Ingenio University of Auckland alumni magazine Tue, 30 May 2017 22:17:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Heartening news Tue, 30 May 2017 22:16:31 +0000 Professor Rob Doughty speaks to Suzi Phillips.

There’s good news and bad news on heart attacks in New Zealand.

First the bad news is that one in four New Zealanders who have heart attacks are below the age of 55 years.

The good news is that acute care for heart attack patients has improved over recent years, right across the country.

And here are the sobering and sad statistics.

One third of all deaths in New Zealand each year are due to cardiovascular disease, and about every 90 minutes one New Zealander dies from heart disease. Heart attacks happen to 10,000 people each year – those are the figures for New Zealanders admitted to hospital with an acute heart attack. And while a heart attack is an acute event, heart disease is a life-long issue and affects about 172,000 people – those are the people living every day with the impact of heart disease.

Professor Rob Doughty holds the Heart Foundation Chair of Heart Health at the University of Auckland, where he runs a programme of research designed to improve understanding of the causes, prevention and treatment of heart disease in New Zealand.

Ironically, Rob is himself a fairly recent heart attack survivor. As a 51-year-old male with a healthy diet and lifestyle, he was in the lowest part of the risk charts. “But we know that the risk is never zero and I’ve proved that myself,” he says. “On just another workday morning, walking across a quiet courtyard, I found myself experiencing what I’d dealt with in other people for many, many years.”

The experience, which luckily occurred within easy reach of help – between his two places of work, Auckland Hospital and the University’s School of Medicine – has given him a unique perspective on what he has been researching for more than half his life.

Genetics in heart disease in New Zealand is a major focus of the research programme Rob is leading, with several interlinking studies that will contribute to understanding the role of genetics and gene-environment interactions in heart disease in the New Zealand context.

“Important disparities in heart disease exist in New Zealand for some ethnic groups and for people living in areas of greater deprivation,” says Rob. “Māori are at higher risk of heart disease at a younger age; age-standardised death rates from heart disease are about 50 percent higher for Māori men and twice as high for Māori women compared to non-Māori.”

One of the programme’s major studies is MENZACS, the Multi-Ethnic New Zealand Study of Acute Coronary Syndromes. This Rob describes as a case-controlled study that aims to gain better understanding of risk factors that predispose certain individuals to a high risk of developing heart disease (and heart attacks).

“We hope to understand the genetic factors and gene-environment interactions that contribute to disease, outcomes and response to therapy,” he says.

This is one study you won’t be involved in unless you’ve had a heart attack. It’s run as a web-based hospital registry, collecting data on patients who have heart attacks in New Zealand. “This allows for a simple and cost-efficient means to conduct large scale research studies across multiple centres in New Zealand,” says Rob.

The study, run (as part of Rob’s Heart Health Research Group) by Associate Professor Malcolm Legget from the School of Medicine, began in July 2015 and is now recruiting patients at Auckland City Hospital, Middlemore, Waikato and Christchurch Hospitals. More than 600 participants have already been enrolled after suffering a heart attack and have been asked some simple questions about their food, lifestyle and family history. They also give a blood sample for genetic and biomarker analysis.

“Due to the nature of this multi-ethnic study, extensive work has been developed with regard to Māori participation,” says Rob.

Dr Anna Rolleston (Ngati Ranginui/Ngai Te Rangi), previously the Heart Foundation Māori Cardiovascular Fellow and now a co-investigator on the study, has provided guidance on the project from a Māori worldview. “She has developed and leads the Māori Governance Group, whose members act as kaitiaki (custodians) for Māori participating in the MENZACS study,” (which received initial funding from the Heart Foundation Heart Health Trust project grant from 2015 to 2017, and is supported in part by the “Healthier Lives” National Science Challenge.

Another study, led by Dr Katrina Poppe, has resulted in the development of a new clinical risk score, which helps to assess risk of future clinical disease for people with previous heart disease. Katrina, a former Heart Foundation Fellow, is now working with Rob’s group and with the VIEW/PREDICT Group led by Professor Rod Jackson from Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

“The risk score,” says Rob, “is based on clinical factors easily available for use with people in the community. It can help health professionals to target those people at higher risk for more intensive interventions, so as to prevent recurring heart problems.”

The research of Heart Foundation Research Fellow, Dr Nikki Earle, also working with Rob’s group, has recently revealed shocking statistics on heart attacks in younger people. Her study showed that one in four patients admitted to hospital in New Zealand with their first heart attack is less than 55 years old.

“These younger patients have a very high risk factor burden, including smoking, obesity and diabetes,” says Rob.

Nikki’s research includes a study to determine whether microRNAs, (small non-coding portions of genetic material), are associated with the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis (known in layman’s language as “hardening of the arteries”). This work is conducted in close collaboration with colleagues from the Christchurch Heart Institute at the University of Otago: Heart Foundation Senior Fellow, Dr Anna Pilbrow, Professor Vicky Cameron and Professor Mark Richards (Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiovascular Studies).

