The University of Waikato 50th Anniversary

Our People: Alumni

A qualification from the University of Waikato is a great start to a lifelong journey. Our alumni are scattered throughout the world and are making great contributions in their fields of expertise. Here are some stories of Waikato alumni who are making a difference.

Lt Gen Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae

Governor-General

Lt Gen Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae

Lt Gen Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae GNZM, QSO, is New Zealand's 20th Governor-General. He graduated from the University of Waikato in 1996 with a Master of Arts in international relations and strategic studies. He is also a graduate of the British Army Staff College (1989), the Australian Joint Service Staff College (1995) and the Royal College of Defence Studies (1999).

Sir Jerry was appointed to the role of Governor-General in 2011 following more than five years as Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force. He is a distinguished soldier and scholar and was both the youngest person and the first Māori – of Ngāti Tūwharetoa descent – to be appointed as Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force. He was also the second Māori Governor-General.

In 2008, he received a University of Waikato Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his exemplary career in the New Zealand Defence Force, and his contribution to the military and the wider New Zealand community.

His military career began in 1972 and in 1976 he graduated from Australia's Officer Cadet School in Portsea. He served in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and the Special Air Service. Sir Jerry commanded two multi-national peace support operations as Chief Observer with the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation in Southern Lebanon, and Commander of the Combined Force Truce Monitoring Group in Bougainville, for which he was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit. He was also the Joint Commander for New Zealand Forces in East Timor before becoming Chief of Army in 2002.

He has a reputation within the Army as a soldier's man; fair, consistent, and a straight shooter. His commitment, persistence and pursuit of excellence have made him a leader in this country and internationally, and he is widely respected for his personal blend of people skills and operational efficiency.

He was born in Whanganui in 1954, is married to Lady Janine and they have two daughters and three sons.


Peter Allen

One of Waikato University's foundation students

Peter Allen

Peter Allen was one of Waikato University's foundation students and was its first graduate (simply by virtue of his surname starting with the letter 'A'). He arrived at uni fresh from Cambridge High School in 1964 to do his BA, graduating in 1967, and left with a Master in Philosophy at the end of 1969. "I handed in my thesis one day and got married the next." His wife Helen was also a foundation student at Waikato.

"A lot of my friends thought I'd made a bad choice to study at Waikato, but I wanted to be part of a new university, one without a history." He's never regretted his decision.

While he was completing his Master of Philosophy on the military settlements of the central Waikato basin, Peter was also involved in student politics, captained the university hockey team and was a sub warden in the Student Village. "We even got the Vice-Chancellor Don Llewellyn to play full back for the hockey team and Michael Selby [one of the first academic staff members] played for us too. We had some good games."

Peter remembers the discussions around what the university would stand for, what structure the different schools might have and what they'd offer. He was part of the halls fund-raising team, which included the Vice-Chancellor and other students and staff, and together they travelled around the regions drumming up support for the university in small towns such as Taumarunui, Murapara and Taupo.

Peter was part of the first student demonstration in Hamilton. "We got some hostile coverage by the Waikato Times, marching against the installation in New Zealand of a US naval navigation system called Omega. We were pleased that staff from Social Sciences supported us by writing to the newspaper."

Peter became a teacher then a secondary school principal, finishing his teaching career at Rangiora High School in Canterbury. He was a member of the Teachers Union and president of the PPTA. "I've always been a closet politician and having retired from teaching, I'm now a Waimakariri district councillor."

"I feel really proud to have been part of the university when it started, when it was uncertain and feeling its way. And it's now leading the way, making its mark in New Zealand and overseas. The region should be proud of its university. I look forward to it becoming the leading university in New Zealand and it's something special to feel I have been a part of it," he says.


Professor Youbin Zhao

Chinese Professor a New Zealand literature expert

Professor Youbin Zhao

At Jinan University in Guangdong Province, China, a Waikato-educated, Chinese-born professor is teaching his students all about New Zealand literature. Professor Youbin Zhao is a Waikato alumnus whom many of his Chinese colleagues refer to as a "New Zealand expert".

It's a fair way from the University of Waikato to Jinan University, especially for a New Zealand literature enthusiast. Professor Zhao has had several books and more than 60 papers published in China – most of them about New Zealand.

Professor Zhao trained as a teacher in China at Sichuan Teachers College (now Xihua Normal University) and began working there as a teaching assistant after graduating in 1985. The college invited a visiting teacher from New Zealand to give a presentation on spoken English in New Zealand culture, which left such an impression on Professor Zhao he took up New Zealand studies as an academic interest.

In 1990 he was selected as one of 10 young scholars by the Chinese government to study in New Zealand. "I was chosen because I had published translations of New Zealand poetry. It was recommended that I study at Waikato because of the outstanding English professors, and so off I went." says Professor Zhao. "Professor Mark Williams, who's now at Victoria University, really helped me settle into student life and got me interested in New Zealand literature. Professor Ken Arvidson, who sadly passed away in 2011, used to lend me lots of books on New Zealand literature to read. He was very kind and friendly."

Professor Zhao spent a lot of time as a student in the library devoted to his studies. "I spent so much time there reading and writing - even taking a nap on the cosy sofas when I was tired!"

After finishing his post-graduate English studies at Waikato in 1992 Professor Zhao returned to China to teach. In 1995 he was appointed Associate Professor and in 2003 was promoted to Professor. "I taught classes on literature in English-speaking countries at a few different universities, and also established a Centre for New Zealand Studies which received a lot of support from the New Zealand Embassy in China."

