This student is working to help Māori and Pasifika learners succeed

Resilience has become a strength for Wintec Business student Cherish McMillan-Knapp

Resilience has become a strength for Cherish McMillan-Knapp, pictured here with Wintec academic and mentor, Prue Jefferis.

Struggling with self-doubt after being told she wasn’t smart enough for tertiary study, third year Wintec business student, Cherish McMillan-Knapp is now working to generate success for Māori and Pasifika students.

Te Kuiti-born Cherish is 22 years-old and she has learnt resilience the hard way.

Secondary school didn’t end well when she failed University Entrance and her dream to study business at Otago University was shattered.

“I had a rough year in Year 13 and self-doubt was starting to brew, it got worse when I failed UE and had to rethink my options. When a careers advisor said I wasn’t smart enough to go to university, it really stunted me.”

Cherish was advised to do a Level 3 Business course at Wintec to enter tertiary study. At the time it felt like an insult. She wonders how many other students feel the same way.

“I didn’t know that bridging courses were a thing and I didn’t like the sound of business study but I did well. I got A’s. At high school I didn’t achieve, so to come to tertiary education and thrive was unexpected.”

Then she failed two accounting papers.

“I was made to feel like it wasn’t the end of the world. Prue Jefferis at Wintec helped me accept that accounting just wasn’t my thing. I weighed up my options and signed up for HR [Human Resources] as people-type roles appealed to me.

“At the time, my careers advisor said, “do something that makes the world go around” and that resonated.”

She “felt respected” and carried on to diploma level.

Of Ngāti Maniapoto descent, Cherish who is in her third year of a Bachelor of Applied Management had to choose a research topic. Being Māori and a student, she understands the need to improve equity for Māori and Pasifika learners.

“My topic was how best to support Māori and Pasifika students into tertiary study. As a Māori student, I have really appreciated the support at Wintec, particularly the Tuakana / Teina programme where mature learners are partnered with younger learners to help and guide them.”

Her research has four themes: Tikanga (protocol), Whanaungatanga (connection between people), Cultural Responsiveness and Student Retention.

Cherish was awarded top academic oral presentation for her project.

She struggled to find work placement after being made redundant this year when COVID-19 travel restrictions ended her job in foreign exchange, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Cherish was offered work placement at Wintec Centre for Business and Enterprise  to continue her research to identify best ways to support Māori and Pasifika students in the Bachelor of Applied Management and Graduate Diploma programmes.

Recently, Cherish was accepted into the Te Hononga ā Kiwa Māori Business programme which aims to increase Māori business engagement across the world in collaboration with the Centres of Asia and Pacific Excellence in Latin America, North Asia and Southeast Asia.

“One of the reasons I applied was because of my research. I was collecting secondary data from Massey and Waikato universities, Wintec and the Manukau Institute of Technology and I heard about this opportunity.

“Part if the application required me to describe myself in three words. I replied with ‘bubbly’, ‘determined’ and ‘motivated’.”

Those three words were a whole new dialogue for Cherish.

She is now part of a North Asia project group who have just been awarded best pitch for an Indigenous business idea.

“I can’t believe I have got this far even though I hadn’t planned to be here.”

The daughter of a solo parent, Cherish says her mother always “pushed me to try things even when I had kickbacks”.

“I’ve experienced failure, but I have grown resilience. I have more self-worth – and I am learning to acknowledge that. When I started my degree, I was so adamant that the world was my oyster and I was going to conquer it. The COVID-19 lockdown, my research project, and being part of the Te Hononga-a-Kiwa programme has changed the way I think about things,” she says.

“I’ve uncovered my passion and drive to be somewhere where I can make an impact or be beneficial for Māori. Being in the tertiary sector really appeals because I can tap in and connect with my culture and I am learning through each new experience.”

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