In March 2019, Sam Smith was announced winner of the EIT Margaret Hetley scholarship while she was completing her final assessments. Now it’s all wrapped up and although she wasn’t be able to celebrate her graduation on stage, Sam is savouring her success.
“I’m blown away by the whole journey and it still feels a little bit surreal to have finally achieved my biggest goal,” says the Bachelor of Social Work (First Class Honours) graduate with a big smile.
In 2014, when she enrolled at EIT, she didn’t think she had the ability to gain more than a level 3 qualification. “I was torn between one part of me, saying that I was not smart enough and the other part, pushing me further.” It turned out that Sam excelled, getting high marks for her work.
“I have a huge passion in advocating for vulnerable people and children. This is why social work is part of who I am to the core,” she says. Her study choice was also a way of coming to terms with her brother’s suicide. Samantha can pinpoint the horrible moment, when she was told that her brother took his life only two days after he had turned 20. Samantha says, that with his death she lost part of herself. “Rebuilding who I was became part of the grieving process. Today I use his legacy as motivation. I don’t want someone to die, feeling as alone as he felt.”
Recently, Sam secured a full-time, permanent position in the Children & Care Team at Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children. Sam did her work placement there and it was the only job she wanted and applied for, putting all her eggs in one basket.
In her role as a child social worker she is making sure that children in care get what they need. “It’s a challenging task but studying set me up for working to a high standard. I’m doing what I’m passionate about and I see it as a privilege.”
The hardest part of the five years of studying were the sacrifices she had to make. Sam says that she gave up on many social activities and family-time. She often felt guilty for not being able to spend more time with her sons Graham, 12, Max, 7, and her husband Whelan, a truck driver. “I always had to remind myself that it is all for a good reason. Sometimes I smashed back a coffee in the evening, kept studying until four o’clock in the morning and then got up at 6 with the kids to do it all again.”
In a tightly packed life like this, self-care is essential, she says. Spending time in nature, swimming, enjoying the little things in life. The reward for her dedication is not only a job that she loves but also the prospect of a nice family holiday in Rarotonga next year, something that she always dreamed of.
“I feel that the future is looking really bright. I can only recommend to everyone to give studying a go. It’s not as hard as you initially think and it pays off.”