Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Alumni house

Alumni news

A word from the Head

Alison Finigan
Alison Finigan

With only two months to go before the end of the year it's time to look back and see what has been achieved by the Development and Alumni Relations team in 2013.

We've introduced many changes in the past 12 months, mainly in the way we communicate with you through publications, face-to-face activities and social media platforms. Opportunities for alumni to meet and socialise have been increased with the introduction of local networking, based on the model that has been operating successfully for many years in Melbourne. We now have groups meeting regularly in Chicago and Jakarta, and similar groups being established in Auckland, Napier, Perth, Singapore and Los Angeles.

Getting together locally is a great way to establish new social and professional contacts and networks of Otago people to welcome new alumni and to provide a point of contact for graduate or exchange students travelling abroad for study or research.

The revamp of the Alumni & Friends website has also enhanced opportunities for communication via Otago groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. We are using these networks to post the latest news, videos and photos of what's happening on campus.

A new feature of the website enables alumni to listen to talks by outstanding academics and distinguished visitors, either in real time or via podcast. Also planned is an e-newsletter that will bring you the latest news and events from Otago, as well as alumni stories, memories and photos from the archives.

Otago's international networks

Alumni of the University of Otago in America, Inc (AUOA)

US-based alumni are welcoming the creation of new local groups offering the opportunity for socialising and networking close to home. The first of these was established in Chicago in April, followed by activity in Washington DC and Houston. Interest has also been expressed in setting up groups in Dallas and Seattle.

These networks can take many forms depending on the particular interests of alumni in the area. Some are networks of retired alumni; others are networks of academic alumni offering research opportunities for postgraduate students in the US. If you are interested in setting up a network in your city, or if you would like to be put in touch with someone who has, please contact Kaitlin Wolf.

Through the generosity of the board of the AUOA, scholarships have been made available to undergraduate students who spend up to a year studying as part of the Otago Global exchange programme. Psychology honours student Emma Martin, who was one of the 14 students who received an AUOA Exchange Award in 2012, wrote of her experience:

Spending the past five months at The University of Texas at Austin was an absolute privilege. At UT I assisted in research on eating patterns with Dr Ray Hawkins. In this role I learnt first-hand all the nitty-gritty that goes into research, and it gave me much insight and relevant experience for my 2013 honours project. Although I was there for academic purposes, I've learnt just as many life lessons. My semester in Texas is something I will never forget – the contacts I have made all over the world and the amazing true-American college experiences I will have forever.

The travel scholarship is one of a number of projects funded by the AUOA in 2013. Others include an investigation into the causes of mortality in yellow-eyed penguins, an Irish Studies honours and postgraduate fund to enhance research opportunities, and an endowment in perpetuity to support undergraduate scholarships for first-year students. The University of Otago is grateful to the board of the AUOA for their generous support of these projects.

Remembering Dr Kevin Novins

Kevin Novins
Dr Kevin Novins

Dr Kevin Novins, a former staff member of Otago's Department of Computer Science (1995-2001), passed away in January 2011. He was aged only 47. Later that year his family contacted the AUOA, expressing a wish to make a bequest in his name.

Kevin grew up in Westchester County, New York, and attended Harvard University, majoring in computer science and graduating in 1985. In 1994 he gained a PhD at Cornell University.

Kevin was on the faculty of two New Zealand universities for 10 years: first, at the University of Otago and, later, at the University of Auckland, specialising in computer graphics, user interfaces, computer vision and scientific visualization. He returned to the United States in 2006 to work in the financial management industry.

The Novins family's gift in memory of Kevin was awarded by the board of the AUOA to support the Kevin L. Novins Computer Science Travelling Scholarship for graduate research candidates whose studies may benefit from a period spent in the US as well as to support visits of US computer science academics to the University.

Kevin's brother Douglas says: “Kevin loved his years at Otago and hoped to return to Dunedin one day. This is a wonderful way for us to make sure that his passion for teaching and scholarship does return, and remains a part of the University for years to come.”

Canadian Alumni Network

Professor Brian Merrilees
Professor Brian Merrilees

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the recent death of Professor Brian Merrilees.

Brian was a proud Otago alumnus who played a pivotal role in establishing the Otago network in Canada. Along with fellow alumnus Allan Portis, he was a mainstay of the Toronto group, always ready to contribute his considerable energy and enthusiasm to promoting events and projects centred on that city.

His support for Otago's fundraising efforts goes back to 1995, with a particular focus on languages and cultures reflecting his academic career that began in Otago's French Department in the 1950s.

