Sharnee has taken the scenic route to university! Originally from Whangarei, and of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Wai descent, Sharnee left school at 16 to visit a friend who had moved to Germany. Her first overseas trip did not go as planned, and Sharnee missed her connecting flight from Sydney to Germany. This left her stranded in Sydney with the option of returning home to Whangarei or staying on to face the challenges of independent living in a big city. Her accidental stranding in Australia led to her finding work in a dental practice where she was able to train as a dental therapist.
On her return home to New Zealand she worked for several years in Auckland for Lumino the Dentist, studying for her NCEA exams at night and taking a number of papers at AUT to support her dental therapy work.
It was her boss who encouraged Sharnee to apply for university – this was a big step as she and one brother were the first in her family to enrol in tertiary studies – but her boss had clearly identified Sharnee’s potential and her determination to succeed. Her original goal on moving south to the University of Otago was to gain entry to dentistry, but it did not take her long to discover the raft of opportunities available to students with a background in biomedical sciences. “I knew what dentistry would entail and money has never been the driver for me. I want to try different things and I love the learning side of my degree and the variety you discover when you open a different book”.
It was at this time too that Sharnee’s desire to do something that impacted positively on other people began to crystallise. As a rural Māori student, Sharnee is all too aware of the holes in the health and education systems and where help is needed. When Sharnee has completed her degree she would like to work in the health arena – “education is the key. I am learning how to read research papers so that I can go back to my community and make the arguments that matter. Communicating research to the public is just as important as the actual research itself”.
Sharnee is already investigating postgraduate opportunities and notes that “networking and hearing other peoples’ stories and how they got there is so important”. Sharnee has loved the “flexibility and relevance” of her BBiomedSc major in Functional Human Biology. “I loved the research-based assignments in third year phsiology. PHSL 345 was great and the exam was so reflective of what we learned. This is what science is all about”.
Sharnee’s advice to other students? “Design your degree to do what you do best. Ask and talk to as many people as possible – that’s what saved me. Help is there but it won’t come to you – you need to ask”.
Sharnee is now in the final stages of her BBiomedSc degree and has loved almost every moment of her time at Otago. She noted that University has taught her “so much without me even realising it” and is looking forward to applying this knowledge to research in minority health.