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Alumnus applauds Aquinas changes 50 years on

Thursday, 8 February 2018 12:45pm

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(From left) International Office student services manager and former Alumni Relations head Alison Finigan with Linda and Sze Foong, Dr Tony Yelavich and Dr John Curran.

When alumnus Sze Foong returned to Otago for the first time in 50 years last November he was pleased to see much had changed at Aquinas College – and that a van now conveyed residents to and from the Dunedin campus.

Sze Foong, who completed a BCom majoring in Marketing Management in 1968, says the hilly walk to and from the Dunedin campus “stands out” in his mind.

“Sometimes I had to do that four times a day. It was challenging during the cold winter months when the road was icy.”
He visited Dunedin with wife Linda late last year when the cruise ship he was holidaying on visited the city.

Aquinas Head of College Luke McClelland was out of town but Sze Foong lunched with Dr John Curran and Dr Tony Yelavich, who were residents on the same floor in the late 1960s.

“I could readily recognise John and Tony as they have not changed much, except with some grey hairs and a few wrinkles. It was a joyous reunion and we went out for lunch reminiscing about our time at Aquinas, and Otago.”

Vivid memories of Aquinas

Sze Foong also remembers how a dining hall rule created a competitive environment; students were only allowed a second helping when they had finished their meals.

“Oh boy, I saw some of the fastest eaters in my time at Aquinas. It just took them minutes to clean up their plates and there they were lining up for seconds. There was not much left over for another helping so only a few young men secured more food.”

On Sundays the best breakfast, consisting of bacon and eggs, was served. But this also created a sense of urgency and students, many still in their pyjamas, would dash into the dining hall at the last minute to get their breakfast. When breakfast time was up, the door was closed and locked, with the unfortunate stragglers left banging on the door.

Students also enjoyed many hijinks, and Sze Foong remembers a group carrying a small Fiat 500 car from the carpark and placing it in front of the dining hall on the second floor.

“I also remember going up to the roof balcony for a break and fresh air, admiring the panoramic view of the campus and the city.”
How has Aquinas College changed?

Aquinas has undergone significant change and expansion since Sze Foong’s days, when there were no women residents.

“Another change is having tutorials in the college. I noticed extensive changes to the location of the dining room, offices, common room and TV room and landscaping has enhanced the college’s look.

“The old chapel has been converted into a gymnasium. In my time, I had to go down to the varsity hall to play badminton. Now, you can exercise at your doorstep. Perhaps the most welcome addition was that a van now provides a shuttle service to and from the University.”

Who were some stand-out lecturers or staff?

Sze Foong has fond memories of two stand-out lecturers – Dr Adolf Diegel, a Fulbright scholar, who lectured him in "Human Organisation" and William R McLennan (Commerce Faculty staff from 1964 to 1966) who taught "Concepts in Management".

An outstanding staff member at Aquinas was the Dean, Father (Jacko) Jackson, he says.

“He made you feel at ease and was friendly, considerate, accommodating and helpful – I got along well with him.”

What have you done since attending Otago?

After graduating Sze Foong toured New Zealand because he thought he’d never revisit the country.

He also wrote to all New Zealand companies with offices in Malaysia, and The New Zealand Insurance Company replied asking him to visit their Singapore office for an interview on the way back to Kuala Lumpur.

“I made a stopover in Singapore and was offered a job in their Kuala Lumpur office. The New Zealand Insurance Company gave me my first executive posting and sent me to attend a few management courses. With my years of executive experience, I applied for managerial positions that became available in other companies. I was successful in some of them.”

“I settled down, got married and started a family. When my two boys were growing up, we decided to migrate to Canada to give them a better future. We have been in Vancouver now for some 28 years.”

Alumni fact: Dr John Curran retired from Otago's Department of Mathematics and Statistics as a senior lecturer in 2013 after lecturing for almost 40 years at all levels in the Department. His main area of specialization and research was in algebra (particularly group theory). He was one of the principal organisers of the Department’s Junior Mathematics Competition (years 9-11) during its first 12 years and the Department’s Chief Advisor of Studies for more than a decade before retirement.