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Book prize highlights Pacific student achievement

Tuesday 14 September 2021 3:21pm

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(From left) Humanities PVC Professor Jessica Palmer, award recipient Maya Kiddle, Humanities Pacific Islands Students' Support Officer Sia Lei-Mata'afa, Dr Claire Matthewson, award recipient Kiana Raeli and Humanities Associate Dean Pacific Michelle Schaaf.

An award celebrating Pacific women’s academic achievement – the Heilala Book Prize in Humanities – was presented to students Maya Kiddle and Kiana Raeli today.

Since 2017, the family of Dr Claire Matthewson have presented the prize to the highest-achieving Pacific woman studying 200-level Division of Humanities papers.

This year, Dr Matthewson said Maya’s marks in a Politics paper and Kiana’s results in a Contemporary Pacific Island Issues paper compelled her to choose joint recipients.

Kiana, a second-year BCom student, said she was honoured and thrilled to receive the award; Maya, a third-year BCom student, said the award was an amazing way to celebrate the efforts of Pacific women. Her studies were very relevant for a planned future position in trade and enterprise, based in Wellington.

Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Jessica Palmer thanked Dr Matthewson for her family’s continued support of the award and congratulated the recipients on their hard work.

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Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Jessica Palmer presents Maya with a certificate and gift.

Dr Matthewson said the award was a present from her children marking her 70th birthday.

“They knew I had been involved with the University of the South Pacific (USP) and had worked to support the cause of young women and feminism in the region. While the prize is a modest one I’m very pleased it recognises the splendid achievements of these wonderful students, and it might be a small item to add to their CV.”

She chose the award’s name to evoke images of the vibrant heilala flower, which is “full of colour and fragrance, and which often appears on lay at ceremonies because it is something special.”

Dr Matthewson's career at Otago began in 1980 with a job as senior tutor in the English department. In 1984, she was appointed programme officer and the first staff member in what later became the University's sizeable distance teaching unit. She subsequently headed that unit and served as assistant director for University Extension. She retired from her role as Director of Otago’s Summer School programme in 2011. Between 1990 and 2015 she was a USP convening editor.