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School of Environment Tuakana programme

Looking back to understand the present

Tuakana team in the School of Environment wining an equity award
Environment Tuākana team members celebrate University of Auckland Excellence in Equity Award 2012 Back row (l to r): Joe Fagan, Riki Taylor, Mel Wall, Hayden Jackson; Front row: Lara Taylor, Maria Hokopaura, Bes Lironi-Irvine (2012 Programme Coordinator), Lyndsay Blue, Anna-Marie Simcock, Tobias Francis

The School of Environment was formed through mergers of Geography and Environmental Science in 2002, and then Geology in 2006, weaving together different strands of support for Māori and Pacific students that had emerged in each of the former departments.

The roots of the School of Environment Tuākana Programme extend back to the early 1990s, reflecting activities emerging elsewhere in the University of Auckland at that time. Key initial proponents in the Department of Geography included: Margaret Goldstone, Mel Wall (then an undergraduate student), the late Steve Britton, Ward Friesen, Lyndsay Blue, and Nick Lewis (as a postgraduate student and member of the Pacific Island Students’ Academic Achievement Collective). ‘Support tutorials’ for stage 1 students were the primary focus, conducted variously by staff and high-achieving students employed as part-time tutors. These early steps paved the way for and influenced subsequent actions aiming to enhance the academic performance of Māori and Pacific students.

In response to an equity initiative led by Lyndsay Blue, in 2000 Geography Department academic staff supported the establishment of a dedicated Māori and Pacific student space: Te Pūnanga Huihuinga Wānanga. Richard Le Heron, HoD at that time, also committed to annually appoint two postgraduate students as Kaiāwhina and Pasifika Advisor, to assist Māori and Pacific students across all years of study and to help foster their sense of community in Geography. This practice has continued through to the present day, complementing more recent initiatives.

Following the lead of others, especially Erena Cooper in Psychology, in 2003 the departments of Geography and Geology both expanded their activities under the rubric of the Tuākana Programme, supported by Māori and Pacific Peoples Special Supplementary Grant funding administered by the Equity Office. Lyndsay Blue in Geography and Dan Hikuroa in Geology led these moves. Each joined the University’s Tuākana Network, run by Lee Cooper in the Equity Office for several years with support from Mere Forbes and Nuhi Williams in the former Centre for Professional Development. The subsequent Faculty of Science appointment of Jason Turuwhenua and, later, Michael Steedman as Kaiārahi significantly strengthened support for and links among Tuākana programmes within Science and fostered a culture of sharing and learning from each other.

Following the formation of the School of Environment, the separate Geography and Geology Tuākana programmes were integrated and expanded to provide assistance to Māori and Pacific students across the School’s disciplines. The Environment Tuākana Programme initially emphasised mentoring, ‘drop-in’ academic assistance, and social activities for stage 1 students, but soon shifted to a stronger academic focus and gradually expanded to include stage 2 students. Targeted academic guidance and pastoral care is now offered to all stage 1 and 2 Māori and Pacific students through course-specific, weekly study groups run by senior students employed as tuākana. In 2015 the Programme supports a total of 23 courses: 11 at stage 1 and 12 at stage 2. An increasing number of undergraduate students (teina) have utilised the Programme annually since its inception, although variable levels of engagement and different forms of participation make this difficult to precisely quantify. While our primary links are with Science, the Programme continues to encourage participation by many geography students enrolled in Arts degrees.

With Te Pūnanga as a central hub, the Environment Tuākana Programme aims to provide a friendly, supportive and inspiring learning environment for our Māori and Pacific students. It takes an integrated approach to developing participants’ skills, knowledge and confidence to help them reach their full academic potential. It cultivates social and professional networks among students at all levels, as well as alumni, and provides a platform for scholarship and employment advice.

From the outset our policy has been to employ successful Māori and Pacific graduate or high-achieving undergraduate students as tuākana, strategically positioning them as role models. From 2003 to 2015 we have employed a total of 88 tuākana. Many have completed further postgraduate study, several graduating with PhDs, and are now pursuing a variety of careers in a range of locations as part of a global Environment Tuākana diaspora.

In 2012 the School of Environment Tuākana team was awarded a University of Auckland Equity Award for ‘Sustained Commitment to Excellence in Equity’. Given that our Programme is firmly built on a cooperative approach, ‘the team’ fittingly included key School academic and professional staff, along with the 2012 tuākana representing all those involved in preceding years.

Maria Hokopaura joined our Programme as a first-year teina in 2011, became one of our tuākana in 2012, completed a Bachelors degree with first class honours in 2014, and is now our Tuākana Programme Coordinator. In 2015 we celebrate the Environment Tuākana Programme for creating a welcoming, inclusive and encouraging environment for our Māori and Pacific students, and for becoming accepted as an integral part of day-to-day life within the School of Environment.


Meet our people

  • Daniel Hikuroa

    Dan graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology in 1996; a Postgraduate Diploma in Science in 1999; and a PhD in Geology in 2004

Key contacts

Programme Coordinator:

Maria Hokopaura

Further information

For further information about the Tuākana programme in the School of Environment, please visit their website.