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Professor Tony Ballantyne, Professor Helen Nicholson,Professor Christina Hulbe, Professor Cliff Abraham, and Professor Peter Dearden.

The University's Dunedin-based Poutoko Taiea, Distinguished Chairs, 2025, with Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Nicholson are (from left) Professor Tony Ballantyne, Professor Christina Hulbe, Professor Cliff Abraham, and Professor Peter Dearden.

Six Otago academics have been honoured for their significant research impact and contribution to society with Distinguished Chair - Poutoko Taiea appointments.

Introduced in 2019, the awards are designed to highlight the work of the University’s highest-achieving professors and to raise the profile of its work, enhancing the understanding, development and well-being of individuals, society, and the environment.

Those receiving the award this year are Professors Cliff Abraham, Tony Ballantyne, Peter Dearden, Suetonia Green, Christina Hulbe, and Richard Porter.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Nicholson is thrilled to make the appointments.

“I have been privileged to follow the careers of these outstanding academics throughout our shared time at Otago and I am so pleased to be able to celebrate them in this way.

“Not only have they achieved great success in their research, but they have inspired the next generation of academics through their teaching and engaged widely with the community, raising not only their profiles, but that of the University.”

The Distinguished Chair - Poutoko Taiea award is bestowed for a fixed period, during which the recipients will be provided with the opportunity to showcase their work and to engage and inspire others.

They will take up their appointments in January.

Professor Suetonia Green and Professor Richard Porter

Professor Suetonia Green and Professor Richard Porter, of Christchurch, are pleased to be announced as two of the University's Poutoko Taiea, Distinguished Chairs, 2025.

The recipients:

Professor Cliff Abraham, Department of Psychology

“I am immensely honoured that my career mahi has been recognised in this way, especially considering the host of superb academics that surround me at the University of Otago, Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka. I am particularly grateful to all the inspiring early career researchers and senior colleagues who have walked this journey with me, and whom I feel this award also recognises.

“During my term I aim to cement a platform of research capability that will underpin ongoing research that has impact for people with neurodegenerative disease, to build ever stronger links between neuroscience research groups across the country via the Aotearoa Brain Project, and to expand my connections with the public and fantastic NGOs that support people with brain disorders, and their whānau.”

Professor Tony Ballantyne, History Programme

“I was so delighted to receive this news. It means a lot: I did my first degree at Otago. I had some really great teachers here and my first taste of historical research at Hocken Collections made me want to be a historian.

“This appointment also creates some additional opportunities to communicate the importance of history as a discipline and how it can deepen our understandings of both the distinctiveness of the past and the ways in which our present is shaped by the past.

“The appointment as a Poutoko Taiea is a wonderful opportunity to extend the public engagement work I have done for the last decade or so around public understandings of history, especially the colonial histories of these islands. I am keen to undertake more work with heritage institutions as they work through how to best interpret and represent the colonial past, with all of its conflict, pain, and human complexity. And I am particularly interested in doing more work on how we increase public awareness and understanding of our local histories here in the Otago region.”

Professor Peter Dearden, School of Biomedical Sciences

“I am delighted and thrilled to be given this opportunity. I’m excited to be able to concentrate on, and expand, my communication activities, presenting Otago science to the world. I hope to have a chance to talk with prospective students, alumni and the public about science, why it’s important, and how it might change the world for the better.

“Genetics and genomics are making huge impacts on the world, but for this technology to be used effectively and fairly, work must be done to communicate its risks and benefits.

“The same applies to the new technologies of gene editing. I believe the challenge of climate change and the need to grow more food for less, will require engagement with this technology. I believe I can help demystify and explain the risk and benefits of gene editing, for the benefit of New Zealand.

“I am passionate and committed to communicating my research effectively to the public, media and policymakers and look forward to what this appointment will enable me to achieve.”

Professor Suetonia Green, Department of Medicine, Christchurch

“I feel so privileged that the work of so many has been recognised as having meaning and impact. I feel very honoured as an alumna of Otago, knowing how the University values knowledge. I know this award will whakamana the work of translating research into improving health outcomes for Aotearoa – through strong relationships and leadership structures with the health system.

“I hope that I can strengthen the impacts of clinical research through my connections with Te Whatu Ora and health consumer organisations to directly improve how we deliver safe and equitable care for kidney conditions in Aotearoa. I will also focus on supporting and training the next generation of health scientists and clinician researchers to create a longer-term impact on health systems through my teaching and research.”

Professor Christina Hulbe, Department of Surveying

“It's both humbling and uplifting to receive this kind of recognition.

“Throughout my career as a glaciologist, global warming has been a crisis proposition. The science improves and the projections become clearer, while the fundamental incompatibility between the economic systems that got us here and the healthy planet we need to keep going forward remains the same. I'm not very good at being angry and I don't have formal training in science communication. So, what should I do? My aim with this role is to use a new teaching assignment as a pathway for thinking differently.

“Last year we launched SURV130 People, place, and the built environment. In this new paper, we view the built environment as a social-ecological-technological system and aim to understand how the history of landscape interactions in Aotearoa New Zealand gets us to the infrastructure challenges and opportunities we have today. I've been thinking about how to connect the worldview of this paper to other academic work, in the international dialog about glacier geoengineering – for sea level rise management – and in a partnership with Waitaki Whitestone Geopark, whose social-ecological approach to stewardship and sustainable development is a good fit.”

Professor Richard Porter, Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch

“I feel that this is not a personal appointment but an acknowledgement of the amazing research and clinical teams which I work with – both in the University of Otago and in Te Whatu Ora Waitaha – so I am delighted that their work is being acknowledged in this way.

“I have two main aims during the appointment. The first is to raise the awareness of the issues associated with severe mental illness. This is something which is often stigmatised and not talked about. I want to highlight these issues and to promote their wider discussion.

“Secondly, after 5-6 years, we have observed that awareness of the impacts of the March 15 terror attacks has faded for much of the population. Working with a dedicated team of Muslim researchers who came together soon after the attack, I aim to understand and examine the lasting psychological effects of this incident on the impacted communities, and to continue raising public awareness concerning the challenges facing those affected.”

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