Leading by example

Emma Harris
  • NC5121 : New Zealand Diploma in Business (Level 6) (Closed to New Enrolments), OP700109 : Bachelor of Business (Accounting) (Closed to New Enrolments)
  • Finance manager, Columbus Coffee

Open Polytechnic accounting graduate Emma Harris’s academic ambition came from the emphasis that her family, and especially her father, put on higher education.  “I was the youngest of seven and being educated was always a priority for my dad but it wasn’t until I was 19 that I really considered it.” 

The beginning of the journey

Emma first understood the need to gain tertiary qualifications by observing her respected accounting supervisor at work, who didn’t possess a degree, get by-passed by more junior employees who were fully qualified.

Her decision to study was solidified when she attended her grandmother’s funeral in Tonga and met her uncle Willie for the first time. “He was a genius who I really admired and he encouraged me to go to university. It took me finding that mentor and someone to look up to for me to decide to enrol,” says Emma.


First steps

Upon completing classes at two other tertiary education providers, Emma found having to attend classes in the weekend or after work didn’t suit her lifestyle.  A friend recommended Open Polytechnic, suggesting that the flexibility of distance learning might be perfect given her hectic schedule.

She started her study journey with Open Polytechnic in 2001 and completed her first qualification, the New Zealand Diploma in Business in 2009. She then cross-credited her studies into the Bachelor of Business (Accounting), graduating in 2016.


Flexibility was key

Emma was drawn to distance learning with Open Polytechnic because it allowed her to adapt her studies around her busy life as a working Mum. “I loved my interactions with the lecturers. Even when I attended classes at the other institutions, it was like you had to stand behind 10 other students in front of you to get the lecturer’s attention. With Open Polytechnic, you could just email or call and it felt like it was only me and the lecturer,” says Emma.


Supportive workplace

Emma is the Finance Manager at Columbus Coffee where she has worked for the past seven years and throughout her study. “My colleagues are very supportive and my employer paid for my study, so I feel really lucky to work for such an amazing company.”  Her studies have been a big help at work, improving her technical accounting skills and helping her grow in her role.


Balancing it all

Emma’s study journey wasn’t always easy and there were times she struggled to balance her studies with her job. “Work was my priority and I had to put the hours in working long days from Monday to Friday. I managed to get through it by dedicating my weekends to studying and getting assignments done, although I did have to make some sacrifices in terms of going out with my son and husband. Lucky for me, they were always very understanding and supportive,” says Emma.


The Future 

Emma’s future ambition is to become a Chartered Accountant (CA) and she has already started working towards that next milestone with just a few courses left to complete. “I set the goal of graduating with a degree before the age of 40, which I’ve achieved. So now I want to become a CA before I turn 45,” says Emma.  


Inspiring the next generation

“I was the first in my family to graduate, which is a big deal at home,” says Emma. She is hoping that her study journey will inspire the next generation., Inviting the younger members of her family along to graduation she says “I really wanted them to see me graduate so that they could see me in my cap and gown on stage and think, “That’s going to be me one day!””


With Open Polytechnic, you could just email or call and it felt like it was only me and the lecturer.