Supporting Māori and Pasifika student success

Marie Cocker and Sashi Meanger are dedicated to supporting Māori and Pasifika student success at Victoria University of Wellington.

25 March 2019


Working collaboratively with the University’s faculties and other student services, Marie and Sashi head up two new teams charged with enhancing the retention and achievement of Māori and Pasifika students.

The Āwhina team, which Marie heads, is focused on providing culturally responsive support for Māori students, while the Pasifika Student Support team, headed by Sashi, provides the same for Victoria’s Pasifika students. The two teams were established following a review process last year and replace what was formerly offered through five separate student support services—Te Pūtahi Atawhai, ­­Te Rōpū Āwhina, the Māori and Pasifika Outreach team, the Māori Law Coordinator and the Pasifika Law Coordinator. A key change with the new structure is that both teams operate university-wide, so students do not have to navigate across different groups or processes. They also, for the first time, report directly to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori) and Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) respectively.

“Our primary goal is to improve Māori and Pasifika student enrolment, retention, and completion,” says Sashi. “The University recognises that the needs of Māori and Pasifika students differ from those of other groups of students.”

Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban says, “As Pasifika we represent a family of diverse Pacific Nations and Islands. With the new Pasifika Student Success team, we, together with central service units and faculties, are committed to working collaboratively to provide a sharper focus on wrapping the appropriate support around key interventions with and for our students.”

“There is a strong cultural element at play,” says Marie. “We have to have a proactive model of support. The Āwhina and Pasifika teams are more aware of cultural obligations, practices and pedagogies so can support students through the university system, and help upskill academics and professional staff too.”

Before taking up the role of Director of Pasifika, Sashi was a course coordinator and lecturer at Victoria Business School and executive director of the New Zealand Film and Television School, and was awarded ‘Lecturer of the Year’ by Victoria University of Wellington Student’s Association in 2018.

Marie was the Director of Te Rōpū Āwhina for three years and was appointed Director of Te Herenga Waka Marae in 2017. She has been at the University since 2003 and has worked in the student retention and achievement area since 2012.

The new teams are organised in a hub and spoke model. The Āwhina central hub is located at Te Herenga Waka Marae at 46 Kelburn Parade and the Pasifika hub is located at Pasifika Haos, 15 Mount Street. The ‘spokes’ of the model are the whānau/Pasifika rooms located within faculties across all of the University’s campuses. Student engagement advisors from both teams are available to advise students on all aspects of university life.

“Being embedded in the faculties gives us the support we need to make these changes happen and we’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement and support we’ve received already,” says Sashi.