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Student Profiles - Humanities

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Find out students reasons for undertaking distance study and how their learning has been applied in their workplace:


Taiawhio Raihania Waititi  (Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Ngai Tāmanuhiri, Ngāti Awa)

Master of Indigenous Studies

"This degree is also about widening my experience, making me more well-rounded and more employable"

For Taiawhio Raihania Waititi, working towards an Otago Master of Indigenous Studies degree combines his past, his present and his future. A Senior Business Advisor with the Mäori Land Court, at the Ministry of Justice in Wellington, Taiawhio’s research focuses on the history of Māori land that has been in his family for more than 100 years, while building his skills and improving his future marketability.

Taiawhio, of Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Ngai Tāmanuhiri and Ngāti Awa descent, was born in Southland and grew up in Mataura, a long way from his iwi in the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast.

After finishing his Bachelor of Science degree in computer science, and a Diploma for Graduates in information science, he started his career working for the Ministry of Justice in Rotorua. It was while working with the Ministry that he began to reconnect with his whänau and to research the Mäori Land interests held by them in the Te Kaha area.

Taiawhio laughs that he started a master’s degree at Otago “because I was told to” by a former fellow student and mentor, now Otago lecturer, Dr Paerau Warwick. But what really sold it was the ability to do it by distance, and the fact the structure of the degree meant he could integrate it into his busy work life in Wellington, and that he could work closely with his supervisor to customise the programme to fit his interests. “I wasn’t really sure that I had anything to research, but Paerau showed me I already had the project – I just needed a different way of looking at it.” Read more...

Nikki Hulton-Harrison  

Nikki Hulton-Harrison student profile

Master of Teaching

Working in a secondary school inside a Youth Justice Facility brings its challenges, but it’s not why Nikki Hulton-Harrison is choosing to further her education.

As assistant principal at Te Maioha O Parekarangi, a division of Kingslea School which has schools in four Youth Justice Centres around New Zealand, Nikki works with students who have come from the court system.

Her papers in first a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching, and now a Masters in Education, have been helpful with her work, but it was her own children she wanted to impress. “I have four children and two step-children and they have been talking about the qualifications they plan to get. I thought I wanted to be a role model for them and show them, I can do it. “It’s also about taking the next step to learn about my craft.”

Nikki and her fellow teachers have their students for as little as a week and up to a year. Their role is to continue, or in some cases kick-start again, education for the young people in their care. “It’s a very different way of teaching. Each of our students start with standard assessments to find out where they are at, and are then given individual programmes.” Read more...

Matiu Payne (Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Kinohaku)

Master of Indigenous Studies

Matiu Payne resizedI chose postgraduate study via distance because I could fit it in with my work and family life.

I grew up in a rural Banks Peninsula community called Koukourarata (Port Levy). This was my pā, and base of my hapū Kāi Tūtehuarewa, of the Kāi Tahu people. I’m working full-time and the distance programme means most of my study is done after hours when the kids are asleep, or during work study time granted by my employer.

It was this specific course and the flexibility that wasn’t replicated anywhere else that made me choose Otago for my Masters degree. I also always loved Dunedin and my previous time at Otago when I started my undergraduate degree. My lecturers have been outstanding in terms of their knowledge and engagement online, and my supervisor is really supportive, even when his comments are challenging ideas I’ve put forward. This is part of the fun of it! Read more

Reverend John Ngalihesi

Master of Ministry

John Ngalihesi student profile

When Reverend John Ngalihesi returned to his homeland in Solomon Islands in 1999 after completing his undergraduate degree in Theology, he soon realised he wasn’t through with learning.

His country was disintegrating into a violent, ethnic-based conflict that would last several years, and John was appointed to a key role in co-ordinating the Melanesian Brotherhood – the largest Anglican community in the world and the only group of people who could move freely between the factions.

In the ensuing years he witnessed the atrocities of civil war and did what he could to intermediate between warring parties, local communities and the police while being chaplain and peace advisor to Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakesa. The fighting ended in 2003 and John became the national co-ordinator for disarmament and an advisor to senior members of the Anglican Church of Melanesia and the government.

John felt strongly that he needed to reflect critically on what had happened and find a way forward through learning in order to help his country heal. In 2009 he was awarded a Church scholarship enabling him to travel to Auckland’s College of St John the Evangelist and undertake a Postgraduate Diploma in Theology via Otago’s distance learning programme. He completed this in 2010 and was offered the opportunity to progress to a Master of Ministry. His thesis records the peace-making efforts of the Melanesian Brotherhood, assesses the meaning of their martyrdom and surveys the legacy of peace they left behind. Read more ...

Terri Caulcutt student profileTerri Caulcutt

Master of Social Work

Putting whānau first: When Terri Caulcutt was in high school she was told the only job she should aspire to was typing. Now, as a mother of three, she has gained a Master of Social Work, having completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Social and Community Work at the University of Otago. That’s a long way from the typing pool, and her success is largely because of whānau support and the ability to study without having to leave home.

Terri is of Ngāti Maniapoto descent, and was brought up by her grandmother on a small farm near Piopio, in Te Rohe Potae. She completed a Bachelor of Social Sciences in 1998, later working with children and families at Child, Youth and Family in Hamilton. Here she recruits, assesses, supports and advocates for caregivers, reviews caregivers regularly and supports frontline social workers when whānau members want to become caregivers for their mokopuna.

Keen to gain full registration as a social worker, Terri enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma programme offered via distance learning by the University of Otago’s Department of Social Work and Community Development. Terri received strong support from the Dunedin-based departmental staff, found the flexibility of distance learning helpful, and enjoyed participating in online discussions with colleagues.

The practical skills and knowledge Terri has gained from her studies so far will, in turn, help her to help other whānau. Read more ...

Russell Blakelock

Doctor of Education

Russell Blakelock student profile

A medical man studying education: A paediatric surgeon and senior lecturer in surgery at the University’s Christchurch School of Medicine, he also found time to study for a Doctor of Education through Otago’s Distance Learning programme. While this might seem like an incongruous fit, Russell has a real interest in inter-disciplinary communication in the medical arena – in medical practice and in medical education – with a particular focus on the way inwhich personality influences communication style.

Almost as important as finding the right course, Russell needed to find a study option that he could fit around his already tight schedule. Otago’s Distance Learning programme offered him the flexibility he needed, as well as a sense of community that he also believes to be important.

“It suits my workplace situation – I have total flexibility and great support from administrative staff and lecturers. People are always there to call on via phone or email, or in person, and they always seem to be enthusiastic.

“The biggest challenge is fitting it all into an already busy life... Read more