At present, traditional risk factors such as age, blood pressure and smoking status are used to predict the risk of heart attacks and cardiac deaths, says Rob. “Nikki’s research is intended to make this prediction more accurate by finding new genetic risk markers as well as new biomarkers that circulate in the blood.

“She and her team are looking for these markers in people from across the spectrum of heart disease, ranging from the early stages before clinical symptoms are evident to advanced stages such as heart failure. Identifying those at risk at an earlier stage allows better targeted early intervention such as medications or behavioural change.”

Rob acknowledges the multiple collaborations which he says are “fundamental to the success of contemporary research”. These include the close working relationship with the other Heart Foundation Chair, Mark Richards, and Heart Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Otago.

Rob is sure these studies across community population and clinical arenas will greatly improve prevention and treatment of heart disease in New Zealand.

Meantime, something he still doesn’t understand is why he had the heart attack, and this he will only discover through continued research: “It was a salient personal reminder that there is a hell of a lot more still to do.”

Around the globe Mon, 29 May 2017 00:48:48 +0000 Three international alumni tell us a little of what they’re up to. Tianyi Lu is a graduate in Music (BMus/Performance 2011, BMus(Hons)/Performance 2012); Dr Emma Carroll in Biological Sciences (BSc 2004, MSc 2006, PhD 2012); and Dale F Simpson Jnr in Anthropology (PGDipArts 2007, MA (First class hons) 2008).

Uniting through music: Tianyi Lu 

Where are you living and what are you doing? 

I’m based in Europe at the moment as a freelance orchestral conductor, working mainly in the UK. I’ve conducted various orchestras in Wales and England and I’ve assisted the Hallé orchestra and Welsh National Youth Opera.

My role as Junior Fellow in Conducting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama involves teaching undergraduate conducting classes and working with the student orchestras there, as well as mentoring from the musicians and conductors at the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. I’m absolutely delighted to be announced as the new assistant conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra starting in June this year: I’m looking forward to being closer to home.

What do you find exciting about living and working in Europe?

Being a freelance conductor means you are travelling a lot; I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some incredible conductors and orchestras in Russia, Estonia, Switzerland and Germany. This year I’ll be going to the USA, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, New Zealand and Australia for both work and professional development.

I love how everything is so close in Europe, I love meeting people from different cultures and seeing how music can unite us. I am also really looking forward to moving back to Melbourne – one of my favourite cities in the world.

Is the study you did at Auckland important to what you are doing now? 

My time at Auckland was crucial to my development as a young musician. I was fortunate to have been taught and mentored by the inspiring staff at the School of Music (naming them all would push me past my word-count), in particular Professor Uwe Grodd, who has continued to support and guide me over the years.

I will always be grateful for my time in Auckland and will always remember the wonderful experiences and opportunities I was given that have been so crucial to my career. My passion for music really blossomed during my time at Auckland and it’s a passion that will continue and I hope to share with others for the rest of my life.

For more information see Tianyi’s website:

To see her interviewed see bringing-women-conductorsfront-orchestra/

Creating new realities Mon, 29 May 2017 00:42:07 +0000 When Alfdaniels Mabingo returns to Uganda he will go there as the first PhD graduate in dance pedagogy. He talks with Judy Wilford. 

“Dance is not just something you do with your body,” says dancer and dance educator Alfdaniels Mabingo (usually known as Mabingo).

“Dancers are knowers, doers, thinkers, explorers and creators. Dance is a pool fed by different streams.”

“In the West many people think dance from African cultures is all about the body: that all you have to do is mimic and master the movements to become a dancer. But it’s so important to recognise that the key to the dances is in the stories they tell. The dances embody philosophies, they express views of the cosmos, are embedded in the cultures and histories of their communities. If you think they’re just about the body, all that knowledge of what we are and who we are is lost.”

As part of his PhD, Mabingo has been interviewing cultural heritage dance teachers who are working outside the mainstream in central Uganda: not in schools or universities, but in communities, orphanages, youth groups, churches or NGOs.

“One of the discoveries I have made is that story-telling and music are central to their methods of teaching dance,” he says. The teaching is based on “highly complex principles that are embedded in the philosophies and realities of the cultures”.

Unlike Western frameworks for teaching dance – which tend to separate choreography, history, theory, performance, movement and musicality – the frameworks used by the Ugandan teachers aim to integrate all of these.

Music is seen not just as an accompaniment to the dance. Instead it becomes a teaching aid – almost a coteacher – working to help give the dancers feedback, to encourage them to learn through their ears as well as their eyes, to give them ways of dealing with the passion of the dance as they attempt to embody the story it is telling.

“Teachers will often teach their students to make music, using drumming, song or poetry, as a foundation to the dance.” The teaching of dance among the people of central Uganda is anchored in the Ubuntu world view, which can be expressed as: “I am because we are, and because we are, therefore I am.” The community finds its existence through the individual and vice versa.

