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 a passion for learning 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 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 that 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 only 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 study.”
Vaoiva ran weekly homework centres in suburbs where there was a high Pacific population 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.
Vaoiva came to AUT in early 2017 as a lecturer in the School of Interprofessional Studies, as part of the Māori and Pacific 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.
“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.”