When most 16-year-olds were figuring out the NCEA system and counting up credits, Tauranga-born Jolene Skeen was off to university.

Four years down the track, she's nearly finished her law degree at Waikato University, and is heading to Cambodia with a Prime Minister's Scholarship for Asia.

The former Tauranga Girls' College student started studying law at the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus in 2013, when she was just 16.

"I left school after year 12 and was accepted into a Diploma in Law because of my school grades."


While she was at college, Skeen worked 20 hours a week at the local Countdown to help fund her studies. The money she saved, along with some help from her parents, meant she didn't have to take out a student loan.

Skeen is one of 42 students in the most recent round to win a Prime Minister's Scholarship for Asia- but it's not her first. She won two PMSAs last year, which she put towards two six-week university exchanges in China and Indonesia. This time she's applied to do a 12-week internship with the UN in Cambodia, assisting with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. While there, Skeen will assist with case reports and legal drafts writing.

Skeen is most looking forward to the networking opportunities, but also can't wait to get back to Asia. She speaks Mandarin and Japanese and holds a second dan black belt in martial arts. She is also studying political science at Waikato University, and a graduate diploma in Japanese.

"My professional aim is to work alongside people that are also passionate in the field of humanitarian justice."

Skeen's now in her fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Laws and plans to do a masters next year.

"I want to go to Australia or the US to study international criminal law, specialising in terrorism," she says.

"After that I'm not sure what I want to do. Work in the intelligence sector for the Government maybe, or become a diplomat. We'll see."

When she's not studying or instructing martial arts, Skeen volunteers at the Red Cross, works for the Waikato Students' Union and helps run projects for Law for Change Waikato. She feels lucky to have received a PMSA individual award. 124 scholarships in total were awarded.