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Thursday 24 November 2022 10:41am

Manon Knapen and dog Parker staff awards image
Dr Manon Knapen with her dog Parker.

Growing up in Belgium in a family that was very active in sustainable practice, Dr Knapen's father always told her that taking care of the environment was a privilege – and if you could afford to do it, you were in a fortunate place.

This sentiment has given her a real sense of personal responsibility, she is very considered in all her purchases and the impact of all she does, as well as an understanding that each of us has differing abilities to contribute to sustainable practices.

“I realise that everyone is at a different starting point and have different levels for how much they can do and that's OK. We can all make the changes we can and slowly adjust,” Dr Knapen says.

Dr Knapen grew up with a love of the outdoors, which led to studies in biology. Her absolute favourite animal was the tardigrade. Noticing not everyone held the same affection for these unusual creatures (see magnified photo) was a revelation and key to her interest in science communication.

She came to Otago to complete a Postdoctoral Thesis in Science Communication, on how people perceive alternative medicines.

Now she works as a Scientific Officer, Kaitohutohu Pūtaiao in the Division of Health Sciences Research and Development Team, “I enjoy being able to help. In my job, I support a lot of researchers in many ways. I also get excited by all things research and enjoy hearing about the variety of research going on in the Division.”

It's her deep interest and empathy for people along with a love and knowledge of the natural environment that make Dr Knapen such a great champion for sustainability.

tardiBehold the rare beauty of the tardigrade (Photograph: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library)

“The beauty of the natural environment just blew me away when I arrived here,” says Dr Knapen “I would love to see us really respect and care for it.

“My main goal is to raise awareness and show people that you can make a small change that leads to a big difference. What we each do may feel insignificant, but it does add up and increasing awareness does influence larger institutions and mass movements.”

Dr Knapen started leading the Health Sciences Division Office's Green Your Scene team three years ago. During this time, the team has worked hard to implement the University's goals around sustainability. A team of people in the Health Sciences Divisional Office nominated Dr Knapen.

“Manon has been a driving force, continually sharing information and encouraging everyone to get involved. The steadfast and continual input from Manon over the last three years demonstrates her integrity and commitment to sustainable living.

“Manon has contributed to the sense of community in the office, and we have respect for her

efforts and knowledge. When you walk around the space, awareness of sustainability issues and choices are visible around you – from notes that encourage you to turn off a light in an empty room, to posters of information that increase your understanding and give ideas of what action you can take,” write Dr Knapen's colleagues in her nomination.

Dr Knapen says she's thrilled with this award: “I was really surprised. My colleagues didn't say anything and I really didn't see it coming. It feels amazing to be recognised but I also would like to acknowledge the rest of the Green Your Scene Team: Helen, Julie and Shar.”

Dr Knapen sees great potential for Otago to be a leader in sustainability and believes this would enhance the University's reputation on a global scale. She is carefully considering what sustainability initiative she can seed with her prize money…watch this space.

See here for stories on the rest of the Staff Awards recipients.

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