Study leads to a new direction

Fran McEwen
  • Entrepreneur, Shift.

From doubting her own abilities to launching a wellbeing programme for young women in Wellington - Open Polytechnic graduate Fran McEwen has come a long way since she dropped out of high school at the age of 16.

Fran describes her experience at secondary school as ‘horrendous’ and says it has taken her a long time, including two stints studying with Open Polytechnic, to realise she is ‘smart’ and can do well academically.

“At high school I got School Certificate in English and that was about it,” she recalls. “Once I left I got a casual job working at Upper Hutt library and later started studying towards a Diploma in Information and Library Studies (Level 5) through Open Polytechnic.”

Her first venture into tertiary study was ‘quite hard’ and Fran says having had such a negative experience at school the idea of going into a formal institution terrified her.

“Studying by distance meant I could complete a qualification without going back to sitting in a classroom and that was great,” she says.

Taking the next step

After a stint working in the community development field and supporting young people and people with disabilities, Fran made the decision to tick the next thing off her bucket list – getting a degree.

“I made the decision to return to study because in some ways I needed to prove to myself that I could do it,” she says.

“I kept changing what I wanted to major in and eventually picked social sciences.

“I decided that was what I was interested in and it is what I wanted to learn more about. I also wanted to do a degree that would be useful from an employment perspective and I really wanted to challenge myself.”

Fran says by the time she returned to study she was more financially secure and had some free time so it was a good time to take on a new challenge.

She enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (Social Sciences) through the Open Polytechnic and because she had studied through the provider before, knew what to expect.

“I absolutely loved studying with Open Polytechnic the second time,” she says. “It was amazing. Pretty much every paper I did I really loved and found useful.”

Making it work

Studying by distance and in her own time meant Fran could fit her studies around all of the important things in her life.

“I really enjoyed the flexibility, it meant I could still work full-time and do all of the things that I love, like running ultra-marathons.”

Having a passion for the subject she was learning about also helped Fran to get through the more difficult times during her studies.

“I believe if you are passionate about something it doesn’t feel like studying, it just feels like learning.”

Having the opportunity to do her own research during her studies was particularly beneficial to the next big project in her life, Fran says.

“At the end of the degree I did a research paper and focussed my research on Teenage Girls’ Lived Experience of Sport and Physical Activity in New Zealand.

“I examined what was happening throughout the world in terms of young women and their physical and mental wellbeing and why we needed to do things differently.”

Put into practice

At the start of 2016 Fran founded Shift, a project that aims to increase the physical activity and wellbeing of young women in Wellington.

“That final research paper was pretty much the foundation of Shift and I could use that research while I was setting it up to show people why it was needed.”

Shift, which is part of Wellington City Council, has four branches throughout the Wellington region and in 2018 it will move out of Council and become its own NGO.

Fran says Shift aims to give young women leadership skills, boost physical activity, teach healthy eating habits and encourage positive mental health.

When asked what she will do next Fran says she wants Shift to become a national programme.

She is also toying with completing a master’s degree or writing a book to empower others using examples of how women around the world have used sport to change communities.

I really wanted to challenge myself.