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Sciences Pacific Student Support

If you have questions or need help come and see us. The Division of Sciences Pacific Islands support network is here for all students of Pacific Islands descent taking any Science papers.

If you need help, don't hesitate to contact us. We can advocate on your behalf and provide:

  • Career advice and options
  • Help with choosing papers
  • Time management and study advice
  • Information and assistance

To provide what you need to achieve what you’re capable of, we work closely with the:

The University also provides On-Campus Experience (OCE) scholarships for Pacific Islands students.

Learn more about the On-Campus Experience for Pacific Islands scholarship.


Meliame JacksonMeliame Jackson

Pacific Islands Student Support Facilitator
Room 109, Union Court
85 Union Place West
Tel +64 3 479 9267
Office Hours:
Mon – Wed 8:30am to 1:30pm
Thur 8:30am to 1:15pm

Sciences Pacific staff

Pacific Island Liaisons - Sciences

The role of our Pacific Islands Liaisons is to provide specialised support from the departments they are located in. You should seek help from a liaison with any queries regarding specific papers or labs, access to resources or any other general enquiries about an issue encompassed within that department.

The Pacific Islands Liaisons for each Department are:


Dr Latika Samalia 2019 imageDr Latika Samalia

Tel +64 3 479 5145

Hi, I am a professional practice fellow at the Department of Anatomy and am a Pacific Island support person for Anatomy in the Biomedical Sciences. I teach Anatomy in all the professional courses – Medicine, Dentistry and Physiotherapy.

I am originally from Fiji. The best way to reach me is via email.

Dr Ruth Napper 2019 imageDr Ruth Napper

Tel +64 3 479 7362

I have been an undergraduate, postgraduate and am now an academic staff member at the University of Otago. I believe I have a lot of knowledge, am very approachable and being in the older cohort, have a lot of wisdom (common sense). It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to help students find a course that suits them, enables them to be successful and helps them to gain the skills that will be valuable post university study.

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Prof Tony Merriman 2019 imageProfessor Tony Merriman

Tel +64 3 479 7846
Location Room 3.16f, Biochemistry Building

I am a Professor in Genetics who studies the causes of gout and other metabolic diseases in Pacific people. Feel free to use my email for contact.

Sharleen Rae-Whitcombe 2019 imageSharleen Rae-Whitcombe

Tel +64 3 479 7083
Location Room 1.26a, Biochemistry Building

Warm greetings to you all! My name is Shar Rae-Whitcombe, and I am so lucky and privileged to have a job as a Professional Practice Fellow in the Biochemistry Department. The title sounds intimidating, but really my main profession has been raising teenagers – I have three children and three step-children!

What I love most about my job is getting to know students and helping them to get excited about what they are studying. I get to teach practical labs, and work with students in group tutorials or one-on-one mentoring. It doesn’t cost anything to get extra tutoring or just come and have a chat with any of the Teaching Fellows or Professional Practice Fellows in Biochemistry. Helping others is truly the best part of our job, so please get in touch if you ever need support.

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Bachelor Biomedical Science Students

Position vacant.

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Dr Janice Lord 2019 imageDr Janice Lord

Tel +64 3 479 5131

Talofa lava, Kia orana, Malo e lelei, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Bula vinaka, Malo ni, Halo ola keta, Mauri, Fakatalofa atu and Warm Pacific Greetings. My name is Janice and I am the Pacific liaison for the Botany Department. We are a small, friendly department with a strong research profile in native plant and fungal diversity and nutritional quality of food plants. I work on plant-insect interactions such as pollination and restoration of native vegetation. I also have a strong interest in cultural uses of plants.

My family have lived in Otago for generations and my heritage is Scottish and English. However, I have travelled in the Pacific and love the vibrant welcoming culture and beautiful natural landscapes. If you need to speak with me please email me first to set up a time.

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Dr David McMorran 2019 imageDr David McMorran

Tel +64 3 479 7934
Location Gc2, Science II building

Dr Dave is a Senior Teaching Fellow and paper coordinator for CHEM191 and CHEM150. You can best contact him by email or find him in either MEG16 in the Mellor Laboratories Building or in Gc2 in the Science II building.

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Computer Science

Assoc Prof Alistair Knott 2019 imageAssociate Professor Alistair Knott

Tel +64 3 479 8299
Location Room 2.54 Owheo Building

Malo e lelei! I’m an associate professor at the Computer Science department. My main qualification for being the Pacific Support person at Computer Science is that I’m married to Mele Taumoepeau, who’s the Associate Dean Pacific for Sciences. Mele is Tongan, and I’ve been a regular visitor to Tonga for the last 25 years – in fact, we were married in Tonga (devastating the local population of pigs).

