Judy’s story

Graduating with a PhD from the University of Auckland at the age of 68, Dr Judy Selvaraj is a poster girl for lifelong learning.

Dr Judy Selvaraj graduated on 27 September this year with a PhD from the University of Auckland on policy analysis of inclusion and special education.

Her journey to get to this point hasn’t always been easy, something that is evident as she reflects on how far she has come.

“For me to do the last two degrees [Master of Education and PhD)] involved much personal sacrifice. I have worked so hard over the past 20 years that I sometimes get teary about where I am now and how a girl from a poor suburb could achieve to these levels,” she says.

The ‘poor suburb’ she mentions was Grey Lynn; while hard to comprehend now, when Judy was growing up it wasn’t the sought-after suburb it is now. She attended Auckland Girls’ Grammar School (AGGS) until the fifth form, where she was awarded a commercial prize for shorthand and typing. Judy relished her education – “learning came easily for me” – however, her parents needed income to help pay the rent and it was clear that her attention needed to be focused more on employment than further education.

Upon leaving school Judy continued to develop her shorthand and typing skills at night classes. A teacher shortage in 1971 helped her find employment at AGGS as a commercial teacher of shorthand/typing and bookkeeping.

Judy says she hated the inferiority she felt among the other teachers due to her lack of a university degree, and higher education beckoned to her. She officially trained as a teacher in 1974 and continued to work as a secondary school teacher right through into the 1980s, becoming a single parent in 1981.

However, it wasn’t until her mother passed away in 1985 that Judy decided to pursue a university degree.

Her mother was a huge inspiration for Judy as shown in the dedication to her at the start of her PhD thesis: “She passed, far too soon at 57, and she left a legacy of inspiration as I began my journey as the first female in our family to enter university.”

“Some people probably think it’s a bit over the top,” says Judy of the dedication. “But I thought it was important to include. I’m glad I did.”

Her mother had never attended secondary school herself, yet had supported Judy on her own path toward education and self-fulfilment.

Judy completed a New Start Course at the University of Auckland; her A grades allowed her to enrol on a psychology degree there. She juggled full-time teaching, solo parenting and working for the teachers’ union with her university studies, graduating with a BA (Psychology and Education) in 1994. She went on to complete an MA (Hons) in Psychology in 1997.

She became interested in special education and took up a position in North Carolina that allowed her to pursue more research in this field.

Returning to New Zealand in 2005, Judy then set up her own practice as an educational psychologist working with families and schools. She then completed a Master of Education, graduating in 2012 with first class honours, paving the way for her PhD in education, which she completed while continuing to run her business.

Judy’s story is inspiring. It’s about hard work, beating the odds, and breaking the cycle. She sums it up beautifully in her introduction to her thesis:

“As the first female undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD candidate in my extended family, ownership of this doctoral pathway also belongs to those single mothers and grandmothers who stoically ‘manage’ their households, despite having smaller incomes. Their time constraints and the wearing of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ hats present daily parenting responsibilities and extra challenges above and beyond the call of duty. When embarking on a tertiary journey, their lives take on different meanings and they are immersed within the need to balance parenting and studying.

To these ‘angels’ and others beginning this awesome journey, the message is simple. Education is lifelong and worth it. You can make that difference for your children.”

Driden’s story

After completing his degree at the Open Polytechnic, Driden Kunaka is finding ways of making a real difference to education in Zimbabwe.

A childhood dream of being able to bring books to his primary school has driven Driden Kunaka to pursue his passion for books. He is now making a huge difference to the lives of school children in Zimbabwe.

Having completed his Bachelor of Arts (Communication and Information & Library Studies) with the Open Polytechnic, Driden is realising his dream.

Driden says the degree courses he completed were not only relevant in his current role as a records manager at the Waikato District Health Board but a project management course enabled him to take on the management of a charitable trust, the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Library Trust, which aims to mobilise reading resources for underprivileged rural schools in Zimbabwe.

