Scholarships foster a 'unique skill set'

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 06:34 03/07/2014
Horizons Regional Council environmental monitoring
Fairfax NZ
HILL COUNTRY: Horizons Regional Council environmental monitoring co-ordinator Malcolm Todd says staff need a science background and a good understanding of farming.

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Horizons Regional Council has granted more than $150,000 of scholarships to science and agriculture students in the past eight years to help meet demand for experts in the sustainable land-use field.

Horizons' Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI) scholarships are available to students studying soil fertility, soil mapping and farm management papers at Massey University in Palmerston North.

Horizons environmental monitoring co-ordinator Malcolm Todd said the scholarship encouraged students to have a particular skill set.

"SLUI aims to control hill-country erosion and is a partnership between Horizons, central government and farmers. When SLUI was introduced in 2006, and initial targets for the programme were set, we identified we had a skill shortage to implement the programme," Todd said.

"One of the reasons for this is we're after a very unique skill set; not only do staff need a soil science background to encourage farmers to manage their soil better, they also need to understand the practical side of running a farm and be able to relate to farmers. For this reason, our SLUI scholarships encourage students to have a combination of these elements."

Todd said that, by setting these restrictions for scholarship funding criteria, Horizons was investing in the future skill set of potential staff.

"Of the 53 students who have received scholarships, 16 have worked for us over the summer months and nine have ended up with fulltime jobs with Horizons. A number of others have also gone on to work for other regional councils or sustainable land-use focused organisations due to their skill set and summer working experience with us."

Horizons also supports students doing research papers in areas helpful to the council's goals such as soil quality, poplar trees and land movement.

"We believe SLUI scholarship students are a valuable asset to any organisation and the success of our recipients speaks for itself."

The scholarship is for fulltime students entering their undergraduate years of study, who want to study soil science and farm management as part of their degree. The scholarship is for a maximum of $2000 over one year.

Advanced scholarships for year 3 and postgraduate programme is for students specialising their 300-level and postgraduate study in soil science, land-use mapping and land management. The scholarship is for a maximum of $10,000 over the course of one year.

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Todd said Horizons tried to have a mix of first to fourth-year students and gave out some $5000 scholarships. "With the $10,000 ones, Horizons employs them, as part of the scholarship, for a year, and we can't always do that, given staff numbers, but we want to give some money, so we do give $5000."

He said Horizons was working with Professor Peter Kemp at Massey University to provide a research grant to encourage students to stay and do a masters degree.

Todd said there were many applications for the SLUI scholarship each year.

"Many of them are about dairying, which is not applicable, but we go for people with hill country and a soils background in sheep and beef. It is a SLUI scholarship after all."

He said most people that did the degrees and had scholarships got jobs. Todd said he knew of graduates getting jobs in the fertiliser industry and for regional councils, as well as for private firms in the industry.

Applications for both SLUI scholarships will open in early 2015.

- Manawatu Standard

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