Sunday, November 28, 2021

GG praises Rhodes Scholar trio

Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro has praised three young New Zealanders who have received prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, saying they will make Aotearoa proud.

Dame Cindy met with (pictured L-R) Dr Benjamin Alsop-ten Hove, Monique Cooper and Zak Devey during their selection interview for the scholarships, which will see them heading to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in October 2022 to join a cohort of more than 100 Rhodes Scholars from around the world.

The Rhodes Scholarships are postgraduate awards to support study at Oxford. Established in 1903, they are the oldest international graduate scholarship programme in the world.

“The three Rhodes Scholars are really exceptional young people,” says Dame Cindy.

“Driven by a desire to make a difference for the better, their strong sense of place and academic excellence, they will bring nuanced understandings of our contribution as a country to Oxford, to an international community of scholars and to leading international work in their fields. More importantly, they will continue to make us proud of being from Aotearoa New Zealand. I wish them every success with their future, which will undoubtedly be one of enormous value.”

Aged 24 and a first-year house officer at Whangārei Hospital in Northland, Dr Benjamin Alsop-ten Hove is already a well-established and highly regarded champion of better resourced and more equitable health services in rural New Zealand.

Ben was a Local Hero Medal recipient in the 2019 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards for his contribution to promoting rural health careers to university students and more than 15,000 rural high school students. He was a co-founder and co-chair of Students of Rural Health Aotearoa (SoRHA) and is a past board member of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network (NZRGPN). In 2018, he was president of the Grassroots Rural Health Club in Auckland.

“Ben has been steadfastly committed and passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders living in our rural and remote regions,” says former NZRGPN Rural Health Careers Programme Coordinator Esther Maxim, one of his referees.

“Under his leadership, SoRHA transformed from a small group of mostly medical students to a large, influential and highly respected organisation that has a seat at many tables.”

Ben has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Auckland, from where he graduated in 2020 with the Rotary Club of Auckland Award for the most distinguished medical student, taking into account personal qualities and all-round abilities.

His referees speak of his leadership skills, tenacity, firm sense of social justice and desire to give back to the community. These attributes, along with his commitment to rural New Zealand, date back to his high school days at Ellesmere College in the small town of Leeston on the Canterbury Plains.

Ben also advocated on behalf of student mental health and climate change issues while at Auckland. In 2019, he was Vice-President External of the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association.

At Oxford, Ben wants to study for a Master of Public Policy and Master of Science in Evidence-Based Intervention and Policy Evaluation.

“This combination of programmes would enable me to support the development of an evidence-based health system that perpetuates equity and empowers tangata whenua and tauiwi,” he says.

Monique Cooper, a product development engineer at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare in Auckland, is the first AUT graduate and almost certainly the first qualified firefighter to receive a Rhodes Scholarship in New Zealand.

The nearly five years she spent as a volunteer firefighter are an example of the sense of community and social justice central to her studies and working life. That sense is evident too in such activities as fundraising to build a rehabilitation centre for former child soldiers in Uganda.

Monique, aged 25, credits her approach to life to the day in the family garage she “watched Tearfund’s adverts about malnourished children, no older than me, on repeat. My gaze panned between the diameter of the child’s upper arms and my own. A rumbling within me started – a sense of inequity. The seed to be an ally was sown in that garage”.

She was also a founding member of Manawa Ahi, an organisation rooted in Te Ao Māori values and focused on local and global social justice.

Monique was awarded a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Mechatronics from AUT in 2020 and continues to study there for a Bachelor of Business in Management and Finance. As part of the latter, she spent three months at Copenhagen Business School as an AUT Undergraduate Scholarship recipient.

While studying for her Bachelor of Engineering, Monique interned at the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan and in Auckland at the Blind Foundation and Thought-Wired.

“Meeting the team at Thought-Wired, then a hi-tech start-up, using access technology to enable those with severe disabilities to communicate, was a pivotal moment. I was inspired by hearing their purpose – to unlock the potential of the vulnerable and/or give dignity to people with degenerative diseases. There I also found an interest in business models, and I have developed an understanding of social propositions in business. How we can use design thinking, data and business strategy to improve our standard of living is a passion of mine.”

For her fourth-year engineering project, Monique and others worked on a headset to enable users with severe physical disabilities to interact with their environment, and won a Callaghan Innovation Prize for Best Final Year Project – Commercialisation (Electrical and Electronic Engineering).

At Oxford, she wants to study for a Master of Science in Social Data Science and a Master of Business Administration.

Co-founder of the charity Youth Arts New Zealand and founder of Te Kāhui, a creative writing programme for young inmates at Mt Eden Corrections Facility in Auckland, Zak Devey is described by one of his referees as a “visionary of optimism and a champion of potential”. Another says he is hardwired “to be a good person, a good friend, a good student and a positive contributor to society”.

Aged 22, Zak was this year awarded a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Sociology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Auckland. He is committed to realising the potential of the arts and creativity to improve the mental health and wellbeing of “communities whose lived experiences and perspectives are often valued the least”.

As a creative artist himself, Zak is a poet, writer and musician. He says he frequently imagines what a truly empathetic world would look like.

“The ability to wholly put oneself in another’s shoes, to appreciate their thoughts and experiences, strikes me as instrumental to the collective wellbeing of any community and I stand convinced that the arts offer the most accessible pathway toward empathetic communication and self-exploration,” he says.

Te Kāhui, which received a highly commended citation of service from Arts Access Aotearoa, ‘is focused on presenting storytelling, poetry and lyricism as platforms young inmates can use to reflect upon self and other’. It has engaged more than 300 inmates and has received funding to expand nationally. As co-founder of Youth Arts New Zealand, Zak says he strives “to respond to Aotearoa’s youth mental illness epidemic by facilitating expression and reflection within student communities”.

Zak’s many prizes and scholarships at Auckland include a 2021 Senior Scholar Award for highest overall performance in the Bachelor of Arts programme, two Summer Research Scholarships (one of which was in his second year when they are awarded mostly only to third-year students) and a Blues Award for service and leadership. He has received two New Zealand Prime Minister’s Scholarships for Asia.

At Oxford, Zak wants to study for a joint Master of Science in Sociology and Master of Science in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation.

About the Rhodes Scholarship: www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/scholarships/the-rhodes-scholarship

In New Zealand, the Rhodes Scholarship application and selection process is managed by Universities New Zealand – Te Pokai Tara along with about 35 other scholarships worth more than $2 million.

Applications for 2023 close on 1 August 2022. More information is available at www.universitiesnz.ac.nz/scholarships/rhodes-scholarship

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