After working in mental health for almost two decades, Lila Vagana, with the support of her employer, decided it was time to pursue her degree in social work.
Having never completed a tertiary level qualification, Lila was initially nervous about taking on a degree, but through the encouragement and support of her family and employer she took the leap and has gained confidence and determination in the process.
“Apart from completing a couple of courses I had never pursued a qualification in the past as I am not confident with writing, being more of a numbers person. But with a couple of courses down I have realised that I can do this level of study and I can be successful.”
As a busy Mum of three children under the age of 12, on top of a busy full time job, Lila was attracted to distance learning with the Open Polytechnic as it allowed her to fit study in when it suited her.
“Having the flexibility is great for me in terms of my demands as a mother and as an employee. It allows me to do my studies at my own pace. It is about being creative with your time. You can find me studying pretty much anywhere at any time, whether it is during my children’s after school activities, sports events, at work, and even after work so I don’t take it home with me. You find the time and you make the time.”
Being extremely busy, Lila says having lecturers that are supportive and approachable has been a huge help.
“When I have needed to contact my lecturers they have been really helpful. It is nice to know that they want you to learn, they don’t just give you the answers, but encourage you to learn by giving you strategies to apply the learning. I feel supported as a student, and when I finish I know I will be a confident social worker with practical knowledge.”
Since 1995, Lila has worked for a residential rehab service that assists people whose lives have been affected by complex mental health issues. Over the years she has moved from administrative roles to her current role as Service Manager. She has been supported to do the Open Polytechnic Bachelor of Social Work by her employer and with two courses completed, has already been able to practically apply what she is learning in her role.
“My studies have improved my writing, my communication skills, especially dealing with external agencies. It has improved my practical knowledge, in particular, I did a psychology course last trimester in which I learnt a lot that I could apply to my role. This newly acquired knowledge has given me tools to use not only in my job but also my personal life.
“Te Ao Maori and psychology have both been eye openers. Especially Te Ao Maori, I think that course should be taught in all schools because learning about our history is so important. It not only has been really good to learn and take on board but also to reflect on my own culture, being Samoan, and how it can apply to my culture.”
Lila says the support of her employer and family has kept her going and motivated.
“My employer and family have been 200 per cent supportive. My employer has supported me not only financially but also helping me with whatever I need to complete my assignments such as even helping with my family in order to allow me study time. I am very very lucky.
“My family have been very supportive, and my studies have had a positive influence on my children. I have been seeing a shift in their own academic ability. They see me working really hard and have been applying the same determination in their classrooms. It has been nice to be a role model for them.”
Lila has a goal to finish her degree within five years, a goal she is confident she will achieve through a combination of organisation, determination and balance.
“I am motivated by my personal goals to actually achieve a qualification and better my employment and career opportunities. It is rewarding to know I can successfully complete this sort of study.”
But Lila doesn’t want to just stop at her bachelor’s degree she would then like to study psychology and work in psychology or counselling for victims of sexual abuse.
Lila would encourage anyone thinking about studying for a career in social work.
“The Bachelor of Social Work is a really good qualification through the Open Polytechnic, all the staff at the Open Polytechnic are really supportive and there is a lot of meaningful jobs out there for people who have this qualification.”
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