Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Blossom outside ClocktowerFriday 14 September 2018 9:56am

Tai Sopoaga image
Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga

For the sixth time in seven years, the University of Otago has the top tertiary teacher in New Zealand.

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga, Associate Dean (Pacific) in the Division of Health Sciences, received the Prime Minister's Supreme Award at the national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, held at Parliament tonight.

She also received an Endorsement for Excellence in Supporting Pacific Learners, a reflection of her exceptional commitment to curriculum development and pastoral care of Pacific students.

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne has offered her warmest congratulations to the Otago recipients of the awards, and in particular, the outstanding achievement of Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga.

“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.”

Sheila Skeaff image
Associate Professor Sheila Skeaff

“And for Otago to win the top national accolade for teaching excellence is the icing on the cake. Tai Sopoaga's total dedication to her craft has long been recognised here at the University of Otago – so to receive this award is further testament to this incredibly dedicated individual. I am very proud that teachers of her calibre seek out Otago as a place to work and live – and ultimately, to contribute to the communities they serve – in Tai's case, the Pacific community.”

Faumuina is “delighted” Pacific Health is being recognised as important in the training of future health professionals.

“There is a Māori saying: E hara taku toa, I te toa taki tahi, he toa taki tini ke. Mine is not the strength of one, but the strength of many. This encompasses the way in which I work in the teaching space.

“I work in a team approach incorporating our Pacific communities in the process. The medical students – who I am mainly involved with – appreciate the opportunity to learn in new and different contexts,” she says.

Michelle Thompson-Fawcett image
Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett

Three other Otago academic leaders also received awards. They included Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett, of the Department of Geography who received a Sustained Excellence award in the Kaupapa Māori category, and Dr Rebecca Bird, of the Department of Anatomy, and Associate Professor Sheila Skeaff, of the Department Human Nutrition, who both received Sustained Excellence awards in the General category.

Professor Thompson-Fawcett says her teaching practices are “tightly interwoven” with her research, and constantly evolve with her partnerships with Māori and professional communities.

“In my disciplines of geography, environmental management and planning I find a traditional ethic of “locatedness” is highly beneficial to learning outcomes I'm seeking in the Aotearoa New Zealand context. As a result, my teaching initiatives reassert the potency and integrity of Indigenous philosophies and actions, and this involves considering how we might honour variation and difference through our teaching practices.

“I want students to be aware of theories of knowledge, power, transformation and communication in a way that is embedded in our everyday actions as social beings, professionals, facilitators and decision-makers. I work to create educative environments that are motivating, deeply challenging but compellingly hopeful.”

Rebecca Bird image
Dr Rebecca Bird

Dr Bird says it's wonderful to be recognised with this award.

“I pride myself in creating a fun, inclusive environment for my students as they study science. I see education as a journey for my students, and am privileged to walk alongside them as they discover areas of human biology that interest and inspire them.

“It's an honour to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable educators who've won the award previously, and to walk alongside the amazing teachers who are also recipients this year.”

Associate Professor Skeaff believes teaching is so important because students pay money to be educated and they want to be here.

“As everyone eats at least twice a day, nutrition is very relevant, and I really like interacting with students and hearing fresh perspectives and ideas on the subject. Any nutritional changes they make in their own lives can also filter out to their friends and family.”

The awards, hosted by Hon Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education, are administered and managed on his behalf by Ako Aotearoa – the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

All Sustained Excellence winners receive $20,000. The Supreme Award winner, selected from one of the ten finalists, takes home an additional $10,000.

The 2018 award winners are:

Kaupapa Māori category

Associate Professor Mānuka Hēnare
Business School,
The University of Auckland

Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett
Department of Geography
University of Otago

General category

Dr Rebecca Bird
Department of Anatomy
University of Otago

Dr Donella Cobb
Faculty of Education, Te Hononga Curriculum and Pedagogy
The University of Waikato

Dr Kathryn Hay
School of Social Work
Massey University

Professor Andrew Martin
School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition
Massey University

Associate Professor Sheila Skeaff
Department Human Nutrition
University of Otago

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga
(+ Endorsement for Excellence in Supporting Pacific Learners and Prime Minister's Supreme Award)
Division of Health Sciences
University of Otago

Associate Professor Ekant Veer
Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship
University of Canterbury

Associate Professor Christine Woods
Business School
The University of Auckland

For more information, contact:

Jo Galer
Team Leader Media Engagement
University of Otago
Mob 021 279 8263

Electronic addresses (including email accounts, instant messaging services, or telephone accounts) published on this page are for the sole purpose of contact with the individuals concerned, in their capacity as officers, employees or students of the University of Otago, or their respective organisation. Publication of any such electronic address is not to be taken as consent to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages by the address holder.

FIND an Otago Expert

Use our Media Expertise Database to find an Otago researcher for media comment.

Back to top