After many years working and travelling overseas, Melanie Gregory questioned where she was heading in life.
Her soul-searching prompted her decision to settle in Hawke's Bay where she is about to graduate with EIT's Bachelor of Recreation and Sport.
Tertiary study wasn't on Melanie's radar when she left her Hamilton high school.
However, she gained great grades for her degree courses and will be representing fellow graduates in delivering a valedictory address at the capping ceremony being staged in Napier's Municipal Theatre this week.
"I feel I was an average student at school and I didn't apply myself that much," she reflects. "As a mature student at EIT I felt more focused and determined and as a result good grades came.
"The lecturers were always so helpful, understanding and encouraging. I found through hard work and good time management I could comfortably manage the work required.
"Anything is possible when you put your mind, heart and soul into it."
Originally from Gisborne, Melanie enjoyed six years working as a production co-ordinator for a publishing company in Sydney and wide-ranging travels in Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States.
Reluctantly leaving an easy lifestyle working as a house-sitter and nanny in California's Walnut Creek, she was planning to head back to Australia but detoured to New Zealand for three family weddings, two of them in Hawke's Bay. Rating this region as "vibrant and full of character", she decided to stay on and work.
Since then, the Bay has also become home to son Kobe, now 6, and her parents, who have settled in Poraiti.
The extended family arrangement has provided great support through Melanie's three years at EIT.
When she was weighing up options for study, her mother's advice was to follow her heart. Melanie used to play a lot of sport but is inhibited now by a shoulder injury. However, she enjoys the gym, running, hiking and otherwise being outdoors.
"It's my happy drug," she says of sustaining a holistic sense of health and fitness.
So Melanie enrolled for EIT's Diploma in Recreation and Sport and then nearing the end of the one-year programme, she realised she was enjoying study too much to farewell classmates pursuing a degree.
Keen also to be a role model for Kobe, she signed up for a further two years.
"Mention the lecturers," she says of managing domestic commitments and her studies, "because without them I wouldn't have stayed on top of everything. They are so accommodating and approachable, their doors are always open.
"You could send in drafts and they would tell you if you were on the right track with assignments - they were there to support and guide you."
Now working part-time at CityFitness in Ahururi, Melanie is savouring more time with Kobe while looking ahead to possible postgraduate studies as a pathway into teaching.