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Alumni awarded prestigious Fulbright scholarships

Thursday 23 September 2021 4:16pm

A University of Otago PhD candidate and two Otago alumni have been awarded prestigious Fulbright Scholarships, including two annual Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga awards. The awards were presented at a ceremony at Parliament in July.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if Otago hadn’t given me the chance with the Master’s and then doctoral programme and scholarship. If anyone had told me 10 years ago I’d be doing my PhD, I would have laughed.”

Te Tumu PhD candidate Jenni Tupu (Ngāpuhi, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Hine, Samoa), and Māori Studies and Anthropology alumnus Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, Ngāi te Rangi, Ngāti Awa), have been awarded the 2021 Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate and Scholar awards respectively.

Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence, comprises 21 research partners and conducts research of relevance to Māori communities.

Joanna Hikaka (Ngāruahine) has been awarded a Fulbright New Zealand Science and Innovation Graduate Award.

The Fulbright scholarships were established in the United States (US) in 1946, with New Zealand joining the educational and cultural exchange programme in 1948. Executive Director of Fulbright New Zealand Penelope Borland says the awards foster academic excellence and people to people connection, and the Fulbright Programme seeks to “bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs.”

Acting Dean of Te Tumu Professor Lachy Paterson says Te Tumu is very proud that two of its graduates have been awarded these Fulbright scholarships.

“Jenni undertook her Master of Indigenous Studies with us as a distance student. This always presents challenges, but Jenni succeeded in completing her MIndS with Distinction, and carrying on with doctoral studies,” says Professor Paterson.

“Pounamu was a larger-than-life student within our School, winning many of our undergraduate academic prizes while he was here, and kept his relationships with Te Tumu staff alive after moving across to Anthropology. Nā runga i tō kōrua rironga o ēnei paraihe nunui, me te kakenga o ā kōrua rangahau e koa nei tō mātou ngākau ko ngā kaimahi o Te Tumu. Me moemiti hoki te tuatoru o ēnei tangata mōhio, a Joanna Hikaka. He mihi nunui ki a koutou mō ā koutou mahi whakahirahira e piki ai ngā iwi taketake o te ao.”

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Jenni Tupu

Jenni Tupu (Ngāpuhi, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Hine, Samoa)

Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate Award

The annual Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Graduate Award is for a promising New Zealand graduate student to undertake postgraduate study or research at a US institution in the field of Indigenous development. The award is valued at up to US$40,000.

Jenni, an Otago PhD candidate in Te Tumu, School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies, will research identity development from an Indigenous perspective and practice while considering the traditional practices of kinship adoption.

She will undertake her research at Amara, a not-for-profit organization in Seattle, Washington, and at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She plans to take up her scholarship in 2022 and spend six months on her research.

Jenni says she was stunned when she heard she had been awarded the scholarship. “I had to keep reading the email over and over again to be sure.”

She says her studies are part of a personal journey, as she is an adoptee and her research is about identity of Māori who were adopted in Aotearoa New Zealand. “It’s about that lifelong search for identity and self, which I have pursued in more formal parameters in terms of my doctorate and thesis.”

The Fulbright will enable her to work further with other organisations internationally who are also exploring the development of an Indigenous identity. She has already been contributing online to work with Amara, which has an adoption initiative project. The Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition provides research and work of a similar thread of connection and reconnection to whakapapa.

“The Fulbright has given me a huge opportunity to work alongside others. It’s an honour to be able to work with people who I greatly admire for their contribution to Indigenous identity development.”

Jenni was accepted onto the Master of Indigenous Studies course at Otago in 2009 as a mature student. “I’ll always be hugely grateful to Otago for giving me an opportunity way back.”

She says she has had “amazing tutelage” from staff in Te Tumu, including Dr Paerau Warbrick and Dr Erica Newman. She has also felt very supported by supervisors Professor Michael Reilly, Associate Professor Karyn Paringatai and Dr Lyn Carter, alongside support from Pearl Matahiki at Te Huka Mātauraka, the University of Otago’s Māori Centre.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if Otago hadn’t given me the chance with the Master’s and then doctoral programme and scholarship. If anyone had told me 10 years ago I’d be doing my PhD, I would have laughed.”