“During the course of my studies, I managed to juxtapose the differences in the provision of library services for children in New Zealand and those in Zimbabwe and concluded that something had to be done to help to improve access to information for children in less developed countries,” explains Driden.

A Zimbabwean colleague who lived in Auckland asked Driden for advice on what he could do for the primary school he went to in Zimbabwe.

“I told him if he had money to ship books to Zimbabwe I could get some books for him. He gave me the go ahead to look for books, and I did and got nearly a thousand books, which he shipped to Zimbabwe and were delivered to the school,” Driden says.

The books made a huge impact. The head of the school said that academic results improved at the school after the books were received and used.

“I then thought we could start a programme that mobilised resources for a few more schools. This led to the establishment of the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Library Trust, which has been registered as a charitable trust in Zimbabwe and in New Zealand. The trust intends to develop a model for library development for rural schools in developing countries.”

Driden hopes that once the model is established in Zimbabwe he will be able to replicate similar projects in other countries where there is a similar need – something he has wanted to do since he was at school in Zimbabwe.

“As a young child attending Nyamasanga Primary School in Chitomborwizi rural area in Zimbabwe, I used to visualise myself driving a truck full of books past the school assembly. I didn’t know about libraries then, but in the last year at primary school, I was selected to work in the book storeroom where textbooks that were not in use were stored,” he explains.

“In 1985, unaware that there were courses offered in librarianship, I saw an advertisement in a local Zimbabwean newspaper calling on people to train as librarians. I applied and was called for interviews, and eventually accepted for the three-year diploma in library and information science course offered by the Harare Polytechnic College. I wanted to advance to degree level, but there were no degree programmes in Zimbabwe at that time. When I moved to New Zealand in 2005, I found the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand to be the only option for me to up skill to a degree.”

Working full-time and studying through the Open Polytechnic was the best option for Driden.

“The Open Polytechnic is the only institution that I know of in New Zealand that offers a degree programme in library and information science and you can study at a time that is convenient for you.”

While juggling a full-time job, family and charitable work was difficult at times, Driden, who celebrated his graduation this year, encourages those who are looking to upskill to pursue their study goals.

Seteuati’s story

Victoria University of Wellington postgraduate student and future secondary school teacher Seteuati Tulafono-Nofoaiga was awarded the Ministry of Education’s prestigious Kupe Scholarship.

Seteuati Tulafono-Nofoaiga, of Samoan heritage, was among the 30 Māori and Pasifika student teachers from around the country to receive the Kupe Scholarship, presented by Education Minister Hon Hekia Parata. Kupe Scholarships are awarded to highly accomplished Māori and Pasifika student teachers based on strong academic success and demonstrable leadership experience. The scholarship helps fund course fees, and provides a study allowance, mentoring and job-seeking assistance.

Seteuati Tulafono-Nofoaiga has been a tertiary and secondary school teacher in Samoa for 13 years, but began a Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) at Victoria this year in order to teach in New Zealand.

Seteuati says he is “very honoured and humbled” to receive the award that he hopes might encourage other Māori and Pasifika to study hard and apply for scholarships.

Seteuati plans to teach Samoan studies at secondary school after he graduates.

“I have an undergraduate degree in English and geography, and a Master of Education from Victoria University in Melbourne. But when I came to New Zealand, I felt it was important I promote my language. Too many Samoans have lost the language and the aim for me is to encourage Samoan descendants to have pride in their language, and their culture.”

Ben’s story

Fulbright scholar Ben Simons reflects on the joys and challenges of researching the Yasur volcano in the remote Vanuatuan island of Tanna.

I have always wanted a career that takes me to new, exotic and exciting places. This is most probably a result of my experiences as a child growing up in South East Asia.

I returned to New Zealand to finish my secondary education, and shortly after started a BSc in earth science at the University of Waikato. I quickly fell in love with the natural sciences and continued with an MSc (my thesis topic was on the deposits of Blue Lake Crater, Tongariro). After completing my MSc in 2013 I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in volcanology. I am currently working towards this goal by undertaking a PhD at the University of Auckland.

