TFC success stories

Read what successful students have to say about the Tertiary Foundation Certificate programme – and find out what they’ve gone on to achieve since graduation.

Adrian Hood – Building from the balancing act

Adrian Hood is no stranger to balancing acts. His current job, as an intermediate structural engineer, involves a wide range of projects.

This busy, challenging and engaging job is not where he imagined himself when he was asked (“politely!” he says with a laugh) to leave school. He’d already taken the first steps towards an independent life, leaving home when he was only 15 years old. “I was working in the weekends, living at a mate’s and paying rent. One thing led to another – probably going down the wrong road with the wrong people – and things became more difficult without a natural carrot there, reminding me to study hard.” He’s philosophical. “Life sometimes takes a step sideways. I didn’t get into legal trouble or anything like that; I just didn’t focus on the things I needed to study. School wasn’t the place I needed to be at that point, I don’t think.”

“I design everything from small beams in houses all the way up to multi-storey buildings, warehouses, assessment of structural elements that have failed, assessment of seismically inadequate buildings and how to strengthen those buildings – that’s a current hot topic.”

This busy, challenging and engaging job is not where he imagined himself when he was asked (“politely!” he says with a laugh) to leave school. He’d already taken the first steps towards an independent life, leaving home when he was only 15 years old. “I was working in the weekends, living at a mate’s and paying rent. One thing led to another – probably going down the wrong road with the wrong people – and things became more difficult without a natural carrot there, reminding me to study hard.”

He’s philosophical. “Life sometimes takes a step sideways. I didn’t get into legal trouble or anything like that; I just didn’t focus on the things I needed to study. School wasn’t the place I needed to be at that point, I don’t think.”

Adrian started his working life by building meals, not monuments. “I was a qualified chef first. I spent about 15 years working in kitchens. Then I’d had enough of that; my brain needed more. I had the opportunity to start working in an engineering office, as a draughtsperson. They looked at the work I was doing and the questions I was asking and said, ‘you’re going to get bored doing this. If you want to become an engineer, we’ll release you’. I laughed at that at first, because I got thrown out of school at the end of sixth form (Year 12). But, after investigating options for university, I found that the Tertiary Foundation Certificate was available.”

Adrian saw the TFC as an opportunity, and set his sights on becoming a qualified engineer. But life continued to take sideways steps; the path was hardly straightforward. “I did the TFC in 2004. My son was born in 2005,” Adrian says. “My wife fell pregnant half-way through the TFC year. One of the things you get told is ‘keep your stress down while you study’ – and if you want to heed that, well, don’t have any kids!”

Adrian and his wife had two children while he was studying towards his degree; his second child was born halfway through his final year exams. “She was born at midnight; I had an exam at nine o’clock the next morning.” So how did he get on? “I had just studied so hard that I knew what I needed to do anyway!” He passed the exam despite the exhaustion. Children provided the test of Adrian’s focus and determination; as he says, “there’s a big difference between not being able to put down the latest video game, which you’ve got to play all night, and not being able to put down a baby who’s crying all night!”

Having a family made it all the more important for Adrian to succeed in his studies. “We bought a house, so when I started my university degree after TFC, we had a mortgage and a brand new child. My wife wasn’t working, and I was a student. There was more than a little bit of pressure to make sure I did this properly and didn’t fail courses and have to take an extra six months to graduate. That just means that some nights you have to work until one in the morning to get your project done. If you’ve got the goal, and you know why you’re doing it, it’s a lot easier to stay up till one or two o’clock to reach your target!”

Having clear targets is something Adrian cannot stress enough. “Know your goal. Once you have a goal, you can focus on it. If you’ve got distractions, it’s a lot easier to put those distractions aside when you know you have a clear-cut goal. Real life does get in the way of study sometimes, but you’ve got to work around that.” He believes that students who try to do the TFC or degree study without some sense of direction are more likely to struggle.

“It’s quite important for students to find what they really want to do. It’s not always the easiest thing, but again, if you have that goal, you’ve got something to aim for.”

Adrian found the TFC a valuable introduction to university culture. “When you do your exams at the TFC level, you get all your nerves out. You know what the procedure is, and it’s just the same as university, so when you’re in first year university, it’s all second-nature. You see all these first years, and they’re so nervous and don’t know what’s happening… With TFC, you’ve already had a whole year in a university to understand what’s happening – where things are, what you have got to get done – so when you get into university you’ve already got a leg up in terms of practical application and what you need to do. You’ve had a trial run, as it were.”

That was particularly useful to Adrian, who was returning to study after many years without formal education. “For someone like me, who was out of school for twenty odd years, sitting down and having to study again was hard… To do that in an environment that is not quite as stressful as actual university, where everyone’s there to help you get to your target, gives you a chance to get back into that mode. If you just plucked yourself out of work and stuck yourself in the degree, you might struggle with that first year, to get a grasp on what you have to do again.”

