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Nathan Laurie entered student politics on a whim – and now the Otago Polytechnic Students’ Association (OPSA) president is working with central government … and helping save the planet.

“In my first week at the polytechnic they asked for two class reps. My classmates were looking at me, so I put my hand up,” Nathan says.

He went on to become a campus rep, and then joined the OPSA Board before taking on his current role.

“I became interim president at the beginning of this semester, and it’s opened up a whole world … of meetings, correspondence and admin! I’ve also been able to get a broad and nuanced perspective into how the tertiary sector works.”

One of Nathan’s goals is to lift the profile of OPSA, which provides services, support, information and advocacy to polytechnic students. OPSA offers everything from hardship grants to sports awards.

“We want to make sure students know who we are. I’ve been building relationships with the polytech and throughout Dunedin in order to benefit our students.”

He’s now in the second year of an applied management degree, but learning hasn’t always been straightforward for Nathan, who didn’t complete NCEA level 3. He took the alternative path of gaining university entrance through taking business admin studies at SIT in Invercargill.

“At SIT I was able to develop the passions and interests that I hadn’t been able to cultivate at high school.”

Once he had university entrance, Nathan moved to Dunedin to study at the University of Otago.

“It’s what you’re expected to do if you don’t want to stay in Invercargill.”

But Nathan didn’t feel that the traditional teaching style worked for him. So after taking a year out to work, he signed up to study at Otago Polytechnic.

“I love how the teachers here accommodate different students and their needs. They try hard to figure out what makes each student tick and what they need to pass the course. The lecturers are the most valuable resource available to students. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the fields they teach.

“Another strength of the polytechnic is that the classes aren’t massive. Smaller classes give you a chance to spark discussions and raise ideas – something you can’t do in a huge lecture theatre with a tiny little person down the front. It’s a totally different dynamic.”

Nathan has been selected to represent the voice of students on an ‘Education Products and Services’ co-design working group, which will provide advice to the incoming Council of the new Institute of Skills & Technology (NZIST).

And if that’s not enough, Nathan was also instrumental in organising Otago Polytechnic’s student and staff participation in the 27 September Strike 4 Climate.

“The strike was so exciting. It’s exactly the kind of thing I joined OPSA to do. It was heart-warming to see our students commit to this community-wide event that brought everybody together in a place of aroha and kotahitanga. Kotahitanga means unity and togetherness – and that’s what I felt.”

The climate strike is just one of several events and activities that Nathan and other OPSA student execs have engaged with – including the Hope Walk for suicide awareness, the North Dunedin street clean-up in honour of Sophia Crestani, and the Deep and Meaningful Conversation mental health awareness event.

Although he’s studying business and tourism, Nathan isn't ruling out a future in advocacy.

“If I continue to pay attention to the political and social influences that shape students’ lives, and if I continue to see gaps here and there, then I might continue on this student politics path. This will involve a great deal of self-development – which is something I try to build on every day. Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for your relationships with everyone else.

“I’m trying to learn a lot in as many ways as possible – but that’s only half of it. The other half is finding the best ways to use my knowledge for the benefit of the people around me.”

Published on 18 Oct 2019

Orderdate: 18 Oct 2019
Expiry: 25 Oct 2022