Monday 23 November 2020 11:40am

Supervisor of the Year winners image
New Supervisor of the Year Dr Alana Alexander, Sciences divisional winner Professor James White, Supervisor of the Year Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla and Commerce divisional winner Dr Grant Dick.

Two Māori academics who have helped postgraduate students flourish in their studies have been awarded the top awards at the OUSA Supervisor of the Year.

Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla (Ngai Tahu), of History, was named the OUSA Supervisor of the Year, while Dr Alana Alexander (Ngāpuhi: Te Hikutu), of the Department of Anatomy, was awarded OUSA New Supervisor of the Year.

Associate Professor Wanhalla arrived at Otago in 2005, taking on her first supervisory role for an honours student in 2006.

She describes seeing her postgraduate students succeed as a “collective” sense of achievement and finds joy in working with students who are passionate and committed to their research.

“I love working with students because they have some of the most interesting and imaginative ideas. They make me a better historian.”

Dr Alexander only started supervising postgraduate research in 2018, but her ability to be inclusive, reliable, dedicated and patient have already made a huge impact on her students.

She is dedicated to helping students find their own path and flourish.

“I just happen to be a little further along in my career. They are all amazing people so it's just about helping them find their path.”

The divisional winners for OUSA Supervisor of the Year went to Associate Professor Wanhalla, for Humanities, Dr Alexander, for Health Sciences, Dr Grant Dick, for Commerce, and Professor James White, for Sciences.

Graduate Research School Dean's Medal Jacques van der Meer image
Dean's Medal winner Associate Professor Jacques van der Meer and Graduate Research School Dean Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith.

Graduate Research School (GRS) Dean Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith also awarded her Dean's Medal, which recognises special contributions to supervision.

This medal is awarded on occasions when the Dean believes a supervisor has gone above and beyond the call of duty to support a candidate.

The 2020 GRS Dean's Medal was presented to Associate Professor Jacques van der Meer, who completed the thesis of, and saw it through examination and revisions, for candidate Mike Wright, who tragically died before completing his thesis journey.

Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla (Ngai Tahu)

Associate Professor Wanhalla was described as an effusive, generous, kind and encouraging supervisor who supported students not only on a day-to-day basis but also through challenging times.

One student said: “This award would provide some justified recognition for her substantial contributions as a supervisor and an historian. They are a kind and generous person who is a true asset both to their students, their department and to the University as a whole.”

Another said: “My self-confidence has really blossomed under her mentorship because she has encouraged me from the beginning while giving me the constructive feedback that I need. She's someone who works extremely well with others, offers high quality teaching and supervision, and still has her own stellar career. I admire her so much and she deserves to be acknowledged for continuously incorporating the concept of manaakitanga into all her endeavours at the University.”

Dr Alana Alexander (Ngāpuhi: Te Hikutu)

Dr Alexander was described as a supervisor who promotes diversity and fosters a supportive environment for every student.

One student said: “Their student care is second to none. They empower students and acknowledge our expertise in our projects which gives confidence to students where impostor syndrome is always within arm's reach. Many have had their projects and career projects and career prospects benefit from this supervisor's influence.”

Another said: “She is a brilliant researcher and academic but what I cherish most about her is her ability to understand and relate to me as a person, not simply as a pupil she has to teach or work with.”

OUSA Supervisor of the Year Divisional Winners


Dr Grant Dick – Information Sciences

Health Sciences

Dr Alana Alexander – Department of Anatomy


Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla - History


Professor James White – Department of Geology

Other awards presented on the evening:

Dean's Medal: Associate Professor Jacques van der Meer

2019 Postgraduate Research Cultural Award (small department) - Centre for Neuroendocrinology

2019 Postgraduate Research Cultural Award (large department) - Department of Tourism

Matariki Three-Minute Thesis Competition People's Choice winner – Victoria Purdy

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