Says Mabingo: “It’s based on the possibilities that are created through participation.” Which means of course that dance is an embodiment of this philosophy.

Dance, it is clear, plays a much greater role in day-to-day life in Uganda than in Western societies, including Pākehā New Zealand.

“That is true, and I’m trying to theorise why it is so,” says Mabingo, who grew up in a “very big extended family and a big community” where “learning to dance was like learning to breathe”.

“One reason is the difference in cosmology, in the way we see ourselves in the world. In Uganda the feeling is that, in a sense, we have to ‘become’ the things that are close to us. If music and dance are close to our lives we feel the need to produce them, and by that act of producing them we become a part of them. The African inside me always wants to sing and dance with those around me.

“But in Western society, progress has turned many people into consumers of music and dance.

“My theory is that in the capitalist system, where the major purpose of the people is to spend, then dancers become the producers of cultural products which the audience consumes. You lose that instinct, that sense of being a ‘doer’ of dance or music – or a worker of the land. If you want to engage with music and dance, your space is the computer, the TV, the headset or the iPhone.”

He’s seeing these changes also in Uganda, as it becomes increasingly urban: “This is about the politics and economics of dance.”

Mabingo completed his undergraduate degree and his MA in performing arts at Makarere University in Uganda, followed by a masters in dance education at New York University in the US.

There are few universities around the world that offer a PhD in dance studies and Mabingo was attracted to the University of Auckland by its “rich combination of scholarship, dance education, theory, research and practice” and by its international research focus.

His supervisors, Professor Ralph Buck and Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe, have carried out research not only in New Zealand but also in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Pacific.

Mabingo aims in his own research to ignite scholarly interest in new ideas of teaching dance, especially those that draw on non-Western artistic, intellectual and philosophical traditions. He hopes to encourage collaborations that expand possibilities and build awareness and understanding.

“Dance can build a bridge between cultures and people,” he says.

Which is certainly true of an exciting new production which had its recent world premiere at Mangere Arts Centre in Auckland, and which Mabingo choreographed (with Charlene Tedrow).

In Transit, directed by Justine Simei-Barton, is based on a play by Wanjiku Kiarie Sanderson, a Kenyan New Zealander (widow of Martyn Sanderson, founder of Downstage Theatre in Wellington). Through a complex interweaving of drama and story-telling with vibrant and evocative music and dance, it explores the real-life stories of African immigrants as they adapt to a place far from their countries of origin or birth. And, in a remarkable creative twist that adds to the complex interplay of cultures, the dancers (and many of the musicians) are Pacific Islanders by ancestry or birth: “Instead of an African story it’s now a Pacific story as well.”

When I met Mabingo it seemed to me he was born to be a dancer, but as a child he had a different plan for his future.

“I first aspired to be a Catholic priest, but that didn’t happen. At 13 I wanted to become a lawyer, but later that changed. Then dance claimed me [at about 18], and who was I to say ‘no’?

“I’ve travelled in every continent but one, and worked with people from all over the world to create new realities through music and dance.

“As a priest or a lawyer I’d never have been able to achieve these things.”

Because of who they are Mon, 29 May 2017 00:14:34 +0000 This year, for the first time, the majority of the University’s Distinguished Alumni are from Polynesian backgrounds. They are all high achievers who are having a significant impact on their communities. Tess Redgrave met the three female winners.

Bring together broadcaster Carol Hirschfeld (54), Head of Content at Radio New Zealand, with artist Lisa Reihana (52), who is representing New Zealand at the 2017 Venice Biennale, and Erna Takazawa (28), Samoa’s first optometrist, and there is one thing they all quickly identify in common: Each knows what it is like to be a “half-caste” or as Lisa jokes “a hybrid or bitzer”.

“I was always aware of the word when I was young and it was derogatory,” says Carol, whose Māori mother left her home at Rangitukia near East Cape in the early 1950s to make her luck in the city.

“I was aware of a sense of unfairness as a child,” says Lisa. “My father was the first of his whānau to come down to the city from up north. He was caned at school for speaking Māori so I was never encouraged to learn Te Reo when I was young.”

For Erna, whose father came to Samoa from Japan, the word she knows is not “half caste” but “afakasi”. “I didn’t feel like a typical Samoan. I stood out as different – an Asian-looking slit-eyed afakasi.”

But the minute you learn about these three women you realise that no matter what life has thrown at them, they have stood firm and met the challenge. Ironically growing up a “hybrid” has been part of the crucible on which their careers have flourished.

“Being an afakasi pushed me to be stronger,” says Erna, who in 2015 was one of nine young people from the Pacific to win a Queen’s Medal. “I found ways to blend in. That’s why I put my energy into sports and academics.”