I’m really happy to chat to Pacific students at Computer Sciences about any issues they might have. Please get in touch by email or just show up at my office in the Owheo building (room 254, on the second floor).

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Anna Wood 2019 imageAnna Wood

Tel +64 3 471 6146
Location Botany House Annexe, 479 Great King Street

Anna Wood is one of the Ecology Degree Programme Teaching Fellows and a Pacific Island support person. You are very welcome to contact her with any queries about the programme. If you need any support-either personal or with your studies- Anna can help you work out what you need and where to go.

Please drop in to the Botany House Annexe (cream bungalow, green roof at 479 Great King St, mornings are best) or email to make an appointment.

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Food Science

Dr Mei Peng image 2019 imageDr Mei Peng

Tel +64 3 479 4052
Location Room 109 CSB

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Forensic Analytical Science

Prof Russell Frew 2019 imageProfessor Russell Frew

Tel +64 3 479 7913
Location Room 119 Mellor Building

I am Russell Frew from the Department of Chemistry. I am the contact for the Forensic Analytical science programme.

Students can contact me either by email or drop by my office.

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Dr Gillian MacKay 2019 imageDr Gillian MacKay

Tel +64 3 479 7937
Location Rm G11, Biochemistry building

Warm Pacific Greetings! I am Dr Gillian Mackay the Senior Teaching Fellow for Genetics. You will meet me in most of the GENE 200-level labs and also I teach in some GENE 300-level labs too.

If you want to get in touch with me either email me or pop into my office or have a chat with me if I am in your lab. Genetics is currently in a temporary office on the ground floor of Biochem (G11), while our new office hub is being renovated.

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Geography / Geo Info Systems

Ben Varkalis 2019 imageBen Varkalis

Tel +64 3 479 9241
Location Rm5c12, Richardson Building

I am the School of Geography Teaching Fellow and work primarily in the three first year papers that we offer (Geog101, Geog102 and Envi111). I have a strong interest in the transition students make when leaving high school and coming to university, where students face differences in learning, new challenges and opportunities and become much more independent.

I can be found on the 5th floor of the Richardson Building in room 5.C.12 and am very happy for students to drop by or they can email me for a time to meet.

My office hours are 10am to 11.30am Monday to Thursday.

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Position vacant.

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Human Nutrition / Sport and Exercise Nutrition

Dr Meredith Peddie 2019 imageDr Meredith Peddie

Tel +64 3 479 8157
Location Rm7c3, Science II building

I’m Meredith Peddie, a Research Fellow in the Department of Human Nutrition, my position is funded by the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand, and my research focuses on the health effects of sedentary behaviour, and how interrupting periods of prolonged sitting with short bouts of activity can affect postprandial glucose metabolism, appetite response and energy expenditure. I also am involved in co-ordinating the SuNDiAL project, which is large nationwide research study that the Masters of Dietetics students work on for the research component of their degree.

If I’m in my office (7c3 Science 2) my door is always open, but sometimes teaching, research and life in general means I’m not in my office. If you want to guarantee you will catch me, feel free to email or phone to make a time.

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Minako Kataoka 2019 imageMinako Kataoka

Tel +64 3 471 6278

Hi everyone, my name is Minako Kataoka. I am a Professional Practice Fellow and a Dietitian teaching in the Master of Dietetics programme at the Human Nutrition department.

I’m originally from Japan, and moved to New Zealand in 1997.

If you want to learn about food in Japan, come and talk to me! I would also love to learn about food in the Pacific Islands.

If it’s not about food, that’s fine. Just email me and meet up!

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Marine Science / Aquaculture and Fisheries / Oceanography

Bridie Allan imageDr Bridie Allan

Tel +64 3 479 8327

Kia orana, Bula Vinaka, Aloha, Mauri, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Talofa, Taloha ni, Malo e lelei, Halo olaketa, and Warm Pacific Greetings.

My name is Bridie Allan and I am the Pacific liaison for the Department of Marine Science. Our department works across a range of marine environments and on a range of different marine taxa, we even look at the behaviour of waves! For my own research, I work on coral reef ecosystems and coral reef fish. I am especially interested in understanding how environmental changes will affect the health of the marine environment.

We are all connected by the Pacific Ocean, if you need course advice, or information on where a degree in Marine Science might take you, please connect with me via email or drop by my office (MS148) in the Marine Department.

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Mathematics and Statistics

Position vacant.

