Media Advisory June 05


We might be mostly townies these days, but we still value the rural sector. And that’s why the National Agricultural Fieldays is such an important annual event, says the University of Waikato’s inaugural Chair of Agribusiness, Professor Jacqueline Rowarth. “New Zealand is one of the most urbanised countries in the world – 86% in 2010 and growing at 0.9% a year,” she says. “Most people no longer have connections with the land, but research shows the majority of New Zealanders agree that if the rural sector is doing well people in the urban sector will be better off. Conversely, only a minority of rural New Zealanders are convinced of the importance of urban New Zealand.” Fieldays provides the ideal nexus for rural-urban understanding, says Professor Rowarth. The University of Waikato is once again a strategic partner at the National Agricultural Fieldays. This year’s Fieldays theme is The Changing Face of Farming. The university will have two stands at Mystery Creek, the Premier Feature Stand, a marquee with interactive exhibits, and will also be running a seminar series. To follow the University of Waikato at Fieldays, find us on Facebook and Twitter.


The University of Waikato is part of a high-level team that’s been set up to look at the long-term impacts of the Rena grounding. The group – called Te Mauri Moana – is a collaborative tertiary group that will provide a detailed assessment of the impact the Rena incident has had on the Bay of Plenty’s coastal environment. The research project was approved last week by the Rena Recovery Steering Group, which is funded by the Ministry for the Environment, to oversee the implementation of the Rena Long-Term Environmental Recovery Plan. Funding for Te Mauri Moana is almost $1million. Professor Chris Battershill, Waikato University Chair of Coastal Science, will lead the research team that includes academics and students from University of Waikato, Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and the University of Canterbury.


University of Waikato scientists are taking chicken feathers and turning them into fibres that when added to plastic, could make it strong enough to be used in the marine industry. Every year New Zealand produces about 50,000 tons of chicken feathers and scientist Dr Johan Verbeek and his team are taking those feathers and turning them into a biodegradable fibre. The group is working with co-product company Wallace Corporation aiming to take a low value product and convert it into a product worth three or four times more that can sustain a profitable business. The feathers are added to a plastic compound that produces a stronger, more resilient product. “The ultimate goal for us is a making something like a glass fibre that can be used on boat hulls for example,” Dr Verbeek says. “The advantage is that chicken feathers are lighter than glass or carbon and save on weight and therefore energy.”


Waikato’s ailing peat lakes are being studied by doctoral student Rebecca Eivers. She’s working on ways to nurse them back to health and has developed a floating wetland. Waikato peat lakes are shallow and often surrounded by intensive farming. That makes them more susceptible to sediment build-up and exacerbates problems such as algal blooms caused by excessive nutrients. While nutrient leaching from farms is largely responsible for the deteriorating state of the peat lakes, over time the number of wetlands in the region has also been drastically reduced. That’s significant because the wetlands act as the “kidneys of the waterways”, filtering nutrients and improving water quality before the water makes its way into the lakes. However wetlands often need to cover a large area to do that job properly. So part of Eivers’ research, which is partly funded by Waikato Regional Council and the Department of Conservation, involves trialling floating wetlands that sit on top of an existing water source. Eivers’ work will be on show at the University of Waikato main stand at Fieldays.


A University of Waikato doctorate student is helping farmers by giving them an indication of how their farm production might be affected by climate change. Electra Kalaugher has used advanced computer modeling to assess how farms from the far north to the deep south will fare as the climate changes. She is looking at five farms around New Zealand and working out some profitable steps that can be taken. The aim of the research is to understand the impact climate change might have on dairy farms in the future and which practical strategies allow farmers to effectively adapt to change while at the same time improving their efficiency and productivity. Kalaugher used management strategies and other relevant data from the case study farms to mimic the outcomes in her programme and then, by applying future climate scenarios, has been able to predict how production and profit may be affected in a new climate. She can also test how different pasture types, crops or stocking rates could alter production levels as climate change occurs. Her work will be on show at the University of Waikato’s main stand at Fieldays.


A new research unit has been established at the University of Waikato with a focus on engineering education. The objective of The Waikato Engineering Education Research Unit is to improve learning outcomes for engineering students. Its members come from the Faculty of Science & Engineering and the Faculty of Education. Collaborative research projects carried out by members of the unit are designed to develop insights and expertise for curriculum innovation and teaching in engineering education. Some of the unit’s key research has investigated how students master “threshold concepts” in electronic engineering, the use of software tools and e-learning practices, and the nature of learning communities in engineering education. The unit is keen to work with the engineering community to provide a more relevant and engaging curriculum for future engineers.


