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School of Biological Sciences


Where it all began


School of Biological Sciences and Institute of Marine Science Tuakana mentors

In 1991, Professor Michael Walker pulled together a class of undergraduate Māori and Pacific students, took them to the recently opened University Marae, and put the question to them – what was it that they felt they needed in order to stay at University and feel like they could succeed?

This was in response to the poor representation of Māori and Pacific students studying the sciences at the time, along with the poor retention rate of those students who did manage to step through the University gate at the start of semester.

The general consensus among these students was that they did not see the University as having a place for them – they felt they were coming to a city of strangers where they were different and did not belong. These observations were an important revelation from which the very early foundations of the Tuākana programme were built – with the goal of providing Māori and Pacific students with a sense of community and belonging within the University setting.

And the resulting actions from this initial conversation spoke for themselves. By bringing Māori and Pacific students together and enabling them to ‘see’ that they weren’t alone (and connecting them with students one or two years ahead of them for support), it wasn’t long before staff noticed these once ‘silent’ students were now starting to talk about what they were studying, and were beginning to enjoy being students.

Since then, the Tuākana programme has grown substantially, and now plays a key role for many Māori and Pacific students in the School of Biological Sciences (and beyond).

Today, the programme provides support to students from a range of cultural (and generational) backgrounds. It also recognises that communal learning is an important part of Māori and Pacific culture– and so it remains open to students from other cultural backgrounds who feel they would benefit in this environment.

Tutors are normally not long out of completing Stage I courses themselves – ensuring that the content and experience of taking the course is still relatively fresh in their minds when they teach. Seven Stage I courses are supported by the programme, where students have access to one tutorial a week, and ongoing support throughout the semester. The Tuākana programme in SBS also extends to students studying Marine Science, with dedicated tutors and mentors who specialize in this area.

Stage II and Stage III students are also supported, but rather than attending course specific tutorials, students are encouraged to engage in study groups where they can help each other to understand key concepts, while also continuing the friendships they formed in their first year.

Social events are planned to bring students together regularly – starting with a mixer at the start of each semester so that students can meet and make friends quickly, which is important in ensuring we retain Māori and Pacific students past the first semester.

Meet our people - past and present


  • Melanie Cheung

    Melanie is a graduate from the School of Biological Sciences, and has been a key contributor to the Tuakana programme.

Key contacts


Programme Coordinators for the School of Biological Science and Institute of Marine Science:

Peter Van Kampen and Amy Maslen-Miller
Email: sbs-tuakana@auckland.ac.nz  

Further information


For more information about the Tuākana programme in the School of Biological Sciences (and Institute of Marine Science) please visit their website.