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Chair role enables Engineering to advance at the University of Waikato

29 April 2021

mike-duke-in-lab
Professor Mike Duke is the Dr John Gallagher Chair in Engineering at the University of Waikato.

Thanks to a philanthropically-funded position at the University of Waikato, Professor in Engineering Mike Duke has been able to advance capability and industry connections to enable the next generation of Waikato engineers to come through.

Professor Duke is the Dr John Gallagher Chair in Engineering, a role he has had for five years and the first in the role since it was established in 2016.

The Chair in Engineering is fully funded by the Glenice and John Gallagher Foundation and named after Dr John Gallagher in recognition of the Gallagher’s long history of support for the University. The establishment of the Chair coincided with the University’s appointment of an inaugural Dean of Engineering, and the creation of a standalone School of Engineering (previously it was part of the Faculty of Science and Engineering).

Professor Duke says one of the main advantages of the Chair role is that it helps facilitate industry and research networks, providing opportunities for engineering staff and students and generating research critical to advancing the sector.

“The Chair role is very much a strategic one in that it can help open doors, enable new research, and nurture relationships with key industry and Government players.”

Professor Duke’s own research focus is in agricultural robotics, where he works with growers and machine manufacturers to undertake applied research into automating agricultural processes such as harvesting. His main industry research partner is leading agri-robotics company Robotics Plus, and he works with them on a range of projects including kiwifruit, apple and asparagus harvesting, autonomous agricultural vehicles, robotic log scaling, and kiwifruit yield estimation.

He believes we are at a tipping point for a digital agriculture revolution, and that New Zealand is well-placed to lead it.

“Nationally, agricultural robotics has taken off. The expertise we have, particularly at Waikato, is exceptional and we are working with our partners creating innovative solutions to some of industry’s biggest issues,” says Professor Duke.

“The Chair in Engineering role has allowed me, with Dr John Gallagher’s full support, to progress engineering in the region by helping develop emerging engineers who have the freedom to create innovative, applicable solutions – those are the people who will drive our industry further.”

He does this through co-leading the Waikato Robotics Automation and Sensing (WaiRAS) research group. His agri-robotics research has received over $6 million in Government and industry funding. This has led to fully operational machines such as the Robotic Dibbler, which has so far precision drilled over 20 million holes for a forestry nursery and given young researchers the opportunity to develop into outstanding engineers.

Professor Duke says it is progress that probably wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it has, if not for the support of the Gallaghers and the Chair in Engineering role.

“A philanthropically-funded Chair is really the ultimate,” says Professor Duke. “It gives whoever is in the role the freedom and autonomy to advance an area of research without any prescribed outcomes.

“In the case of Engineering at Waikato, developing our future researchers to come through and lead the way is crucial for progression, and that’s also what the Chair in Engineering has helped facilitate.”

Philanthropic Chairs

A Professorial Chair is a philanthropically-funded position for an academic with excellence in teaching and research. Established chairs often exist independently of the person who holds them, and are a tool for advancing research of significant impact.

Dr John Gallagher believes it’s important for philanthropists to consider carefully how they can make a difference and how their gift could impact a wide range of people.

“In my case, my ancestors and family have been farming for well over 100 years in the Waikato (from 1907), and our family business has been helping people, particularly farmers, become more efficient for the past 80 years.

“I have supported the University, and the School of Engineering for many years. Engineering is often about solving problems and making the world a better place, and by supporting the Chair in Engineering, it’s helping the University, the students of tomorrow, and New Zealand as a whole.”

Dr Gallagher encourages philanthropists and potential donors to determine an area in which they are keen to make a difference and have a conversation with the University about their options.


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