Lisa, from a young age, decided she wasn’t going to be pigeon-holed. “My mother is English/Welsh, my father is Māori. I am an in-between person. That is my gift and I like to investigate being this dual hybrid in my art.”

For Carol, who readily admits she had to take beta blockers for her nerves when she first fronted our television screens,her mother’s courageous journey to the city is something she holds close. “I think it’s given me the courage to be in a difficult place.”

Significantly too, each is a member of the first generation in their families to go to university. They take nothing for granted and I sense they are having an impact on their communities, not just because of their work, but also because of who they are and where they have come from.

Transformation through education Sun, 28 May 2017 23:45:43 +0000 The University is committed to delivering high impact learning experiences that prepare students to face the challenges of working and contributing to an uncertain world, in which they are likely to change careers more than five times.

In 2016, as an expression of this commitment, the University renewed what is known as its graduate profile, which defines aspirations for all Auckland graduates and the developmental opportunities that every student will have access to while completing a University of Auckland degree. From 2017 our academic community is working to embed this framework to ensure that all students are aware of and have access to the significant personal development opportunities available to them.

The overarching aspiration shared by our academic community is that a University of Auckland degree will transform graduates into independent and critical thinkers able to apply their disciplinary expertise in all spheres of their lives. Our vision is that University of Auckland alumni exhibit a number of trademark qualities that set them apart from other graduates in the marketplace. These include the ability to develop unique and sustainable solutions to real world problems, and to lead and influence others with integrity and fluency across global cultures and perspectives.

The new graduate profile is central to the University’s long-term academic plan. It provides academic staff and student support services with a shared framework for designing and delivering high impact educational experiences to our students. For instance, it provides the frame for a major reconceptualisation of the structure and content of our Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees – two of our largest degrees that provide the foundations of a liberal education. We are in the process of implementing significant changes to the structure of these degrees, and programmes within them, to embed clearly-defined, highly marketable skill sets that provide enhanced career and postgraduate study outcomes for students.

Our profile also frames the development of new types of active and learning experiences (internships and work placements, for example) that are being embedded in programmes and courses, as part of the University’s student employability strategy. These opportunities are increasingly being made available to students within their programmes of study and are designed to support them to develop forms of knowledge that are acquired in context and thus increase their professional as well as academic capabilities. The emphasis of these experiences is on problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration.

In addition to renewing its graduate profile, the University has harnessed new learning technologies and pedagogies to support student learning. In 2016 it invested heavily in a state-of-the-art learning management system (Canvas) and technology suite. Our teachers and students now have access to a wide range of new and exciting technology (including lecture recording tools) to support learning within lecture contexts and extend opportunities for engagement beyond the classroom.

We are using our increased capacity for blended and online teaching to increase educational opportunities for distinct constituencies of learners, including off-campus learners. The University has expanded its Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offerings to provide global access to University of Auckland staff in popular curriculum areas (e.g. introductory data analysis, academic integrity, and logical and critical thinking). The development of a MOOC based on our Logical and Critical Thinking course has led to the enhancement of our face-to-face course as well as the development of an online for-credit version for University of Auckland students. This option provides flexible access for students.

Finally, the University is exploring the introduction of micro-credentials – a type of alternative credential that provides students and alumni with opportunities to develop knowledge in niche areas relevant to their professional goals. These credentials are typically modular and delivered in short time frames in a range of flexible formats – online, blended and face-to-face.

These significant developments in the University’s teaching and learning, combined with our ranking as the most innovative university in Australasia(excelling in knowledge discovery and application) will ensure that our graduates have the best chance possible of enjoying fulfilling careers in which they make significant contributions to the quality of material and cultural life of all New Zealanders.

Professor John Morrow
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)

Ways of giving Sun, 28 May 2017 22:59:13 +0000 “I can’t give money but I can give time,” alumna Jennie Oakley says with a smile. “And I love people, so I always get back more than I give.”

At 78, Jennie is living a life of service and satisfaction – as a wife, mother and hands-on grandmother, a liturgist at her church, a volunteer at the Auckland Museum, a Friend of the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, a life member of the University’s Staff Common Room and a highly-valued committee member of the University of Auckland Society.

So what does she get from her voluntary work? – Hugs, smiles, conversations, interesting tasks, and the unexpected insights that come from meeting and working with a variety of people from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds. She also gets to understand the inner workings of the University, which has earned her respect for giving people the chance to learn and grow.

“I’ve had some of my most stimulating years at this University,” she says. “I don’t want to come into it just as a visiting graduate. I want to understand how it works, and to play a part in that.”

Jennie has always had a passion for learning, but she credits the University with helping her learn to “think for herself”.

“At the time and in the way I was brought up, children were seen and not heard. You didn’t question your parents, your grandparents or your teachers. It was only when I went to the University as a ‘very mature’ student that I started challenging traditional knowledge. I had to learn to question, discuss and analyse all I read and heard. I even voted for a party I suspect no-one in my family had ever considered voting for – much to my children’s hilarity.”

