EIT arts and design students Conor O'Sullivan and Aiaikitekura Kavana are always there for one another as they continue to overcome challenges on their educational journeys.
While Conor was born hearing impaired and sometimes struggles to hear in crowded environments, Aiai helps keep him up-to-date with his studies by lending him the notes she meticulously takes in classes. Conor, in turn, bolsters Aiai's self-esteem, which took some knocks at school.
From Hastings, the pair's paths crossed last year. They started study at EIT by enrolling for the Diploma of Visual Arts and Design but met after completing the Level 4 programme, when they were accepted into the Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design.
Most diploma students progress to a degree, says head of EIT's ideaschool, Suzette Major.
"It's an exciting and valuable pathway as the diploma programme gives students a chance to develop their art and design skills while checking out if ongoing tertiary study is for them. Most love it and then choose to go on to the bachelor degree and we do have a handful of spots still available to those wanting to study the diploma this year," Dr Major said.
Described by degree coordinator Nigel Roberts as "a habitual drawer", Conor felt compelled to study something he loved. Although he'd been into art since childhood, he says he was "quite narrow-minded" about what form that took before studying at EIT.
"I collected comics and was more into drawing comic panels and pop art. I also loved oil painting, but on the foundation course I got interested in different media," Conor said.
"I used to hate printmaking but I've grown to love that. And installation art, I really enjoy seeing what other people do," he says of classmates' 3-D designs.
Conor deals with his hearing difficulties by not letting them affect him too much.
"Sometimes, as with these studies, it's a really good idea to step outside your comfort zone to try something new and innovative; to not let a specific label stop you achieving something good and to be happy about yourself."
He communicates that positivity to Aiai, an Aitutaki Maori whose frustrating school experience started after moving, as a 10-year-old, from Aitutaki in the Cook Islands to join her parents in New Zealand.
In Aitutaki, her grandparents had encouraged her to be respectful towards people from different cultures.
However, the principal at her primary school in New Zealand shortened her name to Kura, without asking her and she was sat at the back of the classroom with English as her second language.
Moving through the school system, Aiai felt her potential to learn and achieve was largely unrecognised.
In her 30s, she stopped using Kura as her name, and then, several years ago and into her 50s, she decided she no longer wanted to work in jobs she enjoyed but weren't going to realise her goal to buy her own home.
Good at sewing, she considered fashion apparel studies with a view to building up a business that also offered a design and pattern-making service. But, ushered over to EIT's ideaschool, she was distracted by art displayed in the Vent Gallery.
"I went wow! I was touching the art with my eyes," Aiai said.
Aiai's strong reaction had laid bare her true passion, and she was encouraged to enrol for the foundation certificate in visual arts and design.
"It was a private experience," she says of indulging the burning need to express her creativity.
Now, in the second year of her degree, she openly laughs about being "distracted by art".
"Studying at EIT has freed me," Aiai says.
"It's giving me the confidence to share what it is that I have inside."