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Thursday 16 December 2021 9:40am

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Top from left: Arina Aizal, Calum Rickard, Diana Shaul, Namrata Chand and Emma Jefferies. Bottom from right: Hamid Zawari, Breen Cowie, Cam Burrow, Ben Abraham and Caitlin Helme.

An inspirational group of 20 young Otago alumni have been recognised in this year's 20Twenties Young Alumni Awards.

From around New Zealand and as far afield as Sydney and California, these young graduates are already making their mark in their diverse communities, in their workplaces, through their research, and in volunteer and leadership roles.

The awards aim to recognise 20 alumni in their twenties who have demonstrated outstanding achievements, contributed widely to their communities, or have shown exceptional leadership in their personal or professional lives. Nominations were received from the wider Otago alumni community, friends, employers and colleagues.

Between them, the 2021 award recipients' contribution to local, national and international communities and initiatives covers a wide range of areas, including: giving marginalised groups and minorities a voice; providing key advice on climate change policy; stepping into rural leadership roles; working to improve Māori and Moana Pacific peoples' health outcomes and wellbeing; forging a career in high performance sport; and helping roll out a cutting-edge heart health startup.

At Otago, they studied across all subject areas of the University, including Arts, Sciences, Social Work, Human Nutrition, Commerce, Applied Science, Law, Dentistry, Physical Education, Business Administration, Pharmacy, Biomedical Sciences and Health Sciences.

Alumni Engagement Manager Donnella Aitken-Ferguson says the calibre of all nominations was extremely high, and the panel of judges drawn from across the four academic Divisions at the University had a difficult task in choosing the 20 award recipients.

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Top from left: Hanna Van der Giessen, Tisiola Talalima, Rachel Tombs, Thomas Kindley and Umi Asaka. Bottom from right: Katie Batterton, Joshuaa Alefosio-Pei, Maddi Ingham, Jay Barrett and Mary Jane Kivalu.

“These inspiring young alumni are all making incredible contributions to our society, many of them only recently out of University. Some are trailblazers in their field, others are committed to improving the lives and outcomes of people across diverse communities. All of them are passionate about what they do, and we are very proud of the positive difference they are making to people's lives and futures, here in New Zealand and around the world,” says Ms Aitken-Ferguson.

Award recipient Tisiola Talalima, a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences graduate, says she was “extremely happy and grateful to be recognised by the University”. Tisiola received her award for her contribution to reducing health inequalities in the Moana Pacific community and for her engagement with the student community.

“This award means a great deal to me, as I want to highlight the importance of improving Pacific health outcomes and be a positive representative for my community,” says Tisiola. “Also, I am not only happy for myself, as I hope this award will encourage and inspire other Pasifika students who are interested in scientific research and want to remove the inequities of Pacific health.”

Recipients of the 20Twenties Young Alumni Awards for 2021:

Benjamin Abraham, BA(Hons)

In recognition of contribution to policy development for climate change.

Born and raised in Dunedin, Ben now works as a Senior Analyst at the Climate Change Commission. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University where he completed an MSc and a PhD in Public Policy. He has worked as an activist, researcher, and consultant on climate policy in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Most recently, Ben was hired by the British High Commission to lead their Aotearoa engagement for the COP 26 United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow.

Arina Aizal, BA

For contribution to showcasing diversity within ethnic communities.

Community Connector at Otago Access Radio OAR FM, Arina has highlighted unheard voices to the local community showcasing the hidden diversity present in Dunedin. She has made a series of podcasts under the title The Arinality, presenting notable females of ethnic communities in New Zealand.

Joshuaa Alefosio-Pei, BSc

In recognition of leadership and representation of minority groups, including the Moana Pacific student community.

Joshuaa has served on many student associations, representing Pasifika voices and perspectives. These include SSPIA, OUSA, UOPISA, and work with the national bodies NZUSA and Tauira Pasifika. He has mentored students for many years and in recognition of his leadership abilities, has been awarded honours such as the PFP Scholarship, Pacific People's Entrance Scholarship and Pacific Health Scholarships from the Ministry of Health. He has also undertaken policy internships with the New Zealand Police, the National Emergency Management Agency and MBIE.

Umi Asaka, BSW

For contribution to identifying health and wellbeing rights violations, and advocacy for international students and students with disabilities.

