Cherokee Walters (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Te Arawa), BSc majoring in Physiology, PGDipSci. In recognition of support for the application of science in the commercial world for support of rangitahi in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).
As well as working as a researcher across animal and plant projects at her company, Cherokee leads an internship programme which has allowed her to extend her personal passion for supporting young people to see their own potential.
What was your reaction to receiving the award, and what does it mean to you?
I was really surprised, shocked even. I immediately sent a huge thank you to the mentors and friends I have in my life who continue to champion me. Receiving the award feels like a validation of not only my work but also an affirmation of what anyone can achieve when guided by their passions. It is an honour to be recognised alongside my peers and their achievements. I can only hope others see us and think "I can do something like that too".
What have you done since graduation and what are you doing now?
Since graduation, I completed two internships with AbacusBio Limited that evolved into full-time employment in 2020. I've gradually taken on more and more personal and professional development in my role – running the internship programme, making meaningful connections, flexing my brain in technical work, managing projects and speaking at events to meet and inspire other young professionals. I am still doing all of these things and looking for more avenues to support others.
What inspires and motivates you to work and volunteer in the areas you are involved with?
Seeing myself in those around me is my biggest motivator. From people figuring out their identity and what it means to be a young adult in the 2020s to those who are taking risks to follow their interests and ambitions. I love helping people see their own potential and navigate their way through self-discovery. It's something really scary to do, especially on your own. The whole process of growing can be super intimidating and to be able to help people embrace it is an honour.
What were the highlights of your time at Otago, and has it influenced you in your career and following your interests?
There were stand out lecturers and staff during my studies who were, and still are, major role models and mentors to me. Professor Fiona McDonald and Associate Professor Kirk Hamilton in particular were pillars in my fourth year, and I wouldn't be who I am without all the support and guidance they gave me during that postgrad year.
I was also really lucky during uni to make lifelong friends who are still huge influences in my life. They're like family – standing with me through all the growth I've experienced, and still challenging me and enriching my life at every corner. I can't believe how far we've all come since first year!
All of these people have influenced my career greatly by encouraging me to take on leadership roles and seize opportunities that I may have shied away from in the past.