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Miranda Chetham stands in front of a river

Miranda Chetham at her favourite walking spot near the Whangārei Falls.

One of the first tricks Miranda Chetham (Ngātiwai, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi) learnt at the outset of her online Master of Sustainable Business degree, was to artfully dodge meteorological chat. It wasn’t a course requirement – just a courtesy measure to play down the temperature-superior climate of her study location in Te Tai Tokerau/Northland.

Miranda completed her studies by distance from her home in Whangārei, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters. When asked if undertaking a degree at Otago without ever having to don a puffer jacket was a bit like cheating, she says she quickly mastered the unspoken protocol around weather sharing.

“If it was sunny in the winter months and anyone at Otago asked about the weather, you’d just say nothing – lest you fall out of favour with your cohort or lecturers. You could only to talk about the weather when it was disgustingly hot (above 30 degrees). That was acceptable because it showed you were suffering.”

When Miranda graduates in Dunedin on 18 May, it’ll be a celebration of her academic achievement and a salute to the mum-work-study juggle that got her there. She says the ability to work fulltime and be with her whānau in Whangārei while completing her postgraduate studies at Otago, was invaluable.

“Sometimes when I was listening to lectures, I’d have a small person on my lap colouring in or asking me to do noughts and crosses with her. Or my youngest daughter would have a meltdown and need cuddles. My Otago lecturers were really understanding – they were like, hey, life happens.”

Miranda’s decision to pursue a deeper study of sustainability was a natural continuation of the knowledge her father Frank imparted about Te Ao Māori throughout her upbringing.

“He was a true eco warrior and likely my greatest influence. We’d go on walks through the native bush, and he’d talk about ecosystems and tikanga. I wanted to elevate those childhood learnings and add value through my career in a new way – one that aligned more closely to who I am.”

Miranda came to tertiary study as a mature student after many years in senior executive support and project management roles.

“I got to a point where I thought, I need to contribute in a new way. I decided it was time for me – I needed to prioritise myself.”

She began her ‘me time’ with a Bachelor of Applied Management degree from Otago Polytechnic (also completed online from Whangārei). She then searched for a way to deepen her interest in sustainability and strategy while keeping a Te Ao Māori lens to the fore.

A conversation with Professor Sara Walton (Department of Management) was enough to convince her that the Master of Sustainable Business programme – with its emphasis on how to manage organisations while maximising social outcomes and minimising impacts on the natural environment – was the perfect fit. The programme allowed Miranda to honour and extend her Frank-led childhood learnings.

“Sara is so passionate about sustainability and so humble. Her first lecture – oh my gosh. I thought I knew a fair bit about sustainability, but we all walked away from it shocked. It was so inspiring. What a powerhouse.”

She heaps praise on other Otago staff too: Associate Professor Diane Ruwhiu (“What an amazing wāhine – so clever”); Dr Mawera Karetai (“She provided me with an angle that aligned with my childhood”); and Dr Joe Cooper (“He was brilliant at simplifying things and stopped me from going down rabbit holes”).

Miranda is now using her postgraduate degree in her role as Organisational Development and Sustainability Manager at McKay – an electrotechnology company in Whangārei that offered unwavering support throughout her study slog.

“Businesses are a really significant and influential contributor to communities and the environment. I want to be a change agent that supports business in embracing sustainability so that it helps people and the planet.”

She can’t say enough about the people in her Te Tai Tokerau circle who buttressed her throughout her studies.

“Support from your village is critical. My incredible husband, Daan, moved mountains to help juggle children and life to allow me the time and space to pursue my studies. My friends and colleagues were an absolute lifeline too.

“Probably the biggest learning was that it’s amazing what you can achieve when you start believing in yourself. It’s held me back from pursuing higher education previously. Having that village support is critical. There was lots of ‘mum guilt’ but I also thought, hey, I’m doing this for my whānau and setting a really good example for my daughters – if you do the mahi, you do get the treats.”

Kōrero by Claire Finlayson, Communications Adviser (Otago Business School)

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