Combining education, science and dance

With a passion for making positive change to family life in Aotearoa New Zealand, University of Canterbury (UC) graduate Shawn Thomas believes “dance can change the world”.

His experiences working with children and families during his time at UC, alongside the qualifications he acquired, have seen him embark on an impactful career in the EdTech industry.

While pursuing his career, Shawn held onto his dream to spread joy through dance, featuring in a TV series described as the most vibrant dancing show in the country.

Shawn’s pursuit of dance together with his experiences at UC have proven invaluable to his career trajectory, which he shares, here:

What motivated you to start dancing?

I always loved the idea that dance can change the world. It can bring happiness to people who watch it more than singing or sport can. Anyone can dance but it takes a different attitude to be a performer. The motivation has always been seeing and making people happy when they watch me on stage or on the screen.

Can you tell us more about your dancing journey?

I started dancing at the age of five and came to New Zealand at age nine. I always had a passion for stage but I knew there was more to dance than performing in front of an audience.

With the boom of social media, including Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, I had an opportunity to share my dancing with a bigger online audience. From this opportunity, I earned a role as a judge on a national TV series, based on the Bollywood dance form I specialise in.

The Great New Zealand Dance Masala [a season of 8 episodes broadcast over two months on TV3] took the best of India’s centuries-old dance culture and combined it with an entertainment format where New Zealanders of all backgrounds could compete to win.

Has your time at UC influenced you?

At UC, I learned that relationships and partnerships are the most important thing in one’s success. Team exercises and group study allowed me to work and get to know people more deeply. This helped me in team building and working with different types of people, which influenced a huge part of my creative and professional career.

What are you doing now?

I’m currently working as a product manager for a company called ‘User Friendly Resources’ that makes resources for primary and secondary school teachers. These resources are primarily teacher guides that make lives easy for teachers inside the classroom. They are designed with diverse learners in mind, and provide engaging and innovative ideas to supplement teaching programmes.

As you could imagine, we are in high demand right now and we’re looking to take more of our resources online to make it more accessible in the current digital age.

What was your experience like at UC?

During my time at UC I was teaching dance regularly to young children – that’s how my passion for children and families came about. I got good grades while studying toward my Bachelor of Science, and these studies gave me insight into child and family psychology. My experiences helped me to relate to teachers and parents, and I wanted to learn more about what I could do to make a difference.

I was also working as a teacher aide at a low decile school in Christchurch at the time, which made me aware of the huge demand in the mental health sector – especially for children and families.

What are some of your favourite UC memories?

My time at UC was incredible. Every day provided a fresh experience, especially being part of the early days of the Christchurch rebuild. It was a challenging yet rewarding time to be part of a close-knit community. I learned how to manage my time well, while keeping in check with my side passion – dancing whenever I could.

I managed to lean in to all of my interests through the clubs on campus. I was involved in the UC Indian students’ association, UC Psyc and MUSOC. I enjoyed performing on stage as well as meeting new people.

Campus life allowed me to really expand my network and connections. Even now, I’m still friends with most of the people I connected with during my time at UC.

How have your studies helped you in your career?

I studied a Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci) in child and family psychology at UC, which has helped me to enter the EdTech industry. Knowing and working with teachers during my final year of my postgraduate studies has helped to create the desired user experiences and products in my work today.

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