Umi secured the role of OUSA International Officer in her third year of study, where she was a tireless advocate for international students, and students with disabilities. Recently Umi received national recognition by the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) for her contribution to the community. She is part of a Disabled Person-Led research team at the Donald Beasley Institute and has gathered evidence for the United Nations by conducting interviews with more than 100 disabled New Zealanders, identifying human rights violations in health and wellbeing experiences. She has co-authored a book about diversity in Japanese and is working on two more. Umi is also the South Island representative on the National Board of CCS Disability Action.

Jay Barrett, BSc

In recognition of extensive contribution to improving wellbeing within the workplace and developing a bi-cultural psychosocial risk model which considers Te Ao Māori worldviews.

Jay has been working with The Effect, an Organisational Psychology Consultancy since 2020, where he has moved into the capacity of an Intern Psychologist in 2021. During this time, he has led the development of a bi-cultural psychosocial risk model that considers Te Ao Māori worldviews. His project ensures that Tangata Whenua's worldviews and western worldviews are held equal when dealing with psychosocial risks in the workplace.

Katie Batterton, BSc

For contribution to health and nutrition through the provision of school lunches and teaching the importance of healthy eating.

Katie graduated with a BSc in Human Nutrition and is now working back at her old school, Bay of Islands College, providing free healthy lunches to over 400 school children. Katie is passionate about creating change for these children and teaching them the importance of healthy eating.

Cameron Burrow, BCom

In recognition of voluntary service to rugby and surf life saving.

A Chartered Accountant (CA), Cameron is currently Chairman of two of New Zealand's oldest clubs in their respective fields, the Dunedin Rugby Football Club and the St Clair Surf Life Saving Club (St Clair SLSC). He plays a prominent role across the Otago/Southland region and has been recognised with South Island Service and Distinguished Service awards as well as a National Service awards.

Namrata Chand, BAppSc

In recognition for leadership in improving climate resilience in communities.

After graduation Namrata went back to Fiji for five years. During this time, she contributed towards the field of marine science and climate change in several ways, from assisting in teaching marine science to undergraduates at the local university, to her most recent role as a resilience officer under a UN-Habitat project based at the local council. This job was focused on working with multiple informal settlements that were the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. This role involved engaging with community members to collect data on climate vulnerability that would aid in implementing future actions to improve the resilience of these settlements. Namrata is now back at Otago, working on her PhD.

Breen Cowie, BCom

For contribution and leadership in the horticultural sector.

Breen runs her own contract harvesting and orchard maintenance team business in Whangārei. She is currently enrolled in Kellogg's Rural Leadership Program which involves an intensive research project to graduate. Breen's topic is on the sustainability of the rapid growth of the avocado industry and the effects it has on surrounding communities. She is currently working with Horticulture New Zealand to meet the demands of the labour shortage in New Zealand's Horticulture industry and make the primary sector an attractive career path.

Caitlin Helme, BA(Hons)

In recognition for support of disability justice.

Caitlin is paving the way for disabled sexual violence survivors to receive equitable support and care. Passionate about disability justice and the intersection of marginalised identities, she is a past holder of the New Zealand Psychological Society Social Justice Scholarship, and a two-time recipient of the Ian Campbell Scholarship that supports physically disabled students working towards qualifications that promote the wellbeing of disabled people.

Maddi Ingham, BCom LLB

In recognition of community service and creating positive change in organisations.

Maddi was the Chief Coordinator of the Te Whare Pounamu (Dunedin Women's Refuge) Fundraising Campaign while at University, raising over $100,000. For this and other volunteering activities she was awarded the Outstanding Member of the Dunedin Community Award (2018), the University of Otago Gold Award for Contribution to the Community (2017), and the Otago University Student Leadership Award (2018). Maddi is an ex-BCGer (Boston Consulting Group), who was selected to be a Startmate Fellow, and has recently begun as Chief of Staff at a Sydney startup, ChefPrep.

Emma Jefferies, BDS

In recognition of innovation in the areas of dentistry and mental health.

Emma's postgraduate research combines the disciplines of dentistry and mental health. She has investigated the oral health status and oral-health-related quality of life of a group of young adults using mental health services in Christchurch. The impact of providing oral health care to this group is far-reaching, with the ability to greatly improve the day-to-day lives of people with severe mental illness.

Thomas Kindley, BPhEd

In recognition of high-level sports management and coaching.

Thomas is the Performance Director of the first ever professional men's rugby team in Boston, USA. The team is called the New England Free Jacks and represent the six states of New England, competing in the nationwide Major League Rugby competition. 