My PhD research is focused on Yasur volcano, a small scoria cone located on Tanna, a rural island of 25,000 inhabitants in the southern end of the Vanuatu archipelago. Yasur is a persistently active volcano, one of only a handful on the planet. These volcanoes exist in a near-continuous state of eruption. Activity at Yasur consists of small Strombolian-style explosions that occur almost every minute from a number of summit vents. It is believed that this activity has continued without significant pause for the past 1,500 years.

My research seeks to understand the controls on the processes that sustain such consistent activity over such long timescales. These processes, for the most part, are currently poorly understood. I hope to bring together an understanding of the deep internal dynamics (e.g. magmatic processes) with shallow-level processes (such as eruption dynamics) to build a unified model of the factors that control explosive eruption behaviour.

The main body of my research involves three months of uninterrupted fieldwork at Yasur in which I am deploying a suite of monitoring and data collection methods (including thermal cameras, gas spectrometers, seismometers, ash and rainfall collection, etc).

At the time of writing, I am living several kilometres from Yasur, having just completed my first month of fieldwork. Tanna is a rural island of roughly 25,000 inhabitants, which brings with it several challenges. There is very little infrastructure on the island and no electricity. Charging my many pieces of equipment every night can be a struggle on generator power. If equipment breaks it may take several weeks to bring in a replacement, so learning to repair and adapt has been a huge part of my first month of work. Staying in communication with my family and work colleagues is also difficult as internet and telecommunications are limited. This is particularly taxing on my wife and son, both of whom I miss greatly.

In 2015 I was awarded a Fulbright Science and Innovation Award. I spent the time on my Fulbright exchange in Hawaii working as a visiting student researcher at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. This experience was an invaluable one. I learnt from some of the best volcanologists in the world, and brought back with me a great deal of knowledge that I can apply to my own research.

While there I was fortunate enough to visit the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and get up close to the lava lake at Kilauea. My family and I (my wife and nearly two-year-old son) were able to experience life and culture in the United States, and we are happy to have been able to reciprocally impart some of our ideas and experiences as Kiwis. The Fulbright programme exposed me to an international community of brilliant minds and world leading researchers and I am truly honoured to count myself among them.

Jane’s story

Jane Adams juggled raising young children while tackling an Otago PhD on the history of infertility in New Zealand.

While working as a lawyer at a large Melbourne commercial firm, Jane and her husband conceived their first child after multiple rounds of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Delving into IVF history, Jane discovered that New Zealand’s infertility history hadn’t been written and was inspired to take it on as a PhD topic, instinctively looking to Otago as an academic base.

“I had graduated from Otago in 2001 with an Honours degree in history and a Bachelor of Laws. Professor Barbara Brookes had been my Honours supervisor and I was confident I’d work well with her again – she also had the expertise in my broader PhD area of reproductive health history.

“My research centres around the history of infertility in New Zealand from the 1950s to 2004 with a particular focus upon medico-legal responses. My other supervisor, Law Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan, is director of the Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, so he had the requisite expertise in assisted reproductive technologies law. Otago, of course, is also home to New Zealand’s first medical school so the resources for studying the history of medicine are unparalleled.”

Dunedin also appealed to Jane for being a relatively affordable and compact city for young family life.

“Both my supervisors have been really supportive. I began my PhD in 2011, changed from full- to part-time in 2012 and deferred after my second child was born. The university’s personal performance and development coach Brian Johnston has been great, too, helping me figure out how to juggle part-time study and family commitments.”

Jane says her research interests include how the introduction of various new assisted reproductive technologies over time may have affected the way infertility was approached.

“Gaining an understanding of this can reveal what factors shaped our current attitudes towards parenting and childlessness, be that involuntary or voluntary.”

Ellyn’s story

Ellyn Proffit, who is currently completing her Master of Nursing at Wintec, recently won Waikato DHB’s Nurse of the Year.

Waikato Regional Cancer Centre clinical nurse specialist and Wintec postgraduate student Ellyn Proffit has been named Nurse of the Year by the Waikato District Health Board.