Jenni graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Leadership (Māori Development) in 2005 and a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership and Management in 2009 from Unitec Institute of Technology, and a Master of Indigenous Studies (Distinction) in 2012 from the University of Otago.

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Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman

Dr Pounamu Jade Aikman (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, Ngāi te Rangi, Ngāti Awa)

Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Scholar Award

Dr Aikman has been awarded the annual Fulbright-Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Scholar Award, which is valued at up to US$37,500 for three to five months of teaching and/or research at US institutions.

Graduating from Otago with a BA (Hons) in Māori Studies in 2012, and an MA in Anthropology in 2015, Dr Aikman went on to complete a PhD in Pacific Studies at the Australian National University in 2019.

Currently based in Wellington, and working as a Senior Evaluator Māori for the Education Review Office Te Tari Arotake Mātauranga, he will take up his award at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he will be based in the History Department.

While at Harvard, Dr Aikman will work on a comparative study of Indigenous experiences of settler colonialism in Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States. His project builds on his doctoral research, which examined the nexus between Indigenous sovereignty and settler state violence in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“I’m excited to kōrero and wānanga with other Indigenous scholars working in their ancestral landscapes, in collaborating with them on similar experiences of settler colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty.”

Dr Aikman says he felt “pretty ecstatic and humbled” by such an opportunity.

“Growing up I didn’t think something like Harvard was a possibility for me. There weren’t many Māori I saw, in the world I lived in, go to Harvard.”

He says the strength of his research rests in relationships and relationship building, and the scholarship provides him with an important opportunity to gain exposure to fresh perspectives in his research, beyond Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dr Aikman says his BA at Otago was one of his most important degrees, as it opened up “the possibility of what questions you could ask in relation to Indigenous issues”.

“My BA showed me I could think in different ways. It was exciting to do that, to push those boundaries of knowledge.”

Otago lecturers who inspired him and influenced his path include Professor Michael Reilly, Dr Nigel Jamieson, Professor Paul Tapsell, Associate Professor Merata Kawharu, Dr Paerau Warbrick, Professor Lachy Paterson, Associate Professor Ian Barber, Associate Professor Jacqueline Leckie, and Dr Gautam Ghosh.

Dr Aikman hopes to travel to Harvard in late September, and spend five months at the History Department.

“Pounamu is a great Māori scholar. We are incredibly proud to help enable the furtherance of his significant research in this international comparative manner,” says Professor Tahu Kukutai, Co-Director of Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.

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Joanna Hikaka

Joanna Hikaka (Ngāruahine)

Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Award

Joanna, who graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy (Distinction) from the University of Otago in 2002, will research the development of pro-equity healthcare interventions for older adults at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland, Joanna says Brown University is a world-leading centre for research into gerontology (the study of the process and problems associated with ageing) and she’s looking forward to working with people who are trying to develop health services in a practical, real-world way that explicitly focus on equity in the design.

Her PhD research focusses on equitable access to medicine and pharmacist services for older Māori. “My research projects focus on equity – incorporating health equity into developing health services and centring Māori voices in the process.”

While at Brown University, she hopes to improve her research skills relating to methodology for practical health intervention studies; develop connections and work in teams that will help support her knowledge; and gain an understanding of the processes involved in setting up research centres.

Joanna says she feels a sense of responsibility to “uphold the mana and intention of the [Fulbright] award, by sharing my culture with people in the States, and, in addition to professional collaborations, actively being part of the community in which I live”. She’s excited to be taking her family with her for the year, and she hopes to take up the scholarship next February.

She still has strong connections with Otago and continues to provide support for Māori students at the School of Pharmacy. Joanna is coming down soon to present findings from her PhD research to the School, and also to talk about her experience as an early career researcher and present some thoughts on how to support graduates to thrive post-PhD.

The Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Awards are valued at up to US$40,000, with around eight granted each year.