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The University fosters Tongan connections

Monday 17 December 2018 10:41am

Tonga-image
Mary Jane Kivalu (sitting on the floor at left) with the University of Otago delegation at Takuilau College in Lapaha, Tonga.

Raised in a Tongan speaking family in Auckland, the first time Mary Jane Kivalu visited Tonga was as a teenager with her mother. Recently she made her second trip to the Kingdom to help launch the Otago Tongan Alumni Network.

Together with Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Sciences) Professor Richard Barker, Dr Mele Taumoepeau and Dr Losa Moata’ane, the Otago team presented to schools, met with public servants, and launched the Tongan network bringing local alumni together.

“This trip was my best international experience so far, both for my connection to Tonga and my role in the team to help paint a picture for Professor Barker who was visiting for the first time,” Mary Jane says.

"The trip to Tonga made me realise how hard I was working for Pacific movement here, but also made me question why I wasn’t working for the same back in Tonga which needs it."

“But the trip also painted a picture for me. After all the experiences I have had at Otago I realised I’ve totally changed as a person since my first year in 2010.”

Mary Jane came to Otago intending to study medicine, but spent three years studying health sciences which she “didn’t enjoy” and wasn’t good at, but “didn’t have the heart to tell my family”.

Feeling dismayed, she decided to stay in Dunedin and complete a human resources diploma, which was the turning point for following her instinct for commerce.

After finishing a Bachelor of Commerce in two years followed by a Master of Business Administration, Mary Jane is now completing a Doctor of Business Administration. Her research focuses on the importance of identifying cultural intelligence (CQ) in employees and the appropriate pipelines to develop CQ.

Her goal is to improve and increase the diversity of all levels in the workplace, one she champions in her role as the President of the New Zealand Tongan Tertiary Students’ Association that she’s held since 2016.

“The trip to Tonga made me realise how hard I was working for Pacific movement here, but also made me question why I wasn’t working for the same back in Tonga which needs it.”

She adds the trip was also a “eureka moment” tapping into her interests in connecting things through the Business School.

"We have an empowered Pasifika generation coming through and current Pasifika Scarfies have made UOPISA happen which is great."

Tonga’s strengths are in agriculture and marine, and the Otago team highlighted practical study options such as marine science and surveying which could be supported by internships in Tonga. Mary Jane says there is also a growing awareness in Tonga of science as a career pathway.

“I can speak Tongan so I was able to answer simple questions and clarify some basic things. Tongan parents usually make all the decisions for their children, and it can seem like we don’t have initiative but it’s just how we are brought up.”

Back at Otago, Mary Jane is now the President of the University of Otago Pacific Islands Students Association (UOPISA), the umbrella group for Otago’s Pacific Associations that acts as the collective Pasifika voice.

“It’s important that Pasifika students feel empowered to speak up anywhere, any place and any time. It’s not just about voicing our Pasifika concerns in academic settings, but also feeling empowered to speak up as young students in a Pasifika setting and UOPISA is the pipeline to mobilise that voice.”

UOPISA will begin its first official year in 2019 with all Pasifika associations on board.

“UOPISA is very new, but Martin Luther King Jr said a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus. We have an empowered Pasifika generation coming through and current Pasifika Scarfies have made UOPISA happen which is great.”