Going to university was a lifelong dream for Jennie. When she left Woodford House in Havelock North at the age of 18, the money wasn’t available to support her as a student. She went into nursing but sustained an injury that meant she couldn’t continue – then married at 20 and by 25 had three small children. And through the years of family life, contributing financially and building a career – from dairy assistant to doctor’s receptionist to medical centre and then retail business manager – life rolled on with its own momentum, giving little time to think about her dream.

But on her elder son’s 40th birthday he came to his parents’ house for dinner. And that milestone jolted Jennie abruptly into action.

“I was 60,” she says, “and I suddenly thought. ‘If I don’t leave work now, I never will.’ The next day I rang New Start [the University’s preparatory courses for people returning to study] and handed in my notice at work.”

New Start was “a joy: I walked around all day with a grin. It was just the right preparation for someone like me, who’d stepped out of study at 18 or 19, and needed the confidence to step back in.”

At University she soon discovered there were certain advantages in starting late. “I tried everything: history and politics, art history, anthropology, education, because I knew I didn’t have to use them to create a career. The two I most loved – history and politics – became my double major. And because I loved them I got great grades.”

There were also benefits an older student could offer to the younger ones. “I never hesitated to ask a question, and that was good for the young students. They’d often be shy about asking questions, but once I’d asked one they’d all join in.”

Jennie graduated with a BA from the University of Auckland in 2005 but switched to Massey for her honours degree at a distance while on “grandparent duties” in Bunbury, Western Australia. She then returned to take a full-time position in Short Loans at the University of Auckland Library while studying for her Auckland MA, which she completed at the age of 72.

“It was set in Medieval Britain,” says Jennie, “in the era of Henry VIII and Cromwell. I wanted to find out how people survived the religious and political turmoil of that time.”

She looked closely at five families, read their letters, studied their lives and concluded that their resilience came from caring and supporting one another. “Wives and husbands cared about each other, parents loved their children, were interested in their education, their manners and what they were doing. Masters were concerned for the welfare of their servants. That’s my thesis. They survived because they looked after each other.”

It seems the theory holds good, at least in Jennie’s case.

Judy Wilford


Sharp minds, business savvy Fri, 26 May 2017 04:36:50 +0000 How the University is helping turn cool ideas into stuff we need. Vaughan Yarwood reports. 

A small, picturesque town high in the Swiss Alps is not the sort of place you would expect to find a University of Auckland alumna championing the riches to be found in the world’s e-waste.

But that is exactly what Privahini Bradoo did in January when she addressed a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos. More particularly, Privahini, co-founder and CEO of US-based recycling start-up Blue Oak, spoke about the ‘circular economy’ and her company’s role in it.

“From one tonne of cell phones you can extract as much gold as you can from 100 tonnes of gold ore,” she explained. Then there was the silver, palladium, copper…

It was a far cry from her student days in Auckland when she steered the Business School’s entrepreneurial development programme, Spark (now Velocity), as its inaugural chief executive. But through a stellar career, her enthusiasm for science and her heartfelt desire to make a difference still burn bright.

Meanwhile, half a world away from Davos, alumnus Hamish Elmslie was keen to build on the momentum of business deals he had sealed in California’s Napa Valley and Mexico. He was looking to disturb the equilibrium of vintners in Chile and Argentina by “pulling the pin” on a wine grenade or two there. These grenades are microoxygenators that mimic the way red wine matures in traditional oak barrels, but in a compressed time frame, making it quicker and less costly for wineries to get their product to market.

The idea was born when Hamish and four fellow masters students in the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) were handed a piece of tech developed by Plant and Food Research and invited, as part of their masters programme (in commercialisation and entrepreneurship), to make a business out of it.

Having researched the market, the five formed a company, Wine Grenade, with Hamish as chief executive. Winning the 2014 Spark $100K Challenge brought them seed capital and a six-month residency at the University’s business incubator The Icehouse. That done, they set about winning industry hearts and minds. In a Kiwi sector already known for its innovation – daring enough, for instance, to replace the ubiquitous corks with screw caps – there is talk of the grenades being revolutionary – or, at least, incendiary.

What connects the ventures of Privahini and Hamish (and more than 120 others who, collectively, have raised in excess of $200 million in capital and created over 460 jobs) is the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is an evolving network of organisations, including Velocity, Chiasma, CIE, The Icehouse, and UniServices –which manages commercial return for the University’s research and intellectual property and is now the largest of its kind in Australasia.

Largely anchored in the Business School, the network is helping reshape attitudes and aspirations among academic staff and students across the University, and demystifying the commercialisation process in disciplines as diverse as engineering, medicine and the sciences. So effective is it that the MIT Skoltech Initiative – a two-year study to identify the best university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem outside MIT, Stanford, and Cambridge – named the University of Auckland as one the world’s top five “emerging leaders in entrepreneurship” and a growing international centre of excellence in innovation. In 2016, the inaugural Reuters Top 75: Asia’s Most Innovative Universities ranked Auckland as the most innovative university in Australasia.