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Microbiology and Immunology

Dr Jen Robson

Tel +64 3 479 8475
Location Rm 306, Microbiology building

Hello, my name is Jen Robson. I am a 300-level teaching fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. My role is mostly based in the undergraduate laboratory teaching 300-level students. I see all my students as scientists in training, and my job is to teach them how to do lab work so that they will be successful in the workforce or in postgraduate study. I am here to help and support our Pacific Island students with their microbiology papers.

If you need help or course advice, please come and see me in my office on the 3rd floor of the Microbiology building (Rm 306) or contact me by email.

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Assoc Prof Joanna Williams 2019 imageAssociate Professor Joanna Williams

Tel +64 3 479 8821
Location Scott 112

Joanna is a graduate of Otago University. Her laboratory, which is based within the Department of Anatomy, has a major focus on identification of biomarkers within blood plasma, which may be useful in the early detection and diagnosis of neurological diseases.

Joanna has mentored many postgraduate students and is the convenor of the ANAT241 flag-ship paper for the Anatomy degree and the Deputy Director of ‘Neuroscience’ at Otago.

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Position vacant.

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Pharmacology and Toxicology

Dr Morgayn Read 2019 imageDr Morgayn Read

Tel +64 3 479 7265
Location (requires swipe card access so please make an appointment first)

I am a Teaching Fellow in Pharmacology and Toxicology, with an interest in drugs used to treat cardiovascular (heart) and neurological (brain) diseases. New Pharmacology students will be able to find me in their PHAL211 labs and lectures. Don't hesitate to approach me, as I'm here to help.

The best way to get in contact with me is by email or in labs (my office is behind swipe card access so appointments are required).

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Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences

Dr Marguerita Lazar

Tel +64 3 479 5263
Location Rm 103a , 665 Cumberland St

Marguerita (Margie) Lazar is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences. I am the Course Coordinator for our new practicum paper and have a particular interest in furthering the academic success and support for Pacifica students.

You can reach me via email or phone. I look forward to meeting you soon.

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Associate Professor Tania Cassidy

Tel +64 3 479 9070

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Position vacant.

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Assoc. Prof. Daryl Schwenke 2019 imageAssociate Professor Daryl Schwenke

Tel +64 3 479 7330
Location Rm 121 Lindo Ferguson Building

Talofa lava, my name is Daryl Schwenke and I am an Assoc Prof within the department of physiology and have established an exciting line of biomedical research into cardiovascular disease in Pasifika.

I also serve as Associate Dean Pacific for the School of Biomedical Sciences, and am a course advisor/approver. So I would be keen to meet and greet as many of you as possible that may have any questions regarding life in the School of Biomedical Sciences.

Abi Walker 2019 imageAbi Walker

Tel +64 3 479 5603

Hello students, I am one of the PI Liaisons in the Department of Physiology. I am a Teaching Fellow, so am lucky to spend the majority of my time teaching students: the students of this university are the number one priority for me, and I take my responsibilities for assisting you through your studies very seriously.

I teach into the HUBS papers and 200-Level Physiology labs. I am happy to help with both content and non-academic enquiries, or will help connect you to the right people if I am unable to assist. I believe it is important to accept all questions in the manner in which they are asked, so you can ask me anything and, even if it’s something I can answer easily, I will think better of you because you had the guts to ask.

Email is my best point of contact (then I can either reply electronically or arrange a time to meet when I am not teaching others). Please highlight in the subject of your email that you are a PI student, so I can make responding to your email a priority.

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Dr Mele Taumoepeau 2019 imageDr Mele Taumoepeau

Tel +64 3 479 4029
Location Galton House

Mele is a senior lecturer within the Department of Psychology and also the Associate Dean Pacific for the Division of Sciences. Her research focusses on understanding the role of parent-child conversations in the development of children’s social cognition in Pacific Island families.

Mele lectures in the PSYC 112 and 327 papers and is available to provide support and advice to students within the psychology department. Mele also works alongside the Sciences Pacific Support and Strategy team to provide assistance and guidance to all Pacific students within the Division of Sciences.

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Surveying / Land Planning and Development

Dr Mick Strack 2019 imageDr Mick Strack

Tel +64 3 479 7603
Location Rm 114, School of Surveying, 310 Castle St

Mick Strack teaches land law and planning and researches Māori and customary land rights, coastal property and natural boundaries.

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Dr Jenny Jandt 2019 imageDr Jenny Jandt

Tel +64 3 479 7608

I study the behavioural ecology of social insects (bees and wasps). I am particularly interested in how wasps and bees work together to produce a successful colony, and how the environment that they live in affects those interactions and their development.

Check out my webpage for more information about my research, or some fun facts about wasps and bees.

The best way for students to meet up with me is to make an appointment via email first.

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