He has also overseen the development of an academy program across New England encouraging a new generation of Americans to play rugby and learn about the sport. Thomas was a staff member for the USA Eagles rugby team at the last Rugby World Cup in Japan, attending as an assistant analyst and assistant strength and conditioning coach. He will continue to work with the squad intermittently as they attempt to qualify for the 2023 RWC in France.

Mary Jane Kivalu, BCom, MBA

For voluntary contribution to many community organisations, including sporting and Tongan youth communities.

Mary Jane 's volunteer roles include producing The Lave Show which she co-founded on Otago Access Radio. She is also a Member of the Southern Zone Rugby League Board, a Member of the Otago Polytechnic External Pacific Advisory Committee, and is the Board Advisor for the New Zealand Tongan Tertiary Students Association. She leads the facilitation of the Koloa 'o Tonga Programme funded by Pasefika Proud, which looks at an innovative way to address domestic violence in families of Tongan youth.

Calum Rickard, BSc (Hons)

For contribution to the mathematics, triathlon and student communities.

Calum won a Fulbright New Zealand Science and Innovation Graduate Award in 2015 and pursued a PhD in Applied Mathematics at the University of Southern California (USC), which he completed in 2021. While at USC, he published three papers in his research area of partial differential equations. In addition, he was awarded a USC Graduate Research Award in 2021 and a USC Graduate Teaching Award in 2020. Calum has now started his postdoctoral career at the University of California, Davis where he is currently an Arthur J. Krener Assistant Professor of Mathematics.

Diana Shaul, BPharm

In recognition of leadership against social and political antisemitism.

Diana is President of the New Zealand branch of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS). In her capacity as AUJS National President, she leads, organises and administers a substantial nation-wide organisation. She attended He Whenua Taurikura, New Zealand's first hui on countering terrorism and violent extremism, as a student representative for the New Zealand Jewish Council. She is also an executive of the New Zealand Jewish Council. She is also a currently member of the University of Otago Alumni Board in Auckland.

Tisiola Talalima, BBiomedSc

For contribution to reducing health inequalities in the Moana Pacific community and for her engagement with the student community.

Tisiola was awarded the Toloa Tertiary Scholarship from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples to pursue her Honours degree, focusing on tuberculosis in the Pasifika community. Tisiola has been involved in the Pacific Outreach Programme for Sciences (POPS) at the University of Otago to engage Pasifika youths (Year 7-8), and their communities. Tisiola was part of the team to host high school Pasifika students in association with Pacific Trust Otago and Division of Sciences (Pacific), University of Otago. Tisiola was also involved in the inaugural Måür lelei: Health and Wellbeing Together Fono in South Auckland to engage and connect the community with science through her research.

Rachel Tombs, BA(Hons)

For contribution to sexual violence education in our communities.

Rachel is committed to lifting the silence about sexual violence and preventing such violence. Her research for her MA thesis is on the topic of sexual violence in marriage. Rachel runs workshops to raise awareness as a peer facilitator at the University's Te Whare Tāwharau initiative and she has been an executive member and volunteer for Thursdays in Black Otago.  Rachel organised 'Stories of Faith, Hope and Love' and 'Tenx9' events celebrating the intersections between faith and LGBTQ* Pride during the Dunedin Pride Festivals in 2018 and 2019. She is an elder at Knox Church Dunedin and member of the Student Christian Movement. She participated in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as part of the Presbyterian Women Aotearoa delegation in 2017. 

Hanna Van der Giessen, BSc(Hons), MHealSc

In recognition of bridging the gap between Artificial Intelligence and the medical world.

Since completing her master's degree, Hanna has continued advancing heart health by landing a role at a startup company on the frontiers of cardiology and artificial intelligence, HeartLab. Bridging the gap between the Artificial Intelligence world and the medical world, Hanna is working with cardiologists, sonographers, engineers, and entrepreneurs to get their ground-breaking technology into hospitals, both at home in Aotearoa and eventually, the world. She is executing the company's primary clinical trial in NZ, handling all ethical applications, research protocols, and is the first point of contact for the nationwide roll out of their technology to DHBs.

Hamid Zawari, BSc

In recognition of support for refugee families.

Hamid supports former refugee Afghan whānau settle in Dunedin, particularly youth. He started the Afghan Students' Association (ASA) at University of Otago and has helped youth develop leadership skills through his various roles and with his team, most importantly, supporting pathways to higher education.

Story by Margie Clark, Communications Adviser, Development and Alumni Relations Office

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