Achievements like that tend to attract attention, and they no doubt caught the eye of philanthropist and business builder Sir Owen Glenn, a long-time benefactor of the University of Auckland. It was Sir Owen’s $7.5 million foundation gift in 2005 that enabled the Business School to bring its scattered faculty together in a new state-of-the-art building. And in February this year he gifted a further $2.6 million to the school to promote innovation and entrepreneurship across the University, including through the creation of an innovation hub.

The gesture recognised that the challenge for universities was to equip students for radically new ways of doing business and of thinking about the relationship between business and society, said Sir Owen: “It’s about nurturing a new breed of graduate who is innovative, entrepreneurial, business savvy, globally connected, and capable of having both an economic and social impact.”

More people like Privahini and Hamish, in other words. Which is where the innovation hub – also funded by PWC, Beca, and the Li Ka Shing Foundation – comes in. It will be run by the CIE, which is charged with propagating an entrepreneurial mindset across the University, developing a new curriculum, forging visionary partnerships with the business and investment communities, and improving the process of getting ideas to market.

In November CIE’s Director, Wendy Kerr, led a cross-faculty team to several US universities, including Duke, MIT, Stanford, and Yale, to better understand the thinking behind the ‘maker-space’ phenomenon that is sweeping the country’s Ivy League universities. These learning labs, typically, are workshop spaces equipped with hardware such as 3D printers, scanners, vinyl cutters, and CAD stations. Many sprang up to meet the needs of engineering students but found a broader purpose across the faculties.

Taking its cue from these labs, the highly-visible innovation hub – which is located in the 900-square-metre space formerly occupied by the Engineering library on Symonds Street – will provide the environment and the tools for idea sharing, collaborative experimentation and creative play. It will be open to students from all faculties with ideas of any sort. Its integrated programme will combine mentoring, workshops, and engagement opportunities to help students build and eventually launch and grow their ventures.

The Business School’s general manager, Himendra Ratnayake, who was in the US study group, is enthusiastic about how the University’s innovation drive is evolving. “Five years ago, we introduced team-based learning labs at the school. Now they are fully booked and have spread like wildfire across the University. Going by what has happened overseas, this makerspace is going to be just as popular.”

Professor Greg Whittred, who has been unwavering in his determination to “turn up the volume” on innovation, stepped down as Dean of the Business School in December. However, he will continue to push his vision for a university-wide “culture change” as the University’s newly-appointed Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Arguing the rationale for change, he once wrote: “The future is in the hands of the nation’s young scientists, engineers, technologists, and creative professionals. Let’s empower them, give them the right tools, and let them get on with the job.”

For now, all attention is on the University’s bold new shop window on innovation. If all goes to plan, a basic lab could be open for business there as early as the second semester.

As they say: watch this space…

The fabulous Hunter brothers Fri, 26 May 2017 04:00:29 +0000 Ian and Peter Hunter talk with Margo White.

Professor Ian Hunter identifies his first invention as a device he called the ‘smell-o-meter’, constructed when he was six from an old meter thrown out by his father.

He opened it up, wrote “nice” at one end and “smelly” at the other. He’d hold the device in front of his classmates and, in a way that wasn’t visible to them, use his finger to move the dial to one end or the other.

The Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was in Auckland recently to receive a University of Auckland Distinguished Alumni Award for science, one of five graduates to receive the honour. I caught up with him on the sixth floor of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, in the office of his brother, Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter.

“Everyone was fooled, including the teacher,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, the power of instruments’. I had the whole class under my spell; they were terrified of being smelly. That was an early foray into instrumentation.”

He laughs. His brother laughs. “And deception,” adds Peter.

Let’s begin with a few truncated biographical details. Ian describes himself primarily as an inventor, whose interests include micro-instrumentation, micro-fabrication, micro-robotics and medical devices. As well as being the Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, he’s director of the Institute’s BioInstrumentation Lab. Over the years he and his students have developed a number of innovative instruments, including needle-free drug delivery technologies, confocal laser microscopes, scanning tunneling electron microscopes and a miniature mass spectrometer. The latter is an instrument used for chemical analysis, to characterise smells, detect undesirable chemicals such as lead or pesticides and possibly assess health status by analysing a person’s breath. He has more than 100 patents and has founded or co-founded 25 companies.

Peter Hunter is the Director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), whose pioneering research is based on the premise that the physiological function of the human body can be analysed and modeled in the same way a complex engineering system can be. His research has led to the development of the Physiome Project, an international consortium involving dozens of research institutions around the world, of which he is co-director. The collective aim of the Project is to build a computational model of a virtual human, one that integrates mathematical and physiological information about organs, tissues, cells, proteins and genes, ultimately to guide interventions and treatments in human health.

