Airini, PhD ’97


Airini, PhD

Airini is the Dean, Faculty of Education and Social Work, Thompson Rivers University, BC, Canada. Concurrently, Airini is Adjunct Professor, Victoria University (Melbourne, Australia), a honorary appointment for distinction in advancing research in education, diversity and lifelong learning, and Adjunct Professor AUT University (Auckland, New Zealand). As a Fulbright Scholar at Howard University, Washington, DC, Airini researched how to convert higher education policy into better results for under-served students. Airini’s current research focuses on designing 21st century systems to close gaps in education success and lift social outcomes.

Airini was born in New Zealand and has been a NZ representative in two sports. She is reputedly the only woman ever to be selected, based on merit, for a NZ Men’s representative sports team. Airini is an outdoors adventurer. In 2012 Airini kayaked across the Cook Strait, one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world. She now has plans for adventures in her new home of British Columbia, Canada.

To read a comprehensive summary of Airini’s professional interests and background, please click here!

Meeting Airini

What is your most memorable experience from your time in the Faculty of Education?

What stands out for me is the intellectual leadership from each and every one of the professors I met. It might be the geek in me but doctoral classes in the Faculty of Education were both tough but also exciting and would often prompt a lot of debate….and reflection… within class and later with PhD classmates. I wasn’t convinced by the philosopher’s view that the chair pointed to in the room was not real. My world of scholarship instantly expanded when I first read Madelaine Grumet’s Bittermilk. I became stronger as an Indigenous scholar anytime I visited Sty-Wet-Tan. These are such memorable experiences that they’re part of who I am today.

Where has your education from the Faculty of Education taken you in your career?

My studies at the Faculty of Education started me on a career-long journey for equity in education. It matters to me that success for all in education, means all. After graduating, I decided to head back to New Zealand, where I worked in teacher education, government policy and think tanks, university leadership, and education consultancies both in New Zealand and internationally. It felt like a call to serve after years of a rarefied life surrounded by the beauty of UBC. Now that I look back on this stage, I can see that I had roles and research projects that had a chance of changing education outcomes for the better – Indigenous ECE teacher education, graduate outcomes for women, education solutions to child poverty, national literacy policy. About five years ago, I returned to BC as Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University. This is a chance to reciprocate after BC and Canada gave so much to my career early on. It’s a wonderful next step to be here at TRU, alongside amazing students, colleagues and policy leaders across BC and Canada who are so committed to better education outcomes for all.

Where do issues of inclusion find a place in your life or at work?

Everywhere! When I was at the Faculty of Education, I was learning about PhD studies, but it was also about living in a different country. After being a student at home in New Zealand forever, now I was in Canada. I kept forgetting that now, at UBC, I was one of the international students. There was a student protest one week about international student fees being raised. I went to join the protest but the domestic student said to me, “It’s okay, we’ve got this. We’re fighting for your rights and also ours – we want an education here that includes the world.” In New Zealand, we had protested against the former apartheid regime in South Africa, and battled for homosexual law reform. But that was us protesting in support of others. It was a whole new experience to find the roles reversed, and it was humbling. Being at the Faculty of Education was the chance to read, speak, write, challenge, and be challenged in readiness to advocate for inclusion in life and at work.

Do you have any words of wisdom for current students? Newly graduated folks?

For current students: I’ll share with you what my mum once said to me: “When there is a tough decision to be made, or a stand to be taken, yes, seek out the advice of those who will encourage you and will say ‘yes’. But, also seek out those you think will challenge you and say ‘no’.” What this means to me in the university environment is to make time for an eclectic, diverse, and sometimes unsettling mix of research, academics, and disciplines. We have major social needs and questions yet to be solved, and we will need new views, new voices, and new ways of thinking and being to get there.

For newly graduated folks: Again, to my mum’s advice: I grew up in a family of five kids—not so large really, but large enough to be busy and noisy and for each kid to get lost in everything that needed doing. Somewhere along the line, mum started making special time for each of us. And when I was about 11 years old, mum said “Let’s go away for the weekend; just you and me.” I wasn’t to know it, but this would be the only time in our lives when mum and I would have two days together—just the two of us. We drove off into the interior in our old mud brown station wagon, parked up, and hiked into a hut by a lake. In the morning, I tidied the hut before we were to head back to the car. I turned to mum and said “How does this look? It’s just like when we got here.” My mum looked around the hut, and then alongside me she said, “Sweetheart, when we leave a place, we should always leave it better than we found it.” And then we set to together to make the hut look even better. And that’s my advice, from my mum, now to you as a new graduate: Work hard always to leave wherever you may be better than when you arrived.