By LOUISA CLEAVE
When her son went off to school this year so did Carol Hirschfeld. The stunning TV3 newsreader went through what all mothers do when their first child comes of school age — mourn the lost mornings spent together and wonder how to fill the void.
So while her only child, Will, started on his eduction path Hirschfeld decided to return to hers, enrolling for a paper in political studies at Auckland University.
"It's a really good paper, the foundations of Western political thought. It's a great history paper. The analysis of power structures and that sort of stuff is always useful in any situation."
It had been 17 years since she had last sat in a lecture hall, then taking notes for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
She doesn't make a big deal of her return to university and points out that it pales in comparison to a law degree undertaken by TV3's political editor, Jane Young.
"I had the time available and I felt I had the opportunity to nourish my head in a different way," she says.
"It's fantastic to be engaging with something that's not work-related and to be in a learning situation which keeps those parts of your brain going that haven't necessarily been stimulated for a while."
Hirschfeld sounds like your typical student, fretting about her first essay which she should be writing as we talk about her extra-curricular activities away from the 3 News studio.
"I'm anxious about doing this first essay. Can I remember how to do them?"
She also sounds slightly guilty about having to skip a lecture recently to move house with Listener-editor husband Finlay Macdonald.
Despite her television profile, Hirschfeld has gone almost unnoticed in the brightly lit university lecture room.
"I think they're way too cool to even notice and I think I'm way too old," she laughs.
"I enjoy lecture sessions because it's just fantastic to have your head stimulated in a way that's not job-related," she adds.
After three years as co-anchor on 3 News, Hirschfeld says she is feeling settled in her work and it has given her the confidence to launch out in new directions.
Another of those is as a mentor working with the youth at risk charity, Project K.
The project, set up by adventurer Graeme Dingle to teach life-skills to troubled teens, first sparked Hirschfeld's interest some years ago.
But she had always hoped to have the opportunity to take part in a mentoring programme.
"I lost my mum when I was 10 and I think my sister and I really, really felt the loss of an older female figure in our teenage years.
"I had said to myself that when I got older, if I had the chance to help, particularly young Polynesian teenage girls build up their confidence in some way, I would like to be involved."
Hirschfeld says spending time with the 15-year-old South Auckland girl she is mentoring had been an eye-opener for her and the teenager.
"I was suddenly confronted with 'wow, what might she want to do? What does she want to talk about? Will she like me? Will she think I'm too completely different from her world?'
"The first time we went out together I had to ask her, 'what do you do?' I had no idea who N-Sync was, but now I'm down with the kids. I watch those videos."
Hirschfeld, who is Ngati Porou, has not restricted her television role to the newsreading desk.
She appeared in last week's documentary Inside New Zealand: The Truth About Maori and says she and co-anchor John Campbell are encouraged to pursue news stories.
Her most recent was an interview with Robbie Williams but, unlike many female journalists who encountered the pop star on his New Zealand visit, Hirschfeld was unmoved by his flirtatious antics.
"He brings out more the maternal side of me. He looked rather tired when I talked to him and I thought 'I wonder if he's getting enough sleep?' Clearly he wasn't. I thought it was the jet lag."