Both Hunter brothers have received too many accolades and awards to list here. Evidently something runs in the family. Is there something in the genes? “I don’t think so,” says Ian. “But we had a father who, whenever we showed an interest in an area, he’d turn up with the relevant goodies. If we had an interest in optics, lenses would appear. If we had an interest in mechanics, mechanical things would appear, normally with very little explanation.” Both Ian and Peter had electronic workshops in their bedrooms. “And then when I had an interest in chemistry, chemicals and beakers would appear,” adds Ian. “When the passion became even greater, my father set up a chemistry lab in the house.”

Their father, Les, was an electrical engineer and an inventor who, in 1950, constructed New Zealand’s first experimental closed circuit television station in his backyard. This was ten years before television was introduced in New Zealand. There’s archive footage on YouTube, a short film made by the New Zealand National Film Unit capturing their father’s “experiment in television”. Their mother Mary is featured talking to the camera and Peter, a pre-schooler in short pants, comes briefly into view along with his two elder brothers.

Ian hadn’t been born then, and who knows if it was nature or nurture, but he began following in his father’s footsteps when, aged nine, he built a miniaturised transistor radio. He then started building and selling transistor radios to other kids in the neighbourhood. The radio waves were weak back then so he’d rig up an antenna as part of the service. “Usually a wire that I’d run from a kid’s bedroom out to some adjacent tree, and then I’d climb under the house and connect it to the plumbing, to get a good earth connection”.

The dignified and the beautiful Fri, 26 May 2017 03:51:43 +0000 This year the University’s School of Architecture and Planning celebrates its first 100 years. Dr Lucy Treep reports.

The Auckland School of Architecture started modestly with three night classes a week – held in a cold and dilapidated basement.

Most of the obviously dedicated students worked fulltime in architects’ offices during the day. But from this quiet beginning the school developed rapidly into a site of vibrancy and influence.

Its establishment in 1917 was greeted enthusiastically, with the Auckland Star expressing hopes that were probably generally-held: “It will be an important part of the work of the new School of Architecture to teach… that a thing should be both beautiful and useful. With us…the tawdry, the commonplace, and the ugly in architecture overwhelm the dignified and the beautiful, and it will be the task of the school to wage war on the Philistines.” (14 March 1917)

The importance of well-educated architects to the community, Philistines or not, was well-understood and by the early 1920s the New Zealand Institute of Architects began urging the University College to extend the scope of the School.

In 1925 the first Chair of Architecture in the country (and only the second in Australasia), Professor Cyril Roy Knight, aged 31, was appointed. Educated in the UK and working in New York, Knight represented a trans-Atlantic engagement with the well-regarded Beaux-Arts method of teaching that he brought to the Auckland school. Energy at the school was high and the Registrar of the time, Rocke O’Shea, considered it the life and soul of the University College.

But by 1946 the world had changed – and with it the world of architectural pedagogy. Students, including returned servicemen from WW2, were keen to be taught by more modern methods, and their protests initiated changes in the curriculum away from a Beaux-Arts focus to one more in touch with modernist teachings. Over the years since, a number of student-led strikes and protests of various kinds have taken place within the School, as confident students have sought to have influence over their education. One ex-student remembers striking over the proposed design for the new buildings in the mid-1970s; other protests were made over things like perceived lack of subject choice; or demands were made for more international visitors. Staff often supported or even encouraged student-led action, and dynamic relationships within the school formed a large part of its century of growth.

In the 1950s Professor Knight and lecturer Gerhard Rosenberg led the movement to establish a programme in town planning, and in 1958 the Department of Town Planning, the first in the country, accepted its founding students. Professor Robert Kennedy was offered the first chair and the department began its own decades of teaching and research.

Being New Zealand’s only school of architecture till 1975 (when a second opened at Victoria University) has given the Auckland school a significant position in the history of architecture in this country. Many of the personalities that shape the architectural profession in New Zealand and beyond are alumni of the School, and many of the structures that inform our built landscapes are products of alumni.

Big personalities on the staff – such as Professor Knight, Vernon Brown, or Professor Toy (known affectionately as Doc Toy) – have had an influence on the profession beyond their own time. And the enrolment of Professor Knight’s daughter Peggy at the School of Architecture in 1945 represents another form of influence threaded through the school’s history. A number of architectural students are the daughters or sons, nieces or nephews, or grandchildren of staff and alumni. These links allow not only for a deep inter-generational knowledge of the school but also an enrichment of its place within the profession as it enters its second century.

Lucy Treep (BArch, PhD English Literature) holds a Postdoctoral Fellowship to research and co-write a book planned to celebrate the centenary of the School of Architecture and Planning. The book will be launched at the opening of an exhibition of student and staff work from the school, to be held at the Gus Fisher Gallery September 8-October 18. Lucy says she feels very lucky to hold what is a rare post-doctoral fellowship in the arts in a New Zealand university. One highlight has been interviewing a number of charming and very helpful graduates and staff. Another has been burrowing in the extensive architectural archive held at the School of Architecture and Planning library. Both have produced moments of laughter and the excitement of discovery.

