GWNZ Susan Byrne Award 2022-2023

Melissa Pronk

Kia ora. My name is Melissa Pronk and I live in Otepoti Dunedin. I am a recent recipient of the GWNZ Susan Byrne Memorial Scholarship - sponsored by Bernice Kelly. When I received the letter I let out a squeal of excitement so loud that my 7 year old daughter ran into the kitchen to ask if the kitchen was on fire!  It was a great moment. There has been so much life leading up to this moment, and achieving this award was amazing.  

I left school in 1994 with University Entrance level but did not have much direction on what I wanted to do. I started travelling and working and as a self-taught photographer began working in the photographic industry. In 2008 I transitioned into the events industry where I have been working as a contractor for the past 14 years. Moving to the South Island and having a child in 2015 let me slow down and reflect on how I want to spend the next chapter. I joined a non-profit group in Oamaru working with the transition town movement and preparing the community for peak oil and climate change. I volunteered as Treasurer and later took over a paid position running their Sustainable Skills Summer School programme. After the group disbanded in 2018, I continued running the project as Community Classroom, which I have also expanded to Dunedin. This community-based work and learning more about environmental pressures got me thinking. During the 2020 lockdowns, I decided it was finally time to get that degree I had put on the back burner for 20 years!  

In 2021 I started a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Planning Studies. It is my first time studying at tertiary level, and it has been incredibly mind-expanding and rewarding to push myself academically. The financial pressure to support my daughter as a single mum while changing careers has been incredibly difficult at times. I am beyond grateful to have received this award for this reason, and because it feels so validating that I am on the right path. The financial support and recognition mean the world to our family. I look forward to completing the degree in 2023/2024 and discovering a new world of possibilities working in the Environmental Management field.