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Student story

Emma McCone

20 July 2023

"I whole heartedly believe that the way I think and approach challenges is shaped by what I studied…"


Bachelor of Science in Geography

Master of Science in Geography

Graduate Advisor, Ministry of Transport | Te Manatū Waka

With Geography becoming her biggest passion since high school studies, Emma’s career so far has already seen her shape policy for the public sector. 

"Geography felt like the subject where I learnt about so many interesting patterns of people and places across the world," she says. "I found myself thinking, “it must be great to be the person who gets to solve some of those big global challenges”, and so I landed at UC enrolled in a BSc, hoping to do just that!"

Venturing from Southland, Emma spent her first year at University Hall to connect with the bigger student community, and get a head start to her new life in Christchurch.

The city itself also served as a great opportunity for Emma’s Geography studies, and was what inspired her to enrol at UC.

"I was honestly so intrigued by the post-disaster patterns of Christchurch and its urban environment. The urban regeneration of Christchurch ended up being central to my studies and I still am so passionate about it."

"At the end of my bachelor’s degree, I was awarded a UC Summer Research Scholarship. This really got me hooked on research and also gave me some connections outside of University. I studied public perceptions of a sustainable events trial with Christchurch City Council and it was definitely one of my most valuable experiences at UC."

Another opportunity that helped shape her disaster-focused studies was the UC Centre for Entrepreneurship’s 21 Day Challenge during her second year, which tasked teams of students to propose a sustainable foods project idea that could be put in place in Niue.

Social experiences on campus were also extremely important to Emma. Describing herself as a ‘huge advocate for clubs’, Emma participated in TuneSoc, GeogSoc, Postgraduate Students’ Association (PGSA), and CUBA. She was an especially active member of UC Netball, fulfilling the roles of player, coach, umpire, and committee member throughout her time at UC.

"UC was full of opportunities. Once I really decided to have a give-it-a-go attitude, it paid off," she says. "It really was the things I did outside of the lecture theatres that shaped my studies. I got to connect with so many people with similar interests, but also people who were different and diverse from my own background. This challenged some of my values and perspectives for the better."

Emma says that her most prominent and challenging experience was being a UCSA Representative during her final year at UC.

"The insight to the inner-workings of the University, the tough but important job of representing thousands of postgraduate students, and the governance of our students’ association to be an organisation that is whole-heartedly for students were just some of the key experiences. I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat. And don’t think you have to be a certain type of student to run. If you’re passionate about students, you are already 100% qualified for the role."

Having gone through all the stages of study herself, Emma understands how important support systems were for getting through the journey. Along with the UCSA, Emma also endorses the Academic Skills Centre for developing personal and academic strategies to make the most of your degree.

"Academic Skills Centre was great. I especially utilised the ASC services during postgraduate studies. GradFest and the workshops for Honours students were really useful and helped me get my thinking on the right track," she says. "It was hard starting postgrad when you have to be so much more independent. ASC helped me navigate the new demands of postgrad study."

Before finishing her master’s degree, Emma secured a role with the Ministry for Transport as a policy advisor.

"Working in the Ministry of Transport and having interaction with the Minister’s Office is such a great insight into how our Government works. I’ve loved seeing policy at all stages of its life cycle. From scoping and workshopping new and innovative transport ideas, through to stakeholder engagement, and then final phases of preparing briefing and cabinet papers."

"Working in the policy field is exciting, and especially rewarding each time a piece of work you’ve contributed to lands on the Minister’s desk and is implemented through Cabinet or other parliamentary processes."

Her experiences with the public sector so far have motivated her to keep developing her knowledge around policy, and she says that her Geography degrees have given her a solid foundation towards her goal to make a difference.

"I whole heartedly believe that the way I think and approach challenges is shaped by what I studied. Geography has helped me think about the world holistically and understand patterns and relationships between various phenomena. I developed a strong sense of critical thinking, which now that I have gained more work and research experience I’ve found is an incredibly priceless skill."

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