Dr Vaoiva Ponton’s family migrated from Samoa to New Zealand, and then on to Melbourne, Australia, where Vaoiva completed her secondary and tertiary studies.
Her family migrated twice for better opportunities in education and Vaoiva has grown a passion for learning and studying that has accumulated into various qualifications. She has completed a Bachelor of Arts from LaTrobe University, a Diploma in Teaching from the National University of Samoa, a Master of Education from the University of Melbourne, and a Doctor of Education from the University of Melbourne, which she graduated from in 2015.
Vaoiva then worked as a high school teacher in the western suburbs of Melbourne and her PhD thesis came from a concern there was not many Pacific students continuing their education in tertiary institutions.
“I wanted to bring to the forefront what it was like to be a Samoan high school student in Melbourne. I felt quite isolated when I was in high school and even more so at university where I was one of six Pacific Islanders in my class.
“From my research I found, just as I had experienced, there were issues of identity, fitting into society, difficulty speaking up and communicating to teachers when help is needed, and a reluctance to enter into tertiary studies.”
Vaoiva ran homework centres in the different suburbs where there was a high Pacific population weekly to gather the data for her thesis. She taught students how to verbalise and vocalise their issues in their class, as well as home. Vaoiva also spoke to parents and taught them about the benefits of tertiary study.
“Sometimes the different commitments the Pacific students had were at odds with each other. On one side, the student had commitment with family, sports and community, and on the other side is their school life,” says Vaoiva, “I had to bring it to the parent’s attention that in order for their children to succeed in the Australian education system, there needed to be a sacrifice in their external commitments while they were studying so they could concentrate on their career path.
“A lot of these families are like my own, who have migrated from the Pacific to New Zealand, and again here in Australia. After migrating twice, the families would not think about the tertiary prospects for their children, especially since prior to 2015, New Zealand citizens were unable to access student loans.”
Vaoiva came to AUT in early 2017 as a lecturer in the School of Interprofessional Studies, as part of the Pacific and Māori Early Academic Career programme at AUT.
“I love the variety of this role within the programme. I love working with people and learning and teaching.
“A few of my students have indicated to me that they like seeing a Pacific person leading a class as a lecturer and tutor; it made them feel a sense of belonging and more comfortable to join in discussions and ask questions.”
Vaoiva is working towards publishing her findings from her doctoral research, as well as establishing new connections and new research ideas here at AUT.
“I want to expand on research exploring the context of Samoan tattooing. I will explore the comparisons of historical versus contemporary tatau and how the contemporary changes have affected people’s perception of Samoan tattoos.
“I’m also looking to find out ways we can improve the experiences and the numbers of Pacific high school students in tertiary studies. I would like to start by talking to Māori and Pacific high school students in South Auckland and find out their interest in continuing their studies at AUT South campus.
“My aim is to create and publish meaningful research that will make an impact in communities.”