School of Biological Sciences

Māori and Pacific students

Tuākana Louisa Rose Bhanabhai (dark glasses in foreground) and Kimiora Henare (standing) talking biology with Teina.

About the SBS Tuākana programme

The School of Biological Sciences (SBS) Tuākana programme provides a friendly and supportive environment in which Māori and Pacific students (the Teina) can get together to talk about biology with other Māori and Pacific students (the Tuākana) who have recently passed the same papers and who know their way around SBS and the University. Teina students meet with the Tuākana students each week in tutorial sessions and in the Tuākana Room (Room 111A) in the Biology Building.

The focus in the stage I programme is first on making new friends in your new learning community and achieving understanding of the content of your papers. In the second and third years of undergraduate and the early years of post-graduate study, we include development of academic and professional skills. Achievement of success in your studies will ensure you are ready for the important roles you will have in employment, in your family and wider community through your scientific education.

Alumni of the SBS Tuākana programme can be found in industries such as aquaculture, fisheries and tourism; iwi authorities; agencies of territorial authorities and Government; environmental and resource management consultancies in New Zealand and the Pacific; medicine and health; and in education, museums and academia. As the testimonials below from former students show, the future is full of opportunities and the Tuākana programme at SBS is here to help you achieve them.

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Tuākana student profiles

Dr Melanie Collings and colleague Peter Brown examine a gel.

Dr Mel Collings

Mel is a Māori Molecular Biologist. Her current role is as a Senior Tutor at the University of Auckland.

When I first started at the University, it was so big, I felt like just another face in the crowd. It wasn’t until I became involved in the Tuākana programme that I felt like I had somewhere to belong; I felt like there was a community, that I belonged to that community, and that that community had knowledge and support to offer. To me, this made the difference between quitting and the successful completion of my degree. Because of this support and achievement, I was then offered a University of Auckland Masters/Honours Scholarship and a Summer Internship, starting me on the path to postgraduate study.

After finishing my Honours year, I starting working as a Research Technician, then quit to move to London, and spend two years travelling around Europe. Whilst there, I also worked at GlaxoSmithKline, in Regulatory Affairs. Eventually, I moved back to Auckland, to do a PhD in Molecular Biology. My earlier academic successes meant that I was able to achieve a Tuāpapa Putaiao Māori Fellowship from FRST, and the University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship. Throughout my PhD, I was involved with the Tuākana programme; again, it was the community and sense of belonging that gave me the stability and support, either as a tuākana or as a teina, which I wanted and needed to succeed. In 2009, I completed my PhD, and now work at the University of Auckland. The Tuākana programme at SBS is fantastic; if you are looking to succeed, I highly recommend you get involved.

Lance O'Sullivan in his consulting room with one of the nannies, Saana Murray

Dr Lance O’Sullivan

I attended the University of Auckland during the early 1990’s in pursuit of my dream to be a doctor. During this time I was studying towards a BSc to gain entrance into Auckland Medical School. I was fortunate enough to have the support of people like Michael Walker, Paul Papa and Robyn Manuel who were able to offer academic support but also more importantly cultural support. The Tuākana programme is a great programme - kia ora tatou.

Timothy Hopgood

Timothy is a Tongan, European and Māori sixth-year (trainee intern) medical student and researcher within the Pacific Health Section of the School of Population Health.
The Tuākana programme was an amazing support for me. Five years ago as a first-year student, at a time when all University processes were new to me, this support was priceless. Through the Tuākana programme I received academic and some pastoral support also, these tutors were able to identify key issues and to provide access and a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the programme. For these reasons I attended every Tuākana tutorial I could, and these were a key factor in my success within that time.

Releasing elvers caught beneath the Matahina Dam into the lake above the dam. Dan, Bikk Kerrison (kaumātua), Brian Peacock (student).

Dr Daniel Hikuroa

Daniel is a Māori and European Earth Scientist. His current role is as Community Earth Systems Scientist Programmes Manager for the Institute of Earth Science & Engineering, University of Auckland.