The award is announced annually by the Waikato DHB as part of International Nurses Day, which took place last month.

“It just doesn’t feel real,” Ellyn says. “The response I’ve had from people has been overwhelming. I even had the woman who helped birth me and my twin sister send me a message of congratulations!”

Ellyn’s role at Waikato Hospital is to support, advocate for and educate young adults living with cancer across the Midland region.

“I see it as an honour and a privilege to be a nurse. You get to help people when they’re at their most vulnerable. They will often share their deepest thoughts with you so you’re privy to a lot of things that people normally wouldn’t express,” she says.

“Cancer hits all walks of life and it can be a really scary time for these young people. My job isn’t just about helping people with their physical needs it’s also about being there for them emotionally and psychologically. I feel like I’m making a real difference in people’s lives.”

Waikato DHB’s Director of Nursing Sue Hayward has been particularly impressed with Ellyn.

“Ellyn has quietly and competently, while using her skills, worked with her patient population ensuring they and their families are as engaged as possible with their health journey. She seeks direction from this group so as to improve how services and care is delivered.

“In a world where the focus on adults can take over, she presents and represents the needs of this group and their families extremely well.”

Ellyn completed Wintec’s Bachelor of Nursing 20 years ago as part of the country’s first Tihei Mauri Ora class – a study stream of the nursing degree offered to Māori and Pasifika students. It provides a culturally supportive environment and integrates areas of knowledge from both the western and Māori worlds.

She’s now back at Wintec completing her Master of Nursing.

Ellyn says that if it wasn’t for the supportive family environment the Tihei Mauri Ora stream provided 20 years ago, she wouldn’t have gotten through the programme and be where she is today.

“It was such a supportive environment that set me up for what has been a versatile and rewarding career, and the continued support I get now from the Wintec nursing department while I complete my master’s is so valuable,” she says.

Alongside her nursing role and full-time study at Wintec, Ellyn has spent the last 18 years volunteering with her twin sister at Camp Quality, a children’s camp for 5–16-year-olds living with cancer. She’s also a strong supporter of Canteen as a volunteer for the past nine years.

Wiremu’s story

From struggling reader to doctoral candidate at AUT, Wiremu Tipuna’s journey is truly inspiring.

Wiremu Tipuna’s journey through the education system to the point of doing a doctorate has been long and arduous. As a child he never really learned to read, write or spell and suffered humiliation and embarrassment at the hands of his teachers, family and peers. At secondary school he read – “if you can even call it that” – one book, so entering university was never an aspiration.

Later in life, with the encouragement of his wife, he visited a specialist and discovered he was dyslexic, a diagnosis that brought a sense of relief. At the same time, he started a course in te reo Māori at Unitec which brought another realisation; the curriculum included Māori history and purakau Māori (mythology).

“It was interesting what they considered to be knowledge and I realised I did have knowledge. I wanted to be able to articulate this in te reo Pākehā also but came unstuck.”

Wiremu followed his reo Māori learning at Unitec by enrolling in a Bachelor of Arts (Māori development) at AUT. To help with his dyslexia he began the Danks Davis tutoring programme, which he did for two years, attending workshops in the weekends where he developed coping strategies.

“In my undergrad years I also received some fantastic support from the AUT disabilities office, which provided me with a note-taker during lectures and a reader-writer with extra time and my own space during exams. My undergraduate years, although they were very difficult and stressful, were the years where I further strengthened and developed the coping mechanisms learned with Zannie [Danks].”

Wiremu planned to go no further than an undergraduate degree, but that all changed in his last year when he attended the Māori Pasifika Postgraduate Student Wānanga at the AUT Marae.

“It was an eye opener for me and very refreshing to see Māori and Pasifika students of different ages pursuing postgraduate study, thus the excitement of being around those Māori higher-level thinkers became the stimulus for my postgrad journey. I loved every moment of my Master of Arts journey as the topic I chose became my voyage of rediscovery and connection.

