When Deborah Fraser finished secondary school she had no idea what she wanted to do. She was born in Taumarunui and mostly schooled in Otorohanga. Luckily a friend put her name down for teachers' college in Palmerston North. Today, she's a Professor of Education at the University of Waikato.
As a teacher, Professor Fraser taught in many primary schools in New Zealand and overseas, especially enjoying the challenges and rewards that so called "tough" schools provided. She's always had a soft spot for those quirky young people who didn't fit the mould.
But she was also keen to learn more about aspects of teaching and learning so when opportunities arose to study for a PhD, she leapt at the chance. She already had an Honours degree from Massey and was eligible for entry straight from Honours to a PhD.
"Working at a university was like coming home," she says. "I absolutely loved it. It was long-hours, but intellectually stimulating."
For her doctorate at the University of Waikato, Professor Fraser studied collaborative problem solving in maths, and much of her subsequent research has investigated problem solving, curriculum integration, creative learning and the learning of gifted children, and children with cancer.
Over the years she has travelled extensively to talk about her own research and to observe trends in other countries, including spending time in the USA as a Fulbright Scholar.
On becoming a professor
In order to become a Professor, academics need to have an extensive body of research and publishing behind them, be recognised internationally by their peers and have a track record of service.
Professor Fraser has led many community workshops and in-service courses for schools, she's worked for the Sir Peter Blake Trust and as a volunteer at the Independence Games held for people with disabilities. She's also sat on numerous Waikato University committees and is Associate Dean postgraduate for the Faculty of Education. "Service is something I take seriously – it's part of the criteria for promotion and I endorse and celebrate that."
Research that makes a difference
A self-confessed "girly-swat" who also loves tramping, the arts, and a good pie and chips, Professor Fraser takes huge satisfaction in knowing her work is making a difference in the classroom. "It's a good feeling to know that your work has legs, that it can positively influence practice. I work alongside teachers who become co-authors with me, and over the years we've built good community networks for collaborative research."
She believes education is the development of the whole person, and values compassion, intuition, curiosity and questioning, alongside learning and being informed.
Professor Fraser is one of five new professors at the University of Waikato in 2015. The others are Linda Nikora and Priya Kurian from Arts and Social Sciences, Bernhard Pfahringer from Computing and Mathematical Sciences and Grant Samkin from Waikato Management School.