Otago University’s recently appointed head of campus and first wahine Māori dean of any Otago Medical School, Professor Suzanne Pitama, knows what she wants to achieve in her role.
Suzanne hails from Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whare, and is an educational psychologist, elected as dean and head of the university’s Christchurch campus in December 2021.
The former director of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI) is clear about her vision for the university.
“I want to further strengthen the culture of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga in mahi we are involved with, to increase our ability to demonstrate social accountability and more clearly articulate our ability to support health equity.”
“I’m feeling excited about the opportunities we have to move forward on some really key initiatives, which includes the implementation of a governance structure that aligns with Te Tiriti, preparing ourselves for the huge health reforms this year, and ensuring our campus is well placed to address equity in our community.”
Suzanne, who was encouraged by her peers to apply for her role, is known by her colleagues for inspiring up-and-coming academics, including wāhine Māori.
“I really benefitted from having a senior Māori research mentor and supervisor. I would encourage emerging Māori researchers to seek out and ensure they have this kind of support to help them to navigate the complexities of being a Māori researcher,” says Suzanne.
The Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Whare uri (descendant) has made a wealth of contributions to academia such as:
- winning the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for tertiary teaching excellence in 2015;
- a Māori sub-editor of the New Zealand Medical Journal; and
- being the winner of the Royal Society Te Aparangi 2018 Metge Medal for her contribution to developing new research capacity and mātauranga to address critical indigenous health inequities in Aotearoa.
It’s clear she lives by one of her Hawke’s Bay hapū of Nuhaka’s whakataukī (proverb), ‘Te Wharerau o Te Tahinga.’
“Te Tahinga was a chief, who encouraged each of his children to ensure their households were self-reliant and could support themselves, so they, in turn, could support others,” she says.
This whakataukī highlights why succession is important to Suzanne because she says Māori leaders like those before her at Otago University have paved the way.
“When I think of our earliest graduates like Te Rangihiroa, the first Māori Dean of a Medical School, Professor Eru Pomare, the work in te reo Māori from Professor Poia Rewi, and mana wahine leadership like Professor Jacinta Ruru, I realise the mahi they put in, and the work laid before me now to build on their legacies.”