HomeStaff and Student ProfilesNadia McRae

Nadia McRae

Conservation Graduate and Valedictorian

Nadia McRae

Nadia has never been a stranger to the outdoors and is now living the dream, working as a Community Catchment Coordinator for the newly formed Wairarapa Pūkaha to Kawakawa Alliance.

“When I was a kid and would complain about being bored, my mum would always say to me, ‘Get in the gardening and do some weeding’, but the thing is, I always enjoyed it. We didn’t have internet or anything, so I definitely spent a lot of time outdoors,” she explains.

“Grandad is a bit of a hunter too, so we’d go up to our bach in the Bay of Plenty a couple times a year to go hunting. It was there I learnt how to shoot a possum, and we’d go into the hills to look for pigs and deer too.”

Nadia’s recent achievement as Valedictorian for the Class of 2022, having graduated with the New Zealand Certificate in Conservation Operations Level 4, comes with her fair share of struggling and juggling.

“When I was 18, I gave birth to my daughter, which of course was a blessing, but being a teen mum comes with a lot of logistical complications. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to move in with my Nan and Grandad and begin in the Teen Parent Unit (TPU), now known as Puawānanga Wairarapa Young Parents."

“During my time there, I was given an opportunity to do Outward Bound. This was an incredible experience and was definitely a significant moment for me to realise I wanted to work in the outdoors somehow."

“Not long after completing Outward Bound, I was talking to my Uncle, who also works in the outdoor pursuits industry. It was him that recommended trying the conservation line of work, once I had finished in the TPU."

When asked why she chose UCOL to study conservation, she giggled. “Well, actually, some of the UCOL staff came directly to TPU and were talking through all of the courses and helping the girls sign up. The conservation course was brand new, and after my Outward Bound experience and chatting with my Uncle, I knew it was the right path. Having my daughter to consider as well, I really liked that it was only one year, so I knew I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew. Plus, it was part of the zero fees programme, so that was definitely a major bonus.”

“Studying at UCOL was an awesome experience,” Nadia says. “Every day was a new adventure, I was so pleased with how hands-on the learning was – only one day a week was spent in the classroom. My teachers, Jim and Matua Warren, were amazing and super open to our ideas."

“At the time, I was living near the golf course, and there was a project of some kind down the road from us. I mentioned it to Jim, and next thing, we’re out at the site getting involved and helping cut down trees, and mulching, laying cardboard. I really appreciated how he listened and then was able to get us all involved with our community.”

The juggling act between being a mum and study life wasn’t always easy for Nadia, despite the extra support from her whānau. “I did end up having to quit my part-time job to help with the balance, it was a bit hard at the time, but I’m glad I did so that I could cope. The course, just the nature of it really, kind of became my life. I’d take my daughter on walks each weekend, and we’d look at all the different plants and bits and pieces, except now I can talk about them and teach her. There’s also the matauranga māori element too, which was really meaningful for me,” she explains.

“I am Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Raukawa, but much of that traditional Māori knowledge has been lost in my family, so to be able to pick that up and start learning about Te Ao Māori and how that impacts our world, and our environment is really special. It’s something I’m now consciously trying to pass on too.”

“Matua Warren was awesome, his level of matauranga Māori was amazing, almost a spiritual feeling. I really appreciated his enthusiasm to share it with us. He was so calming in his approach and just had so much to give.”

Wairarapa Pūkaha to Kawakawa Alliance, or Wai-P2K as they’re more commonly referred to, are a community-led network. They bring together many different groups, such as conservation groups, mana whenua, landowners, and agencies like DOC and the Regional and Local Councils, with the primary goal of improving the health of Wairarapa ecosystems, biodiversity, river systems, and the resilience of its communities to respond to climate change.

“I was so pleased to begin working with Wai P2K in November as I wrapped up my studies. My role with them has a huge community aspect to it, which I love. It’s really important for me to feel like I’m contributing to and connecting with our community – it was one of my favourite aspects of the Outward Bound course too. To be in a position to connect with, and work alongside, others who also care deeply about our environment is pretty special. Day to day, my job looks different, so I could be organising a planting day with community groups, or doing things like water testing, plant identification, or riparian planting (which are special plants along stream banks that provide positive benefits), to learning about the boundaries and the rich history of the different catchment areas,” Nadia says.

Her advice for anyone thinking about a career in conservation? “If you’re happy to get a bit of dirt on your hands, just do it!” she exclaimed. “It’s the future, right? Every aspect of our environment matters, and with climate change here, we need to learn not just how to restore te ao (the world), but how to preserve it.”

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