Reaching the next taumata

Joe Bellass
  • Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa

Leaving school at a young age to go into forestry work, Kaitaia local Joe Bellass (Te Rarawa and Ngāti Maniapoto) never imagined that he would be the first in his immediate whānau to complete a degree.

Joe says, “When I felt that I had achieved what I intended to in forestry, I decided I needed a change, but I had no secondary school qualifications, no certificates, nothing.”

After gaining a job at Juken New Zealand, Joe started thinking harder about his goals and upskilling for better career prospects within the company.

Bachelor of Information Technology

Interested in problem-solving, Joe found himself drawn towards information technology and decided to study a Bachelor of Information Technology through distance learning with Open Polytechnic so he could keep working full-time to support his whānau.

He says, “I chose distance learning because I wanted to support my family financially and be able to do things that you'd normally do as a family. So I couldn't afford to go away to university and study.”

Joe says, “The Bachelor of Information Technology is full of ideas about problem-solving and really makes you think. I found the degree challenging, and I love challenges.”

“What I enjoyed the most out of the whole learning experience is solving problems in real time. It's about creating things that actually work.”

A practical learner

Joe considers himself a practical learner, so was curious to see how online learning would work for him. “It was a bit challenging for me at the start, but I got around this by watching a lot of videos to visually see how things are done.”

“Studying online has taught me to focus and be persistent. Those are skills I didn't really have when I started.”

Taking the unconventional route

Studying didn’t come naturally to Joe, who says, “I was never interested in school, I didn’t see the value in it.”

“I thought about studying the degree for a while before jumping into it. It just made sense to better myself for my whānau’s future.”

A family man at heart, Joe thought about the positive impact his studies would have on his whānau. He says, “I wanted to show my kids that even though I didn't complete college and dropped out at 13, I didn't give up on education. I still went for it and so can they.”

Encouraging whānau towards study

Deeply connected to his whānau and community, Joe is passionate about better educating the future generations.

He says, “I’ve always felt that I want to give back some help, and I think that will be through our children’s kura, for a start.”

“For me, I know there’s a lot more that can be done around resources for Māori students, in terms of access and encouraging more kids at our school to have brighter futures.”

After noticing the benefits studies has had on him, Joe encourages others to study further. He says, “I think in this day and age, it is actually really important to do tertiary studies. There are so many skills and lessons that come with study. It's worth it.”


Graduating in 2019 at the Auckland ceremony, Joe was selected to be the graduate speaker and the audience was filled with friends, whānau and his manager supporting him.

“Graduating was one of the highlights of the year for me. It was really special to finish my degree on such a high and with so much support.”

Keen to inspire others, Joe says, “I’ve now got other family members that are getting into tertiary studies. So, it won't be long and I'll be at their graduation ceremony to support them like they supported me.”

Overcoming challenges

During his time studying, Joe overcame some challenges. He says, “I've probably lost count of the number of times that I wanted to give up. But the good thing about studying online is that you can stop and have a breather and then start again.”

“For me, it's about knowing when to just take a breather because when you're burnt out, you become really unproductive. I found by just stopping and taking a day off and thinking about something else rather than studying can really boost your production levels.”

So much support

Joe is particularity thankful for his wife’s support. He says, “I am so grateful to my wife for all the nights I spent studying while she put our kids to bed. Without her support, I wouldn't have been able to study.”

Juken New Zealand was also very supportive and saw the importance of his studies. Joe says, “My employer has been very helpful in seeing the benefits of my studies and jumped on board in helping with the fees.”

A cherished whakatauki

In his graduation speech Joe spoke about a whakatauki he kept close to his heart throughout his studies:

Whāia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe me he maunga teitei.

“Pursue that which is precious, and do not be deterred by anything less than a lofty mountain.”

I think in this day and age it is actually really important to do tertiary studies. There are so many skills and lessons that come with study.