The University of Waikato is holding its own version of a careers expo this year.Following the cancellation of the Waikato Careers Expo, the University of Waikato student recruitment team decided to open up the University on Sunday 24 June for its own Information Expo. It will take place in the S Block foyer between 11am-3pm, and is an opportunity for anyone interested in studying at the university to come and speak to staff and students about the qualifications, study options, entry requirements, scholarships and life at the University of Waikato. The expo will feature stands from all faculties, sports clubs, U Leisure and the scholarships office, and student ambassadors will be taking guided tours of the university campus.


Three University of Waikato Sir Edmund Hillary Scholars have been awarded scholarships to travel to Nepal, see the work done by Sir Ed, do some work themselves and, if weather permits, trek to Everest base camp. Alex Hitchmough, Josh Blue and Caitlin Easter are the inaugural recipients of the new Step Higher Awards, sponsored by the Compass Group which provides catering services to the university’s three halls of residence. The scholarships are worth $6000 each and cover airfares, accommodation and a daily allowance for up to three weeks. Waikato’s Hillary Scholars have their course fees paid, receive extra coaching in their chosen sport or performing art and receive leadership training during their time at university. Hitchmough is currently doing postgraduate study in politics, Easter is on the university’s clinical psychology programme and studying for her masters, while Blue is completing his honours year for BSocSci/LLB.


The University of Waikato and Bay of Plenty Polytechnic team up next week for the annual open day at Windermere campus. School students and others contemplating tertiary study will be able to meet staff members, find out about the range of programmes, attend mini-lectures and explore the polytechnic’s campus, which the university shares. Presentations on the university’s early childhood, primary, and secondary teaching, psychology, social work and business programmes will take place during the day, as well as a session giving details on scholarship opportunities and university enrolment dates. The university and polytechnic have been working together for more than a decade to increase tertiary education opportunities in the Bay of Plenty and now offer a growing range of jointly developed diploma and degree programmes. Postgraduate study across a number of faculties is also available through the university in Tauranga. Open Day takes place on Thursday 7 June from 10am-2pm at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic Windermere Campus, 70 Windermere Drive, Tauranga.


Theatre Studies students at the University of Waikato are stepping well back in time for this year’s annual production. The Play Production class is performing The Convent of Pleasure – a play about a group of unmarried women who choose to avoid all the trappings of men and marriage by creating their own community. It tackles gender issues and marriage with some cross-dressing thrown in. It was written in 1668 by Margaret Cavendish, arguably the earliest woman to earn a living from her pen. Director Gaye Poole says she needed a play with three men and 14 women so researched a lot of options – mostly plays set in substantially female environments like schools, boarding houses, convents, etc. The Convent of Pleasure runs four nights, starting tomorrow, June 6-9, in the Playhouse at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.


Sell out solo shows in Wellington and Auckland, the 48 hour film challenge and the finals of the Billy T James Award – all part of a week’s work for former Waikato student and comedian Tom Furniss. Tom graduated with an arts degree majoring in screen and media. “Film was my key interest, but a couple of years ago when I moved to Auckland for a film job, I found myself a bit bored, a bit lonely and without much going on socially, so I went to a few comedy shows, and with a bit of encouragement decided to give it a go myself.” This year he was of five young comedians nominated for the Billy T James Yellow Towel award. He says stand-up and film go together well. Last year he led the group that won the 48 hour film challenge and he competed again this year, slipping away from filming for a couple of hours to do his comedy shows. “Comedy is great for getting an instant reaction – you know as soon as you deliver a line whether it’s worked or not. For film you do a lot of work before you get a reaction, so comedy’s a good platform to test ideas.”


The History programme at the University of Waikato will be hosting a free seminar this week about the success of commercial rice crop growing in New South Wales in 1924-25 and the controversy of ducks being blamed for damaging the crops. Guest speaker Dr Emily O’Gorman is an Associate Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong. This free seminar examines the changing water landscapes of the Murrumbidgee River together with some of the controversies in the first half of the 20th century, which involved ducks, plants, farmers, hunters, conservationists, government ecologists and others. The seminar is on Thursday 7 June, from 2.10-3pm in J.3.26. All are welcome.

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