The University is particularly grateful for the support that Brian and Pat have given over recent years to Otago students on exchange to the University of Toronto. These students have been warmly welcomed into the Merrilees' “home away from home”, providing a safety net as they came to grips with living and studying in a new country.

Brian's outstanding academic achievements and high profile career as a Professor and Head of the Department of French at the University of Toronto mark him out as one of the University of Otago's most distinguished language and literature graduates. He was also a warm and sympathetic friend and will be sadly missed by so many at the University of Otago, where he maintained close links over the years.

The University of Otago Foundation for Malaysia

Malam MalaysiaMalaysian alumni who studied at the University of Otago recall their time in New Zealand with pride and nostalgia. One aspect of student life that always brings back fond memories is their participation in OMSA, the Otago Malaysian Students' Association, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

OMSA marked this significant milestone with a spectacular gala production for Malam Malaysia that attracted a capacity audience to the Dunedin College of Education auditorium in August. News of the production was passed on to the Board of the University of Otago Foundation for Malaysia who generously responded with a gift to help with production costs.

The University and OMSA are grateful for the interest and support that alumni have shown in contributing to the celebration of 50 years of Malaysian cultural presence at Otago.

Appointment of Court of Convocation members to University Council

It was recently announced that the University of Otago Council will recommend to the Minister for Tertiary Education a change in the process by which the three Court of Convocation positions on Council are filled.

The new policy will require that vacant positions be advertised, allowing interested parties to nominate themselves or others as candidates. It is hoped that this will lead to an increase in the number of graduates willing to offer themselves for membership of Council, and will also help ensure that Council has the best balance of skills across its membership.

Recent elections under the existing system have had a very low rate of response - less than six per cent in the last two elections – and have involved considerable cost. The University's alumni comprise more than 90,000 worldwide.

The terms of the current Court of Convocation representatives on Council expire at the end of 2014 and it is expected that confidential nominations and expressions of interest will be called for under the new process towards the end of 2014.

Be active, be social on our new website

The Alumni & Friends website, Your Otago Link, has been revamped with the theme “Be active, be social”. Now we want feedback about the ways in which you would like to be active and social.

Traditionally, institutional alumni engagement has focused on the tried-and-true model of events, general communications and appeal activity. However in this digital age, we recognise that it is imperative to evolve and to maintain relevance to a changing alumni community.

We want to maintain excellent print communications – the University of Otago Magazine is a case in point – and continue to utilise face-to-face connections (alumni networks and events, career seminars). Yet, as a university, we face the challenge of how to engage alumni when most of you live outside Dunedin and the surrounding region. There are more than 90,000 of you living in over 140 countries (see ).

We have made a start with the re-launch of the Alumni & Friends website as the hub and using Facebook and LinkedIn to further disseminate information.

We aim to tailor activity and engagement to suit alumni from all life stages utilising physical and digital platforms to:

  • inform and engage alumni about on-campus activities
  • provide engagement tools to increase learning opportunities for national and overseas populations
  • invite alumni to participate and share their experiences/stories since leaving university
  • offer a range of services to connect, engage and do business online
  • explore the potential to link alumni with university staff and students engaged in cutting-edge research.

New technology opens a new world of alumni relations. We would love to hear your feedback and ideas to help us develop features that are useful to you. Please email Louise Lawrence.

Octagon Prime

A short story collaboration celebrating the unique student culture of Otago University.

Recognising alumni achievement, celebrating the unique student experience in Dunedin and encouraging potential undergraduates to choose Otago, has inspired a short story collection currently being developed.

Master's graduate Luke MacLean-McMahon initiated the project, bringing together close mates Charlie Stewart, Jack Henderson and James Greenland who wanted to give something back, acknowledging the character-defining experiences they enjoyed in Dunedin.

Initial reception has been positive, with numerous esteemed alumni including Sir Eion Edgar, David Cunliffe, Murray Webb, Mai Chen, Phillipa Gray, Professor Mark Henaghan, Sir Julian Smith and Hamish Pinkham agreeing to share their stories.

“The light-hearted and positive nature of the book will be a catalyst for former students to reflect and share their unique stories with a wider audience,” says Luke. “A percentage of any profit will fund a new scholarship encouraging prospective North Island students to choose the University of Otago.”

Alison Finigan, Head of Alumni Relations, has taken a keen interest in the project. “This is a fantastic initiative and we'd like to encourage alumni to be involved, starting with sending their stories, photos and memories.”

The former Scarfies have set up a small business, Octagon Prime, to get started. To help, or for more information, contact

Keep in touch

Address for correspondence
Development & Alumni Relations Office
University of Otago
PO Box 56 Dunedin

Physical address
Alumni House
103 St David Street

Telephone 64 3 479 4516

Back to top