His first book 'The Bright Pearl on the South Pacific – New Zealand' was published in 2000. On the back of its success, he was awarded a scholarship from the Chinese Government to Cambridge University in the UK where he finished writing a book on Katherine Mansfield. Three years later 'Singing on the Land of the Long White Cloud – a Study on the Postcolonial Literature of New Zealand' was published.

During his career Professor Zhao has received numerous honours, scholarships and prizes from the Chinese government in recognition of his academic achievement. His most recent success is his election from a group of 10 professorial candidates as Dean of the School of Translation Studies at Jinan University.


Dr Judy McGregor

Author and editor

Dr Judy McGregor

Judy McGregor graduated from the University of Waikato in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts. She later qualified in law, gained a doctorate in political communication and went on to become a staunch campaigner for the rights of others.

She has specific interests in women's right, discrimination, gender equality, equal pay and the employment of ethnic and minority groups.

Dr McGregor is the author or editor of several books, including four texts on journalism, and she has held fellowships at both Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities.

As a student, Dr McGregor was the founding editor of University of Waikato student magazine Nexus and became one of New Zealand's leading journalists. She spent time as editor of the Sunday News and the Auckland Star, becoming the first woman to edit a major newspaper in Australasia.

After moving into academia, Dr McGregor subsequently published widely on communication and the media, and the power of the press to present ideas. She is both a passionate supporter and trenchant critic of public service broadcasting, and has served on the Broadcasting Standards Authority. In 2004 she was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to journalism and in 2009 she received a University of Waikato Distinguished Alumni Award.

Dr McGregor was the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission from 2003-2012 and jointly designated as the Disability Rights Commissioner from 2003-2010. In 2013 she became Head of School Social Sciences and Public Policy at AUT.

In the book commemorating the first 25 years of the University of Waikato, Dr McGregor wrote there was "a freedom, a carelessness about those days at Waikato…" "The campus was small, rural….and largely insulated from city life in its formative years, but there was a family feel about Waikato University."


Dr Sonja Ellis

Social Scientist (social psychology) at Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Sonja Ellis

Former Waikato student Dr Sonja Ellis returned to her alma mater recently as a visiting scholar from Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, UK. While she engaged in her research and spoke to other lecturers and researchers on campus, she also reminisced about her time as a student.

Coming back to Waikato during its 50th anniversary celebrations was exciting for her. "The campus has changed so much since the last time I was here," she says. "The Student Centre is amazing!"

Dr Ellis completed a Master of Social Science, majoring in Education Studies, at Waikato in 1996 and went on to complete her PhD at Loughborough University in the UK. She's currently in New Zealand as a recipient of the HEA Professor Sir Ron Cooke International Scholarship which supports UK academics to explore innovative ways of teaching across the Higher Education sector internationally.

She was back at Waikato to pick the brains of academics in the School of Psychology for her research project which looks into the inclusive practices employed in teaching psychology students. This 'inclusiveness' is reflected in how ethnic and cultural minority groups' needs are included in a holistic view of teaching psychology. Dr Ellis says Waikato is streets ahead of its world-wide contemporaries in this field. "There's a real sense of inclusiveness in the teaching here, and it's great to see," she says.

At Sheffield Hallam University Dr Ellis is a social scientist (social psychology) and has published several journal articles in the field of gay and lesbian psychology. She currently supervises three PhD students and is a member of the Health Psychology Research Group.

As a principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam she co-authored the first undergraduate textbook on LGBTQ psychology, which was named the British Psychological Society's best textbook in 2013. The book, 'Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Psychology: An Introduction' was co-authored with her colleagues Victoria Clarke, Elizabeth Peel and Damien Riggs and published in 2010. "It's the first textbook that thoroughly covers the research and theory in this field. It's a really valuable book for students, lecturers and practitioners who are engaging with gay, lesbian and bisexual studies and teaching," says Dr Ellis.


Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips

Senior lecturer at the University of Waikato and current PhD student

Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips

Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips graduated with her first degree, a Bachelor of Social Sciences, in 1981. In 2014 she's more than halfway through her PhD. She's also a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education.

"I grew up in Hamilton, went to Hamilton Girls' High School, and coming to Waikato seemed the natural thing to do. In the late 1970s Waikato was known to be radical and innovative. And I remember long summer days, being in love, going and not going to lectures…I don't suppose it's any different for students coming to university straight from school today."

While Jeanette was studying for her first degree, her dad Norman Wills was also studying; they graduated together. "All six of us children went to university but Dad had never had the chance himself, so he began studying part-time for his bachelor's degree and then once he retired from Forlongs where he was an accountant, he was able to do his Master of Social Sciences. He was 59 and it was lovely to hear the applause as he walked across the stage at graduation."

Jeanette did social work then earned a teaching diploma in Christchurch, spending many years as a kindergarten teacher. In 2001 while still teaching Jeanette began part-time study for her Master of Education, at Waikato. She joined the staff of the Faculty of Education in 2005 and completed her MEd in 2007.

The importance of early childhood education is dear to her heart. Her PhD focuses on how early childhood educators can work with other services to support families. "If you think about it, often the first professional that parents encounter outside the health service is the early childhood teacher. They are in a good position to support families in what can be a complex time in their lives."

Jeanette says while the university campus gets more beautiful year by year, she worries that staff and students aren't as politically active as they were during her early days at Waikato. "We can't forget that we are the critic and conscience of society. It's very important that we should be able to express our views." Jeanette is now carrying out her second term on the University Council as the Council of Trade Unions representative.

She and her husband live in the old Brocas homestead on Knighton Rd. The university is built on the farm and orchard that once surrounded the house. "And when they were building the new Student Centre, we were able to buy the rimu panelling that came out of the old library to use in our house renovations. It seemed very fitting, putting something from the university back into the house. This is very much my neighbourhood."

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