“The tools developed during my MA journey and the Intergenerational Knowledge Transmission model based on a whānau, hapū whakatauākī, has become the notion of knowledge I would like to further explore and develop. My passion within my current employment role is to assist Māori to find academic success and thus my EdD journey excites me.”

Mahonri’s story

University of Waikato’s PhD student Mahonri Owen is developing a prosthetic hand that can perform the basic functions of a human hand.

Mahonri Owen was awarded a Health Research Council Māori PhD Scholarship worth $111,550 at the start of 2016, and more recently he received a $30,000 Rose Hellaby Postgraduate Scholarship.

“Life is never the same when you lose a hand or any body part for that matter – through injury, or warfare, genetic dysfunction or illness,” Mahonri says.

“What I’m attempting is to design a brain-controlled prosthetic hand that is easy to produce, easy to adapt to and affordable – one that can restore function and quality of life in a better, faster and cheaper way than we’ve seen before.”

He is making progress. His research has seen him make several different hands using an Arduino micro-controller and off-the- shelf components. His skeleton hand was made using on-screen CAD (computer-aided design) to map out the mechanism. He then created the 50-plus components using an Objet 30 3D printer, which lays the design down in resin 0.3 of a millimetre at a time.  As one layer hardens, another is added until the skeleton is built up. The first hand took seven hours to print.

Using electroencephalography (EEG), the hands are able to execute basic movements, such as open and close. What Mahonri wants to develop is a more sophisticated hand.

“I want to make my own EEG headset specifically for hands. So when the brain says ‘pinch’ or ‘point’ that’s what the hand will do.”

Mahonri says being able to control a robotic device with the brain is a hot topic worldwide and as far as he knows he’s the only person in New Zealand who is working on an anthropomorphic robotic prosthetic hand.

He says the use of neural interface (brain control) would also increase the rate of prosthetic acceptance.

“The trauma and pain that accompanies the loss of a limb is hard to overcome, physically and mentally, and if my research can make recovery easier, then I’ll be very happy.”

Mahonri (Ngāti Tuwharetoa and Ngāpuhi) has had good support from his iwi over the years, but he says he wouldn’t be able to complete his doctorate without the help of his scholarships. He was one of two New Zealanders to be awarded a Rose Hellaby Postgraduate Scholarship this year. Rose Hellaby was a visionary and benefactor who in 1969 established the Māori Education Fund with the New Zealand Guardian Trust (now Perpetual Guardian) to provide education opportunities for young Māori.

Keith’s story

Keith Tetzlaff completed a Master of Educational Leadership and Management at Unitec.

“Graduation is a nice culmination of four years of solid work!” says Keith Tetzlaff, Papakura Central School’s principal, who has just completed a Master of Educational Leadership and Management from Unitec Institute of Technology. His students might ponder why their principal “at the older end of the spectrum” keeps studying.

“As an educator I am always on a learning journey, taking my learning further, and developing skills and knowledge. The master’s is engaging and challenging – a process of ‘reading, research, practice and reflection’ – which has changed how I practice leadership.

“The whole programme is in the context of teaching and learning with children at the centre, always considering the implications for schools and what is happening for the children.”

Keith’s thesis covered the nature, leading and development of senior leadership teams.

“I was surprised that leadership teams in primary schools were not already well researched. The topic is personal and relevant and I feel great satisfaction contributing to the extension of knowledge in this field.

“My thesis shows leadership is a shared responsibility. School principals need to promote and share leadership responsibility with their senior leadership teams and understand that as teams develop they go through stages of forming, storming, norming and performing – it’s not always an easy process. Relationships are the single most important feature of senior leadership team success.”

Keith says completing his degree has “had its moments”.

“You have to have perseverance and self-motivation, but that’s good because perseverance and self-motivation is a requirement of my role as a principal.”

Leading up to study, Keith took his time to find a programme with a strong reputation and practicality.

“Unitec’s Master of Educational Leadership and Management is a well-recognised qualification with minimal impact on the school day.

The way the programme is structured allowed me to study part-time and had block courses during the school holidays which meant not having to go to lectures at the end of a busy work day so I could give 100 per cent to work and study.”


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