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Plants, the New Zealand wars and international dancing

Miss Sarah de Bruin

Sarah de Bruin is your typical kid from Dargaville. She grew up on a kumara farm, represented New Zealand in highland dancing, and is now double majoring in plant science and history. 

The third-year Bachelor of Science (plant science) and a Bachelor of Arts (history) double-major has one year left on her degree, which includes everything from growing strawberries and working in a laboratory to writing essays about the New Zealand wars and World War II.

Miss de Bruin’s parents always suspected she might pursue something to do with plants, but history came as a surprise.

"I’ve always been around plants, but I guess I never really realised how much of an effect it all had on me. Plants don't have a brain, but they can do so many things. It sounds lame, but they really amaze me. They have the ability to heal, feed and all these things.

“Originally, my major was biological science. Then I took a paper about the biology of plants and I loved it. I rang my dad and said ‘dad, I think I like bio-plants. I think I might change my major’. And he said that him and mum had been thinking that for the last 18 years and to go for it.”

“But while I was always going to do plant science, the history part was a bit of a surprise as I was only going to do a few electives,” Sarah says.

Miss Sarah de Bruin

Choosing a double degree and moving away from home

“The Massey student recruitment advisors came to my school and I had a big talk with one about what I liked and what the options were, and I was thinking about doing history papers as electives or as a minor and she was like ‘just do a double-degree. It will make you versatile and more employable and you can do more of the papers you love’.

“It was perfect - she said it would be another year, and you'll have two degrees. I've never looked back, I’m so glad I did it like that ‘cause I really enjoy both and it's given me flexibility and variety. She was literally the best advisor I’ve ever had, just what I needed in year 13 at that time.”

However, this meant moving a long way from home. So in first-year she took the chance to stay in the halls, and participated in the annual world record attempt, a first-year tradition that involved throwing gumboots that year.

“I came from Dargaville, so the halls were a great way to meet people. I knew one other person in Palmerston North. The halls were amazing and that's where I met all my current flatmates. Because we moved halls it was actually quite good because we ended up meeting way more people. I was in Walter Dyer Hall. We were only there six months because it was getting refurbished. So, I went to Moginie Hall.

“Living so far from home – it’s a ten-hour drive or two flights – that's a challenge, but its good. My sister started at Victoria [University] this year though, so it's good to have her close. But, learning how to live by yourself is a good learning curve. Just your classic stuff. You come from having everything done for you. Even in the halls. It's a good step, then you go into your first flat and it's real life.

Plants and history - the perfect match

Miss de Bruin says her favourite subject is war history.

"I’ve taken a lot of New Zealand history papers. This semester I’m doing World War II, New Zealand Wars and New Zealand inter-war period. In the past I’ve done World War I, early New Zealand, iwi history. The content between the majors certainly doesn't cross over, but the history side has really improved my writing and my research. My report skills are much better because of it.

"It's quite cool because I’ve got small classes in plant science but also in history as they're even smaller. I've been in pretty much every building on campus because I cover such a broad subject area.

Studying plant science has been a good balancing force for Miss de Bruin. “The history side is all research and essays and the plant science is about growing, laboratories, field trips.”

She is able to see this industry first-hand with a number of field trips as part of the degree, including a trip to Hawke’s Bay to visit apples growers last semester.

“It was great, as we got to talk to growers, industry people, real-life stuff, everyone is really enthusiastic. It's really encouraging. We all got a job offer. It's not what I wanted to do, but the jobs are there.

“I guess they look for us for innovation, for ideas, we need to feed people. It’s exciting and there's a lot of innovation coming in. New Zealand is a producing country. But even our agriculture system needs food. How do we feed the cows, the sheep? Everything is relying on it. Ag is just harvesting sunlight to make grass, to make milk. It's all important.” 


Despite her workload, Sarah has also managed to pursue her love of dance, something she’s highly talented at – being named among the 20 most accomplished highland dancers in the world. This includes performing with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Wellington two years ago.

Thanks to the distance offering, Sarah was able to complete this semester by distance so she could again compete on the international stage.

“I went on a dance trip overseas for six weeks and I’m not behind by much. I still like to compete in New Zealand, but not internationally because of coming to university. It's my third-year now so I said ‘you know what, I’m set up enough that I can do this’.”

"I want to hopefully do pest and disease and biosecurity,” Sarah says. “That's the sort of field I want to go into. In my head, what I want to do is to be the intermediary between government policy and the farmer. I am able understand something scientifically and then put it into words for everyday people.

“I guess that comes from the two degrees and from my own farming background - my dad is really involved in the industries as well, so I have knowledge from that. We talk about it a lot. They guided me, but they let me decide. I think that's good cause if they pushed me I might have gone the other way.”

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