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Value of mentoring transcends location and lockdown

Dr Gemma Pugh is the Research Lead at the National Child Cancer Network. She’s originally from the North-East of Scotland and studied at Glasgow University, before moving to London to earn her PhD and post-doctoral fellowship at University College London. In other words, Gemma knows what it takes to succeed in a competitive academic environment, embark on a high-calibre career and make a new home, all at the same time! As a First Foundation mentor, Gemma brings incredible experience. She’s also adapted fast to help her scholar meet the challenges of today.

Gemma Pugh and Anne Tupou

First Foundation connects Kiwi communities

In 2020, Gemma left her job as a Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London and moved to New Zealand. She loves the blend of city and outdoor life that Auckland offers and regularly surfs at Muriwai and tramps in the Hunua Ranges. Gemma also wanted to find volunteering opportunities to give back to the community. Of course, First Foundation stood out.

“During my role as a lecturer in the UK, I saw first-hand that some young people face considerable challenges in transitioning to higher education. I also saw that mentorship and pastoral support could be a huge help.”

“During my role as a lecturer in the UK, I saw first-hand that some young people face considerable challenges in transitioning to higher education. I also saw that mentorship and pastoral support could be a huge help.

“Being a mentor with First Foundation has opened my eyes to the different issues facing young people here in New Zealand. It’s also been fun!”


Moving online keeps conversations alive

Before the lockdown, Gemma and her scholar, Anne, met in person once a month. They’d visit a museum or park and enjoy a coffee or ice cream together. When Delta arrived, they responded quickly to keep in touch in changing Alert Levels, meeting on Zoom and emailing more often.

A strong mentoring relationship has been particularly important as the new academic year approaches. Mentors can offer a unique perspective for scholars, and there’s value in talking with someone who’s experienced yet outside your family or peer group. Sometimes, simply having an honest conversation can help a young person clarify their thinking. Other times, the guidance of a mentor can be reassuring and enlightening.

Gemma says, “We’ve covered lots of different challenges, including where to look for information about universities. We’ve talked about how to make decisions about the opportunities available, the importance of believing in yourself, and the challenges of moving away and becoming independent from parents.

“As a mentor, the main job is to listen and reflect what you’re hearing back and to shine a light on options or perspectives that the scholar might not have known about or considered. This means sometimes providing advice, sometimes motivation and sometimes just being a sounding board. 

It’s all about going for it

All First Foundation scholars are blazing new trails for themselves, their families and their communities. And Gemma says there’s one thing she’d say to every one of them; “Self-doubt will only hold you back; believe in yourself!”

Gemma has just as much encouragement for those considering support for the First Foundation, “Get involved! It’s a very rewarding experience.”

“The First Foundation programme is excellent because it helps young people to navigate the transition between school, university and the workplace. The combination of financial support, work experience and mentoring means young people can realise their full potential.”