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Inaugural 20Twenties alumni awards celebrate young Otago graduates

Monday 28 September 2020 10:00am

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Dunedin-based 20Twenties young alumni award winners with Professor Helen Nicholson at the Dunedin campus. Front row left to right: Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle, Martin Hannah, Sargam Goundar, Deputy Vice-Chancellor External Engagement Professor Helen Nicholson, Lisa Blakie, Jo Mohan. Back row left to right: Thomas Devine, Sophie Mathiesen, Darryl Pupi, Sinead Ford, Pinky Lal. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

The University of Otago's inaugural 20Twenties young alumni awards aims to recognise 20 alumni in their twenties.

These alumni have demonstrated outstanding achievements, contributed widely to their communities, or have shown exceptional leadership in their personal or professional lives. Nominations were received from the wider Otago alumni community, friends, employers and colleagues.

Alumni Engagement Manager Donnella Aitken-Ferguson says the nomination review panel was impressed with the high calibre of all the nominees and spent a lot of time deliberating over who to choose for the final 20 award recipients. Panel members included representatives from all four academic divisions at the University.

“In a year of uncertainty and change, it has been heartening to be able to launch our first young alumni awards,” says Ms Aitken-Ferguson. “More importantly, the awards are an opportunity to value and celebrate the achievements and contributions of some of our youngest graduates, who as a group are facing challenging times.”

The award winners come from around New Zealand and as far afield as Melbourne and the Netherlands. Their interests and achievements range from ethical video game development and climate change initiatives, to space research and commitment to rangatahi.

Dunedin recipients gathered at a function at the University today (24 September) to receive their award certificates from Deputy Vice-Chancellor External Engagement, Professor Helen Nicholson.

“The award is a recognition that you can volunteer and you can go to university and you don’t have to do accounting, you can go and do science and learn so much and then apply it to whatever you want to do.”

Award winner Pinky Lal, who was recognised for her extensive volunteer and leadership work, says she was “very surprised and humbled” to receive the award.

“I knew I had been nominated but had forgotten about it, so when it showed up in my email I thought ‘is this real’? I don’t really think about doing things for recognition, but that my volunteer work has been recognised is so cool.”

Pinky has had a long association working as a volunteer with St John. She has been a volunteer ambulance officer since 2016, with authority to practice as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), in addition to her fulltime university studies.

In 2019 she was appointed to a permanent position with St John as an EMT. She also holds the volunteer position of District Youth Manager for Coastal Otago. She was also honoured by the Punjabi community at the annual Kiwi Punjabi Awards in 2019 in recognition of her service to St John.

Pinky says she is very committed to encouraging women and young girls into education and empowering them to reach beyond societal norms. She hopes if someone reads about what she has done through her volunteering and at university they’ll think “well if she can do it so can I” and it inspires them to move forward.

“The award is a recognition that you can volunteer and you can go to university and you don’t have to do accounting, you can go and do science and learn so much and then apply it to whatever you want to do.”

Pinky says her motivation for her work with St John comes from being able to do something for people. “Seeing their smile and knowing you have made a difference, that sense of fulfilment really motivates you, it’s not the whole heroic thing.”

Pinky graduated with BSc(Hons) in Physiology in 2018 and has just completed her MSc in Cardiovascular Physiology. Her parents emigrated from Punjab in northern India 30 years ago, and Pinky is the first in her family to attend university.

She says coming to Otago was a pivotal decision for her. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t come to Otago uni. The people I’ve met; the postgraduate journey I’ve been on; the learning experience; the environment; it has all contributed to the person I am today.

“The University of Otago has that different vibe, the student-orientated vibe, and the Physiology Department was the best.”

20Twenties inaugural award winners:

Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle BCom BA(Hons): In recognition of leadership, mentorship of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and of his higher studies.

Lisa Blakie BA(Hons): For her contribution to creative and ethical video game development.

Thomas Devine BSc(Hons): In recognition of his leadership as Kaiāwhina Māori, mentorship of younger students and of pursuing higher studies.

Sinead Ford BPhEd PGDipSci: In recognition of extensive leadership and volunteer work.

Emily Fry LLB(Hons) BCom: For her contribution to the field of digital technologies and their security implications.

Sargam Goundar PGDipArts: For her contribution to climate change initiatives and in recognition of her leadership.

Martin Hannah BSc PGDipSci: For his contribution to child and youth development.

Francisco Hernandez BA(Hons) MEntr: In recognition of his leadership of climate change initiatives.

Abby Howells BA(Hons): In recognition of her success as a comedian, actor, improviser, and writer.

Pinky Lal BSc(Hons): In recognition of her extensive volunteer and leadership work.

Bethany Lomax BSc(Hons): For her contribution to space research.

Sophie Mathiesen BSc(Hons): For her contribution to science communication.

Aidan Meyer COP BSc: In recognition of scientific curiosity for the betterment of the community.

Jo Mohan BCom: In recognition of her entrepreneurial spirit to better the environment.

Sophie Oliff BPharm: In recognition of leadership and volunteer work in the health sector.

Darryl Pupi BSc: For his contribution to health and well-being through leadership and innovation of nutrition programmes.

Georgia Robertson LLB BA: In recognition of leadership in a non-profit organisation that benefits education projects.

George Taiaroa BSc(Hons): In recognition of research work in response to Covid-19.

Georgia Thomson-Laing BSc(Hons) MSc: In recognition of research into aquatic health for the betterment of community health and for her commitment to mentoring.

Kawiti Waetford MusB: In recognition of success as a performer and for commitment to rangatahi.