For more information about the centenary celebrations, see


What is happiness? Thu, 25 May 2017 04:31:56 +0000 The recently-published World Happiness Report shows New Zealand ranks eighth in the world for happiness, behind Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands and Canada. Six key variables help predict levels of happiness – GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, perceived lack of corruption, freedom to make life decisions, and generosity, as measured by donation levels. Helen Borne asked two of our academics for their response to the report. 

Why we should not be happy about feeling so happy

The recent World Happiness Report makes for interesting but somewhat complacent reading. It is all too easy to miss the fact that in all of the top countries, high levels of happiness are supported by high levels of long-term ecological recklessness and a widespread blindness to the inherent inequities of the global order.

The World Happiness Report would be better read alongside two related reports – the Living Planet Report and the Happy Planet Report. The first of these analyses the ecological footprint of a nation’s lifestyle and finds that all of those deemed to be happiest are enjoying life well beyond the pale of sustainable living. The second integrates each nation’s ecological footprint as a moderating factor to rank countries according to the relative efficiency with which happiness is achieved. Thus, if a country manages to produce high levels of the feeling of thriving with few resources and little pollution, it rises in the ranking. In New Zealand’s case, we fall from 8th to 38th place as the environmental price of our happiness is taken into account.

As with ignoring the ethical requirements to generate happiness in ecologically responsible ways, the World Happiness Report similarly ignores the ethical requirements of justice and equity. It is important to remember that most New Zealanders belong to the global elite in terms of our material lifestyles and that the miserable conditions endured by the billions who live in the world’s slums are maintained by our (and other happily advantaged nations) continuing to hold onto the lion’s share of the world’s bounty. Just as our happiness is bought at the expense of future generations, it is also bought at the cost of those we are willing to exclude from the benefits of an advantaged lifestyle.

In the end then, it is not only how happy a nation might be that matters but also how happy we should be with how our relative felicity is secured.

How happy ought we to be to live in a country where the major industries (both tourism and dairying) add to dangerous levels of greenhouse gases – and how happy should we be to live a nation that corners wealth in a world crying out to be included in a more humane global order?

Dr Ross McDonald is a national awardwinning teacher working in the areas of well-being, ethics and sustainability. He is a Senior Lecturer in Management and International Business at the Business School.

Is it really measuring happiness?

New Zealand being ranked as one of the top 10 nations in terms of the World Happiness Report makes me “happy”. The situation in New Zealand is very different from my country of birth, the Philippines, which tops world lists for corruption, human rights violations, journalists murdered and cataclysmic disasters. Digging deeper though, I have doubts as to how accurate this “Happiness Report” is. Is it really measuring happiness?

The World Happiness Report uses variables which are important in living a materially comfortable and safe life, but not a genuinely happy life, characterized by self-acceptance, meaning and contentment.

I know many people who are physically healthy, not wanting in comfort, material possessions and external safety but suffering internally from self-doubt, disconnection, anxiety and lack of meaning. On the other hand, I have met materially deprived people living in huts, unsure of where their next meal will come from, who are content, at peace and have a deep sense of purpose in their lives.

Last year, while travelling in Myanmar, I had a casual chat with a 14-year-old Buddhist novice. He was practising his English while I was being a nosy psychiatrist. I asked him about details of his life, his worries as well as his dreams. Throughout the chat, he exuded this aura of warmth, peace and openness. He said that he was very content and thankful for what he has (two sets of robes, toiletries, jandals, study materials and a cracked cell phone). I pushed him to tell me if he wanted anything else in his life. I even asked if he wants sex (Buddhist monks choose to be celibate), normal clothes or a faster internet. He kept on saying, with a smile, “Not really. I am happy”. I insisted that surely there is something else he wants in his life. Finally he gave in. I felt that I won. He said, “Oh yes, there’s one thing. I wish I can wake up earlier so that I am not late for our morning meditation”.

I would probably get a different response from a 14-year-old from Norway, Denmark, Switzerland or New Zealand.

Dr Tony Fernando is a senior lecturer in Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, and “a perpetual student”. You can listen to his meditation on gratitude through the University’s CALM (Computer Assisted Learning for the Mind) website:

What do you think makes you happy?

Everyone has an opinion on what happiness is and how we can be happier. The views of our academics are intended as the beginning of a discussion, which our readers can then respond to. Please visit our Ingenio website or write a letter to the editor to continue the conversation.

You can also comment on “Taking Issue” topics from previous issues, including gender inequality in the world of work and New Zealand’s response to the refugee crisis. Letters to the editor are also welcome. Please email to or post to Ingenio, Communications and Marketing, Private Bag 92019, Auckland Mail Centre, Auckland 1142. The views expressed above reflect personal opinions and are not those of the University of Auckland.