Thursday 5 March 2020 7:45pm
This year, five of the 15 of the University and affiliated Colleges have new leadership. In part one of this series, the Otago Bulletin Board speaks to the new Heads of College of Abbey, Carrington and Cumberland Colleges. In part two readers will be introduced to the new leaders of Salmond and Studholme Colleges.
Yulia Taylor – Head of Abbey College
Abbey College holds a special place in new college Head Yulia Taylor’s heart. It’s not a surprise as it was where she proposed to her husband Josh as a resident in 2016.
Dr Taylor took up the post at the end of 2019 and understands first-hand the challenges faced by postgraduate students, particularly those who are international students.
She started her academic journey in Russia, completing her first PhD in Economics and Management of the National Economy, but soon decided she wanted to have an international experience and after finding her supervisors at Otago she travelled to Dunedin and began her second PhD on International Business and International Human Resource Management.
“We agreed on the topic and I thought that the topic was super exciting for me. Something that I really wanted, something I was passionate about,” she says.
"Basically, I’m just passionate about working with students. That’s why I’ve been at university for almost 20 years: being a student, being a teacher, a co-ordinator, a supervisor, a tutor, a lecturer, and now I’m very excited to become the Head of Abbey College."
Her thesis One Size Does Not Fit all: Longitudinal Research Into Immigrant Professionals’ Perceived Lived Experience of Cross-Cultural Adjustment was conferred last year.
After completing her PhD, she continued researching and teaching in the Department of Management, in the Otago Business School.
Taking on the role of Head of College at Abbey seemed only natural.
“It was my home for three years and I really love this place.”
Dr Taylor believes the similar academic experiences she has had to the residents of the College will be beneficial in her role. Current Master of St Margaret’s College Dr Charles Tustin was the Head of College at Abbey when Dr Taylor was a resident.
“It’s really great to have an extra academic person around you to give you a little push because I think it helped me a lot.”
She also knows the pressures of studying as an international postgraduate and with a PhD focussed on the cultural adjustment of immigrants, it seems to be a perfect fit, she says.
“Basically, I’m just passionate about working with students. That’s why I’ve been at university for almost 20 years: being a student, being a teacher, a co-ordinator, a supervisor, a tutor, a lecturer, and now I’m very excited to become the Head of Abbey College.”
Ali Norton – Carrington College
Ali Norton brings a wealth of international experience to her new role as Head of Carrington College.
Ms Norton, a native of Canada, comes to Carrington with 13 years’ experience in student residential life and support at five universities in Canada, the United States and Australia, in roles ranging from Residence Director, to Health and Wellbeing Coordinator to Senior Residential Supervisor (Senior Warden).
Working in residential colleges was not always the plan.
As a first-year, Ms Norton headed to university to study journalism in order to fulfil her “sporting mad” passions and become a sports reporter.
"To say I’m happy would be a huge understatement. I’m delighted to be at Carrington. It’s exactly where I want to be."
However, after becoming the equivalent of a Residential Assistant and taking on other roles in residential life and student services, a spark was ignited after she realised she could make a career out of working with students.
After gaining her Master’s in student development, she moved to the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in Honolulu where she worked in an array of student-focussed residential roles. It was in Hawai'i where she met her husband, Dr Courtney Ennis, a postdoctoral researcher from Western Australia.
After three years in Hawai'i the couple decided to take a gap year to travel in Africa and Europe before deciding where to plant their roots next.
They landed on Melbourne, where Ms Norton began working at La Trobe University as the Senior Residential Supervisor, heading a college and supervising the other staff who did the same.
When La Trobe’s approach to the provision of student accommodation changed a few years later, Ms Norton became the Health and Wellbeing (pastoral care) Coordinator for all Melbourne-based residential students. A few years later, she moved to a university-wide role as the Senior Consultant for Violence Prevention and Support, a position which lead to the creation of a new service dealing with unacceptable and concerning student behaviour called Speak Up.
After Ms Norton had been in Melbourne for seven years, her husband Dr Courtney Ennis accepted a lecturing role in the Chemistry Department at Otago.
No stranger to international moves, Ms Norton soon joined him, initially working in Human Resources at the University as a Change Adviser.
“Though it was really interesting and I met a lot of really fantastic staff, and it provided an insight into some of the functions of the University which were completely off my radar, I really missed working with students,” she says.
So, when the Head of Carrington College role came up, Ms Norton leapt at the chance.
“Students are the reason I got into this work to begin with. I’m still passionate about being in a role where I get to interact with them every day.”
Ali, her husband, and their dog, Freo, moved into Carrington in January.
“To say I’m happy would be a huge understatement,” she says. “I’m delighted to be at Carrington. It’s exactly where I want to be.”
Ziggy Lesā – Cumberland College
After 17 years as the leader of Studholme College, Ziggy Lesā is looking forward to a new challenge as the Head of Cumberland College.
The Otago Bulletin Board spoke to Mr Lesā before he departed Studholme about the highlights of his time there as well as his excitement for his new role.
Mr Lesā has had a big impact on the culture of the college during his time at Studholme. Intertwined in all aspects of running the college has been his emphasis on the Samoan cultural value of aiga (family). His focus has been fostering a family atmosphere through personal engagement with each student that has had a lasting impact on the residents’ year-on-year.
“The aiga (family) feel at Studholme is natural and special. Every member of our aiga is important so our team work hard to know each family member’s name. I think this contributes to the family feeling that many students comment on. When I ask students why they chose Studholme the majority say they wanted to be part of the close knitted family,” he says.
"2020 will be a fun year of watching, listening and learning for areas I think I can add some Samoan perspective and value to Cumberland College and in turn to the University of Otago."
The Intercollegiate Competition has also been bolstered by big numbers from Studholme, with a whopping 50 sports teams from the college competing last year.
“We want to bring a balance and fun aspect to our aiga and so intercollegiate competition, enables our students to be involved for the fun and exercise aspects. When we play, we play to win - but never at the cost of having fun. Having fun in the aiga is crucial. I’m not surprised at our high participation rate because my staff and students understand the correlation of exercise, fun and wellbeing especially when life starts getting stressful.”
For Mr Lesā, participation for fun, rather than winning, is the most important aspect of getting residents involved in the intercollegiate competition. That participation for fun brings laughter which helps foster aiga-like feel of Studholme, he says.
Now he wants to challenge himself to build that at Cumberland.
“I know what we’re doing here [Studholme] is really awesome and well appreciated by our students but I want to take what I’ve learnt from here and apply it elsewhere. Is it possible to create an aiga feeling at Cumberland College? Is it even needed at Cumberland College? I’m not sure but my first year at Cumberland will be to watch, listen and learn.”
Studholme has about 185 residents, while Cumberland houses about 326.
“It’s a bit of unknown because I’ve always been here [Studholme] and you want to test yourself.”
Mr Lesā praised the work of former Cumberland Head Nick Bates, who has taken on a role at Salmond College.
“Nick has made moving into Cumberland both smooth and difficult. Smooth in that he has raised first choice application to Cumberland to well over 700 applications which means we are selecting students that want to be involved in that community. He also left behind a well-trained competent hard working and functioning team. That’s difficult because there is not much for me to fix up.”
“2020 will be a fun year of watching, listening and learning for areas I think I can add some Samoan perspective and value to Cumberland College and in turn to the University of Otago,” Mr Lesā says.
Mr Lesā’s aiga consists of three older children who have left home. His wife Raewyn, their youngest son Manaia (12) and chocolate Labrador Chewy moved into Cumberland College at the beginning of this year.