When I first came to University I was not prepared for the culture shock - of being just a number, of the relentless labs and tests, of the lure of extra-curricular activities. I credit the Tuākana programme for the successful completion of my Bachelors degree, which in turn opened many doors. Although a key component, it wasn’t just the academic support that I found the most beneficial - it was the sense of whānau, of belonging that came from being involved in the Tuākana programme. Furthermore, it afforded the unique opportunity to be both teina and Tuākana at the same time, and the incredible sense of understanding that that brings, that I credit with providing the strong base from which I launched my post-graduate career.

Clevedon Coast Oysters barge taking visitors to the oyster farm.

Stuart Te Tamaki

Production Manager at Clevedon Coast Oysters
BSc – Biology (Marine Science)

I started university after two years of overseas travel and some work, and seeing I made it back to NZ in one piece thought my planning and organisational skills were pretty sharp. My first contact with the Tuākana programme was an email in my first semester which I disregarded as I was falling so far behind in study and eventually dropped a paper.

In my second year I was better prepared and when contacted again, jumped at the chance to get some help. I went along to the first Tuākana get together. I met students, tutors and lecturers from biology, statistics, maths and physics and began tutoring first-year statistics and, along with other Tuākana tutors, went out to Oranga Primary, Penrose as a mentor for a group of 6 Māori and P.I boys. The combination of helping fellow students and mentoring 6 live wires are some of my most rewarding memories of university.

My association with the Tuākana programme also benefitted my studies and work prospects as I met many post graduate students and members of academic staff who assisted with course work, summer studentships and acted as personal referees when applying for positions.

No matter what your situation, first-year school leaver, adult student, returning student, the Tuākana programme has something to offer, help with study, meeting like minded people, somewhere to take a break. Once I got this clear in my head my uni life became easier, more enjoyable and ultimately more rewarding and is a huge part of me being where I am today.

Feala Afoa

Feala Afoa

Feala is Samoan, his father was a Methodist pastor from the village of Pata Falelatai and his late mother, formerly a nurse, was from the villages of Lotofaga and Lufilufi.

Feala Afoa is currently the Development Manager working for the Ministry of Health. He leads the Pacific Development and Workforce Development work programmes for the Disability Support Services Group of the Ministry of Health.

As a graduate student of the School of Biological Sciences in 2001, Feala became actively involved in the Tuākana programme initially as a student and later as a tutor and mentor.

The Tuākana programme is an effective support structure which enabled me to progress and achieve in my academic studies. It was an opportunity which allowed me to have ongoing access to professors, tutors and students for academic support. This initiative was also a forum to meet Māori and Pacific students with similar cultural background, interests, aspirations and career pathways. A network of past participants of the programme have continued post Tuākana programme with past students applying additional knowledge and skills attained from the programme in their respective careers.

Leadership was one of many additional skills I gained from the programme. Tuākana provided that pathway to leadership positions as a tutor of stage one biological sciences papers and later as a secondary schools biological sciences mentor posted at Tangaroa College in Otara for two years. I have and continue to apply the leadership skills in my career in various managerial positions I have held. I was also selected recently as one of fifteen applicants from New Zealand to attend the Emerging Pacific Leadership Dialogue (EPLD) 2010 which focused on developing leadership capacity in the Pacific region.

The SBS Tuākana programme was instrumental in my development as a student and as a graduate and I fully endorse its purpose and vision in developing and supporting Māori and Pacific students.

Sheryl Edmonds(small)

Sheryl Edmonds

I enrolled as a BSc student at the University of Auckland in 1991, the year the SBS Tuākana programme began. As an adult Māori student, I knew no one! One vivid recollection I have was of the very first lab that I attended. By the end of the three hour session I was close to tears, convinced I was going to fail the paper and might as well drop out then and there. I found out about the lunchtime tutorials the Tuākana Programme were running for Māori and Pacific Students - a lifeline. These tutorials were run by students I could relate to, gave me the opportunity to meet people in some of my other papers and the confidence to carry on. I no longer felt intimidated by what initially seemed like a faceless institution.

I went on to complete my BSc in 1993 and was offered a University of Auckland Māori and Pacific Graduate Scholarship which allowed me to complete my MSc(Hons) in 1994. I later pursued further postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney and later worked as a Research Assistant at Cambridge University. If I hadn’t found out about this programme, I would have probably struggled through my first year, failed and then dropped out. Instead, I was able to gain a tertiary education beyond my wildest expectations.