led to her knowing a variety of tips and tricks that she wanted to share with students thinking about pursuing both undergraduate and postgraduate study at the Otago Business School.

“PASS [peer-assisted study sessions] were an absolute lifesaver,” Rebekah says.

“I had a great facilitator in first year that helped me so much and so I would definitely recommend taking advantage of that programme.”

Rebekah says she was unsure what she would do when she left University and so decided to do a “panic master’s”, (in her case her master’s in Marketing), a learning experience she couldn’t recommend enough.

“Towards the end of my degree, I started to panic and essentially decided to do a master’s as a result of that but I’m actually so glad I made that decision,” Rebekah says.

“It gave me the time I needed to have plenty of conversations with people in the Department of Marketing about which direction I should go in and also ended up receiving a research assistant scholarship with the Department which was really amazing.”

She would “definitely recommend” the experience to any student who might be interested in further study.

Rebekah also recommends students do a summer scholarship programme if possible, as her experience was “absolutely amazing”.

Her scholarship programme was based in the Department of Marketing and involved her acting as a research assistant for the 2020 New Zealand Consumer Behaviour Lifestyle Study.

It was through this experience that she was able to become a tutor at the University, running two tutorial streams in semester one for a Consumer Behaviour paper, and two streams in semester two for an Integrated Marketing Campaigns paper.

“I absolutely loved this experience,” Rebekah says.

“It kept me out of trouble and I got to know and help some really cool students.”

Finally, in her second year, she took part in the University of Otago’s employability programme, OtagoExtra, and is convinced that the skills she learned there are the reason she gets complimented on her CV.

Ultimately, Rebekah believes that by trying your best, especially in those more challenging times, and taking hold of the opportunities and support network at the University, you can make your time here not only successful, but memorable.

“The University has been instrumental in preparing me for the future,” Rebekah says.

“Things that I wouldn’t have expected, like being able to confidently present an idea, adaptability, resilience, being able to take feedback without taking offence, leadership, teamwork, and most importantly, critical thinking.

“Often times employers don’t need to see that you are an expert in an area, they would rather have a fresh graduate with a proven ability to learn, motivate themselves, and play well with others in a corporate environment.”

Rebekah has subsequently been offered a role as a “Global Trainee” in the Hilti “Outperformer Programme”.

Hilti is a multinational company that researches, develops, creates and markets a host of products, services and software that aim to make construction simpler, faster and safer.

After a rigorous, seven month-long interview process, she received a position in the accelerated leadership programme which involves spending 15 months as an Account Manager at their office in Auckland, before spending six months in Singapore doing project work, and a further three months in Europe, America or Africa also doing project work.

After those two years, Hilti will station Rebekah outside New Zealand for a few years, with the intention of building her up for leadership in an accelerated timeframe.

“My last piece of advice is to apply for jobs that you don’t think you may be qualified for because I certainly did not think that I would be qualified for the role I’m going into,” Rebekah says.

“But I was passionate about what Hilti was doing and I really wanted to work for their company.

“It’s always worth putting your name forward.”

Department of Marketing

Peer-assisted Study Sessions (PASS)

OtagoExtra Programme

Disability Assistance Office

Hilti Outperformer Programme: Explore the Global Trainee Programme with Hilti North Asia

Hilti Website