Wednesday 22 September 2021 4:16pm
For the seventh time in 10 years, the University of Otago has won Aotearoa’s top tertiary teaching award.
Dr Latika Samalia, of the Department of Anatomy, was yesterday named the Ako Aotearoa Prime Minister’s Supreme Award winner for 2021. The award comes on top of her Sustained Excellence Award and the Supporting Pacific Learners endorsement announced last month.
The Supreme Award is considered the ultimate prize of the national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, held annually at Parliament. The Awards celebrate New Zealand’s finest tertiary teachers as recognised by their organisations, colleagues, learners and broader communities.
Otago made up four of the nine excellence in teaching awardees – Dr Samalia was joined by Tourism’s Professor Hazel Tucker, Theology’s Professor Tim Cooper and the Department of Management’s Associate Professor Diane Ruwhiu (Kaupapa Māori category).
Dr Samalia says receiving the supreme award came as a “huge shock” and the announcement left her shaking.
“I had no inkling that it was going to be me. All the other teachers were also so deserving.
“It is very humbling.”
She says the secret to a successful classroom is creating an environment of mutual empathy, respect and kindness, but also fun; she’s famous for her humorous anecdotes which act as a reset in what can be a daunting learning environment.
“The aim of being a teacher is to make sure that your students have learned something from you every day. It doesn't matter if they learn only one thing. You have to make the environment friendly and happy, and less daunting yet respectable, then they will remember things. Otherwise, you're wasting your time.”
Originally from Fiji, Dr Samalia trained as a doctor and worked as an obstetrician and gynaecologist before making the switch to teaching.
She now teaches up to 750 students in some weeks in five papers across a number of undergraduate and postgraduate clinical courses, passing on her knowledge of anatomical structures and clinical skills to future health professionals.
Dr Samalia has a strong focus on Pacific students and was instrumental in developing orientation sessions for Pacific and Māori students.
She credits her parents, who were both schoolteachers and “very community-minded” with inspiring a teaching approach which prioritises the individual even in big classes of 75 students.
“Students can get lost in a huge class and sometimes it becomes hard for them to deal with their emotions. So, I take them individually into the lab to get them used to the environment, and many times I have had students come back and say, ‘If you didn't do what you did to help, I would not be doing medicine’.”
Vice-Chancellor (Acting) Professor Helen Nicholson offered her warmest congratulations to Dr Samalia.
“Dr Samalia is richly deserving of this prestigious award and I’m sure staff and students join me in applauding her. Receiving this award is national recognition of Dr Samalia’s dedication to Anatomy and the significant impact she has had on numerous health professional students.
“I am enormously proud that once again our teachers at the University of Otago are achieving at the highest level in New Zealand. For all the dedication and hard work I know they put into their teaching, they richly deserve this recognition.”