With a degree in whakairo, a diploma in adult education and active involvement at Mataatua Marae in Māngere, Jay Mason was more than ready to delve into the Applied Masters of Indigenous Knowledge at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
For his degree he travelled monthly to Hamilton but on the weekend of his first Te Hiringa Waka noho, his mum fell ill.
"I took it as a tohu that the timing wasn't right," says the Ngāti Awa carver.
"Now looking back, if can see that if I'd taken on the MA I wouldn't be where I am today."
Jay has completed a first-year pilot programme teaching carving to year 11 and 12 Ōtāhuhu College pupils. It is the only mainstream secondary school in Auckland to deliver such an option.
"They gave me a class of mischief kids of course, but I got them their credits which was a big plus. The part-time module showed results and they rewarded me with a full-time job next year," says Jay.
"I think the principal has accepted that I have a different way of teaching."
Not only did he teach them how to chisel wood, he also showed them how to prepare a hāngī, conduct karakia and follow other Māori tikanga.
Jay was referred to teach the programme by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa whakairo kaiako Korari Boyd and Bobby Te Huia.
He had already been teaching carving programmes for nine years at his Ngāti Awa iwi Marae Mataatua, which was built in the 1970's to support the Māori urban drift.
Jay says along with seeking the knowledge of whakairo through his Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts - Maunga Kura Toi degree, he also decided to seek an education tohu so he could also pass it on.
One of his pupils, Taniela Tuakakalu, has already enrolled to continue his whakairo at TWoA and another of Jay's female students also wants to continue carving.
Although within Jay's own iwi women can't carve, because the Wānanga was open to teaching wāhine, Jay has no qualms about teaching them either.
As for his marae duties, he's been fully supported to get out and pursue full time teaching next year.
"My kuia says 'go and be challenged.' They miss me but I know the marae will always be there," he says.
"I want to bring back the art form. I can see now how all the study has been worth it. Having that BMVA tohu on my CV has truly opened so many doors."