A hand up with education: Celebrating 20 years of scholarship support

Nancy Caiger believes strongly that those who receive a helping hand in life should pay it forward, when they can.

L-R: John Armstrong, Dominique Bouwer, Nancy Caiger, Matt Sinton.

It’s a sentiment she’s proud to live by, and stems from having had help herself through scholarships when she attended university in her native Singapore.

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Michael Caiger Memorial Scholarship, a scholarship Nancy set up in 2000 in memory of her late husband Michael, an adult student at the University of Waikato who passed away before he was able to finish his degree in history and political science.

At a function in November to celebrate 20 years of the scholarship, previous recipients got together to thank Nancy for her generous support; support they say gave them encouragement and validation of their studies, and put them on a pathway to careers they love.

Dr John Armstrong received the Michael Caiger scholarship in 2006 as he embarked on his honours year of a Bachelor of Social Sciences, majoring in history. He came to the University as an adult student after 11 years in the workforce driving trucks and gutting eels for export.

Looking for something more but unsure of his next move, John enrolled at the University of Waikato after his wife gave him a wrapped-up prospectus at Christmas. He picked a few different papers to try, before settling on political science and history.

He says his studies changed the way he thought and saw the world. He enjoyed what he was learning, worked hard and earnt good grades. He says receiving the scholarship felt like someone believed in him and validated his abilities, which spurred him on to achieve honours and later his PhD.

John is now an historian and negotiator for the Office for Treaty Settlements in Wellington where he works on crown settlements for iwi around New Zealand.

“Not only was the Michael Caiger scholarship a massive financial help, it was also incredibly motivating to know someone believed in what I was doing, and that it was worthy of recognition. I’m incredibly grateful to Nancy for her support, it undoubtedly helped set me on the path to where I am today.”

Louise Stevenson received the scholarship in 2016 and says it gave her a burst of confidence to keep going at a time when she doubted her direction of study. She went on to complete a history and linguistics degree and an honours thesis, and has published academic articles and presented at several conference seminars. She has recently completed her Masters thesis in history at Victoria University.

“When I reflect back on how I got to where I am now, I often think about the day I met Nancy on the panel for the scholarship and how blown away I was by her generosity – you never forget the people who help you when you are young,” says Louise.

“Nancy altered my perspective on pursuing academic study in the humanities by offering me this scholarship, and in doing so, changed my life. I can only hope to pay it forward someday.”