A Mount Maunganui-based university student is the first recipient of the Toi Moana Climate Change Scholarship, awarded by Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

Jess Mitchell, 32, has just wrapped up the second year of her Bachelor of Climate Change degree at the University of Waikato and says she was “blown away” to receive the $7,000 scholarship, which will almost cover her third-year study fees. The degree was established in 2021, making it the world’s first degree to be focused on climate change solutions.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council General Manager of Integrated Catchments, Chris Ingle, says it was important for the Regional Council to support the new degree, as it aligns with the goals the council is working towards.

“Jess’s application stood out because it was clear that she understood the climate challenges faced by our country and our region, along with how her studies related to those challenges,” he says.

Jess says she chose to enroll in the degree because she likes how it combines science with the social, including a focus on geography, people and place.

“This degree is about connections with communities, looking at where we come from, who we are and how that relates day to day. It puts a climate change lens across these subjects and I’m absolutely loving the learning,” she says. 

Jess has been working part-time and studying full-time towards her degree. The scholarship gives her a 'bit of a buffer' for next year.

“I thought scholarships were for school leavers, but after reading the criteria I realised this one suited me perfectly. I then had to answer questions about what the Regional Council was doing locally. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff,” she says.

“It feels a bit like a dream.”

While Jess has no firm plans for when she completes her degree, she hopes to use her skills where they’re most needed, perhaps in vulnerable communities.

“I think we need to normalise the conversation about climate change, so we talk about it more freely, discuss what we need to do and how we can apply solutions, and how communities can work together better.”

For more information about the work Regional Council is doing to understand and prepare for climate change, visit www.boprc.govt.nz/climate-change


Above, from left to right: Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council General Manager of Integrated Catchments, Chris Ingle, Toi Moana Climate Change Scholarship recipient, Jess Mitchell, and Climate Change Programme Manager, Nic Newman.