Mon 17 Dec 2018

Margaret to leave WITT

Margaret Smith concedes that it doesn’t sound quite right to say she gets excited by peoples’ problems.

Perhaps it would be better to say she is excited by the challenge of solving them.

As WITT’s counsellor for the last 10 years, she has been doing that on a daily basis.

“I love the fact that I am confronted by such a wide range of issues impacting on the lives of young people, older people, men, women, and international students,” she said.

She also loves that fact that she has consistently been empowered to counsel in the way she believes will most benefit the student, rather than a way which might fit the job description.

“I once worked with someone who had Asperger’s and needed help in developing relationships, not just at WITT but in the community. I knew of someone else in a similar situation – so I arranged for the two to get together.

“It wasn’t really completely within the parameters of my role – but it was what the client wanted and needed.”

Hundreds of students have walked into Margaret’s office to discuss their study problems, financial social and health matters.

But it’s coming to an end. Margaret has announced she wants to spend more time working in her own community of Waitara and on her lifestyle block at Tikorangi, and her replacement should be in place when the first semester starts next year.

She and her partner AJ have spent more than a decade turning a 5ha bare paddock into a haven for wildlife which also makes them largely self-sufficient.

She wants to spend more time on the land and will set up a counselling service in Waitara.

“It was where I was born, and I drive past it every day I go to work. I want to work in my community. I’m taking a leap of faith, but I want to provide some counselling and social development courses – and I would like to set up a drop-in centre there.”

She will leave with many plans fulfilled and some great memories - “I once organised abseiling out of a window at the top of B-block for an orientation activity”.

For a time she also rejoiced in the success of setting up sustainability programmes such as a community garden at WITT and adding recycling bins which also collected organic waste.

But there are also regrets. Margaret was frustrated by the drive in recent years to achieving bottom-line results at the expense of courses and programmes which were best measured by their social success.

She sees more students with mental health issues struggling, and laments the fact that community education programmes which provided the first step to education were sacrificed.

“It meant that some students were put straight into assessed courses when they were not ready for that level of study. They dropped out – so they lost, and WITT lost.”

Margaret felt pleased to be able to deliver this message to government review panels recently.

“Today’s study is geared towards work, but for some learners that is potentially a bridge too far. Study at all levels can improve peoples’ quality of life, and I think that has to be remembered.”

In the last three years, she has also enjoyed being involved in WITT’s student leader training.

Her love of counselling is inspired by the fact she sees it as a vehicle to empower people to make decisions.

“You become part of the client’s community.”

She particularly enjoyed working with nursing, mental health and social science students because they were learning a similar set of skills required for counselling.

“The essence of counselling is empowerment; my role is to help people find their own wisdom.”

The director of student support services at WITT, Zanetta Hinton said the contribution of a counsellor on campus could not be underestimated and WITT had been fortunate to have had the expertise and wisdom of Margaret for 10 years.

“We are grateful for her contribution to the institute and to the many students who have grown and achieved under her care. Her sense of fun and her willingness and generosity to share her talents has had her make the job her own. Outside of counselling she has offered treaty workshops to staff, been instrumental in setting up the WITT community garden and coached the student leaders to bring a strong student voice to the table,” she said.

“We will miss her enormously.”