After finishing the TFC course, Adrian had to pass a maths course before he would be accepted into Engineering. Once again, he managed it by dint of sheer hard work and determination. “I’d work in the morning, up until lunchtime, then walk across from Newmarket, do my course and go back afterwards if I had more work to do. That was quite a balancing act ...” But it paid off when he found out he’d been accepted to university. “I was actually at Birthcare, after my son was born; I rang the Engineering Department and they said ‘yes, you’ve made it in’.” It was a day of celebration on several fronts: and proof that family, work and study can be balanced, with focus and hard work, to achieve amazing outcomes.

Terrence Ibasco – Sticking with the programme

Terrence Ibasco has a job he’s dreamed of since he was a kid. “I always wanted to be an engineer, and now I’m finally doing it!” he buzzes. He is a Power Systems Engineer for Beca, based in Auckland. Power Systems Engineers plan and create transmission stations for the electricity network – big scale versions of the
circuits inside a remote controlled toy. “We design substations that will provide power to New Zealand. We have to be very careful – if we get our design wrong, we risk losing power for the whole country!”

Terrence was born and raised in the Philippines where he completed his Primary and Secondary education. After his family moved to New Zealand in 2007, he discovered that his high school academic credentials were not recognised by the university. To gain university entry, he was presented with two options: to go back to high school to re-sit Years 11–13, or to do the Tertiary Foundation Certificate. “I took TFC because I had already finished high school so there would be little benefit in redoing it. In addition, the TFC was based at the university which would help in my transition when I begin my bachelors degree.”

Terrence completed the TFC programme in 2008 with excellent grades, which allowed him direct entry into the Bachelor of Engineering. “Four and a half years of Engineering, and here I come!” The TFC was not so different from the subjects he took in the Philippines as far as content goes, but the schedule came as a bit of a surprise. When he first saw the timetable, he wondered if he hadn’t enrolled for enough courses. In the Philippines, he attended school from 7.30 in the morning until 5.30pm. “You’d get a 20 minute break and an hour for lunch, but no real gaps. But when I saw the TFC timetable, it was like one hour of lecture, and then… a gap. What am I supposed to do during the gap? I panicked a little bit, and approached Stephanie Wyatt. I said, ‘Hey Stephanie, my name’s Terrence and I’m new to New Zealand.  I’m not sure what I’m looking at.’"

Stephanie explained that the gaps were for independent study. Soon enough, Terrence eventually figured out how to use them to his advantage.

“You could use the gap in your timetable to knock on your professor’s door and ask him or her a few questions about the lecture. And I did that. They guided me really well, and that helped." Terrence encourages new TFC students to make the most of their gaps by talking to staff. “You will get individual attention if you ask for it. If you have the initiative, the information is there – they will help you. I picked that up early on.” Another culture shift for Terrence was the diversity of the students. Arriving at his first class, “There were people from so many different nationalities. I’d never been exposed to that before,” he recalls. “Everyone thought differently than I did. I not only had to adjust to the curriculum but also to the culture.” As an immigrant, he also had to get used to the language. While he had studied English in the Philippines and spoke it fluently, it was mainly American English. He was unfamiliar with a lot of New Zealand English words and phrases. “To other immigrant students like me, my advice is that they get familiar with the language first! You’ll be writing a lot of essays in TFC and it will be difficult.” He adds, “And write good journals! A lot of people in my class did 10 or 20 journal entries right at the end of the semester, and it was not a very good tactic.” The practice of regular writing keeps your skills improving over the year, and helps in the long term.

Terrence is all for taking the long term view. “TFC students enrolled in the programme because they have a purpose. And their purpose is not only to finish the TFC but to eventually get into university to pursue a degree. I felt that in my year, a lot of people who finished TFC took that as the end of the journey whereas in fact, it was only the beginning.” He advises, “Stay hungry and stay focused on your mission which is to get to university. Dream big! Do your degree, not just TFC.” He believes the TFC programme is tailored to give students the foundation for success. In his words, “Don’t divert from the programme. I stayed with it, and it took me to places, and right into my dream job.”

Kiran Chumber – Foundation Certificate Education

Studying the FCE preparation programme enabled Kiran Chumber to continue studying to become qualified as a primary teacher.

"I chose the University of Auckland because of the outstanding ratings they have but also because the staff are so supportive and understanding of each student’s personal life. There are so many systems there to help students have a comfortable time through their studies. For example, the APA referencing class run in the library aids in all assignments and helps you have a better understanding of the referencing style."

"I found the Foundation Certificate challenging at first, but with the help of the lecturers and other student support services provided by the library, I was able to achieve my goals. With great support and a welcoming environment, I absolutely enjoyed my time through to the completion of my Certificate.

"While completing the Certificate, I worked as an early childhood teacher. I loved my job as it helped me to understand assignments in more depth.

"I am glad to have chosen the University of Auckland to complete my studies. I wouldn’t have found better staff and peers anywhere else."