Hands-on approach to university life

15 May 2024

Year 12 student Richard Brown shares his experiences from the University of Otago’s Hands-On programme.

I have been fortunate to be selected to attend the Hands-On programme for students interested in attending the University of Otago. It is run over a week and provides an insight into university life, both study and residential.

About 2000 students applied for the programme, having to submit a CV and a brief summary of why they would like to take part. In all, 375 Years 12–13 students from all over New Zealand were selected and travelled to Dunedin where we had the opportunity to live in a new residential hall, Te Rangihīroa College.

On the first day, we enjoyed icebreaker activities, which helped everyone get to know each other. On my first proper day, I started with three hours of my chosen project, physics, and was placed with 10 other like-minded students. Our projects mainly consisted of theory and practical experiments to test these theories. For the first three days, we had three hours of one of our chosen ‘tasters’ (different to our main project – hence the name) after lunch. Each day we had a different taster, and my first was chemistry. We were supplied with flasks and a variety of chemicals and were tasked with trying to make crystals.

On the second day, my taster was English. We headed to the university library, which was massive. We looked at some of the oldest books, which were stored in a cool, dry room. Some books were older than the university and even about 700 years old.

My final ‘taster’ was sustainable business, where we had to solve puzzles, almost like an escape room. Among our other activities, I enjoyed the scavenger hunt/questionnaire taking us around the university campus. While we were doing this, we were chased down by staff, equipped with water balloons.

We were the first group to live in Te Rangihīroa, only a few minutes from the university campus. It has six floors, and includes a gaming room, music room, cinema room, and full dining hall packed with new equipment. During my breaks between classes and after meals, I found myself wandering around the city centre with a couple of friends.

The Hands-On programme has given me a very memorable experience. I am not sure which is better – meeting like-minded people the same age as me from all over the country, or being able to attend courses led by world-class lecturers. It has given me a feel of what university life is like as you adapt and learn how to be independent. It has also broadened my knowledge and highlighted potential careers. On top of that, I have made lots of hopefully lifelong friends