A social sciences degree - what on earth can you do with that?

AUT social sciences alumni Jana Nee

By being versatile, keeping her options open and making the most of any opportunity that has come her way, Jana Nee has revelled in finding many roles she has loved to do.

Youth work, substance misuse prevention,  project management, social work and social media are just some of the roles that Jana Nee has embraced since completing her social sciences and criminology degree in 2013.

Now Takawaenga Māori (Māori liaison advisor) at AUT, Jana spent 10 years at Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust, a non-governmental social service, education and health organisation for urban Māori. At the Trust she worked in a number of social service and social media roles, including kāiarahi (whānau ora navigator) and taitamariki (substance misuse prevention youth worker).

Hands on experience

Being at the coal face at Waipareira Trust gave Jana experience in dealing with everything from advocacy and health promotion, to educating and supporting young people with drug and alcohol prevention education. She says it was hard when systemic issues, such as housing, impacted on the support she could offer and she was often required to think on the spot to find a solution.

“Tino rangatiratanga (self-determination), has to be at the heart of everything you do in that space so it was about ensuring the power stays with the person or family. My role was to nurture, support and advocate. Over the years I learned to step back and focus on empowering whānau to determine their own aspirations.”

Jana also took on strategic roles, such as project management and youth innovation lead for a youth programme helping young people make short films about social issues. She described moving from front line work into project management as "pretty scary", but she learned heaps about the business side of social services.

“But I thought nothing ever grows in the comfort zone and, even though it was initially challenging, I found my skills could translate into project management. I now encourage anyone to take that leap even if they’re scared,” says Jana.

Her last role at Waipareira Trust was in the social media space, encouraging rangatahi (young people) to follow Waipareira Trust campaigns and make the most of their programmes.  These experiences made her realise she wanted rangatahi  to be at the core of everything she did. This realisation ed her onto her current role at AUT.

Value of social sciences

Jana says she gained a strong foundation in social justice from studying social sciences and criminology at AUT, before doing a Master of Applied Social Work at Massey University.

“The degree is an awesome starting point that gives you key skills that you can transfer into other areas. Once you get into an organisation you care about, then it’s important to keep your options open and pick up every opportunity that comes along by being flexible and trying new things."

Working at Waipareira Trust with rangatahi has made Jana very mindful of the challenges facing rangatahi in her current role at AUT.

“I believe in a holistic approach to well-being. Here at AUT our Takawaenga team walk alongside the student from orientation to graduation, with academic, personal well-being and cultural advice. We have a walk-in system so students can come in any time wanting support. Academic, personal or cultural - our whānau room is a safe space to kōrero and connect.”

Taking the journeyJana Nee 2

She particularly enjoys the emphasis in her role for both supporting students in tertiary education and helping them on their journey as Māori.

“A lot of students know they have whakapapa Māori but haven’t really connected to that side of themselves. They may not know their pepeha or haven’t got involved in te ao Māori. It is quite a fulfilling journey for students. They get really excited as the connection starts to grow and they start using the whānau space at Māori Liaison, meeting similar people and learning how to incorporate their culture into their university experience.”

Jana understands them well. She too had a limited connection with her Māoritanga even though she had taken te reo Māori at school and came to AUT with a Māori scholarship.  Her journey began when Te Kaiwhakarite AUT Takawaenga Māori Hariata Mareroa took Jana under her wing and encouraged her to become a Māori mentor.

“Then through social sciences I began learning about justice and criminology and started to see I could make a difference in our community,” says Jana, adding that her co-op placement at Hoani Waititi Marae also played an important part in her growing awakening/desire to become part of Māori advancement.

Lots of variety

Jana's AUT role also includes creating awareness of the Māori services and support across the university, including building stronger relationships with faculties to ensure students get the best opportunities they can.

"Every day is different so you’ll also find me behind the camera creating social media content to encourage students to use our services, or working on project work planning and strategizing. We also work on new events and programmes that will support our students well being.”

She loves the role and seeing students succeed.

“I love seeing tauira achieve what they want to achieve. Māori advancement and success is at the heart of all the work I do.”

Hear Jana's tips to students and graduates

TIP 1/ Don’t be afraid to apply for your dream job, you never know. I just say apply, apply apply wherever takes your interest.

TIP 2/ Don’t feel you need to know everything about your particular subject area, because you learn a lot as you go along and it can quite be intimidating if you come into an organisation and having this role title…and feeling maybe you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing in it. Don’t stress because you’ll learn it along the way.

TIP 3/ I think it is important for new graduates to do something you're passionate about. Don’t pick just any job, choose something you’re really inspired by - and that way you’ll love your job.

Want to know more about social sciences and/or criminology

Read Future Careers in Social Sciences

Read Future Careers in Criminology

Written by AUT Employability and Careers writer Angela McCarthy