Kathleen Curtis Atrium naming ceremony

The Faculty of Science proudly renames the plaza atrium of the Science Centre after prestigious alumna Kathleen Curtis to commemorate 125 years of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand.

Staff, alumni and esteemed guests arrived at the Science Centre on 20 November to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Kathleen Maisey Curtis.

With the sounds of the Mike Howell jazz quartet and the tinkling of wine glasses in the background, a celebration of women in science, and, more specifically, of Kathleen Curtis began, hosted by the Faculty of Science and the Women in Science Network.

As the first New Zealand woman to be awarded with a doctorate, the first female Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and one of the first scientists employed at the Cawthron Institute, Kathleen paved the way for women in science during the height of women’s suffrage.

Kaiārahi Michael Steedman started the evening with a Mihi Whakatau, paying homage to his ancestors and the influential women in his life, and introducing the event organiser Kate Hannah.

Kate’s simple yet significant idea of recognising Kathleen and commemorating the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand was the reason everyone had gathered to mingle in the space between the walls of Building 302’s atrium.

Kate Hannah at the Kathleen Curtis Atrium naming ceremony November 2018
Event MC Kate Hannah, whose idea and research led to the renaming of the atrium space.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Equity) Trudie McNaughton stepped onto the stage to introduce the Hon Dr Megan Woods, the Minister for Research, Science and Innovation.

Hon Dr Megan Woods at the Kathleen Curtis Atrium naming ceremony November 2018
Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister for Research, Science and Innovation.

Higher female participation in teams can help to overcome biases, ensure more equal participation and broaden veiwpoints

Hon Dr Megan Woods

After a captivating speech about her vision of a more diverse workforce and the future of Science in New Zealand, it was time for the official opening of the Kathleen Curtis Atrium. With the push of a red button, a curtain dropped to unveil a plaque and a replica portrait of Kathleen, kindly donated by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

After the excitement had settled, Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble spoke about some of Kathleen’s many achievements, followed by Professor John Hosking, who thanked everyone for coming along to celebrate such a special event.

And, as the first woman recipient of a DSc in New Zealand, it was only fitting that Dame Charmian O’Connor was in attendance to speak about some of the challenges she faced during her studies and career.

Dr Leilani Walker was the last speaker of the night, and her speech was incredibly inspiring to say the least.

“This dedication is a concrete, physical reminder that women have always had a place here even if it is rarely acknowledged. But not only that, like a climbing spike planted in the side of a mountain, it is not only a sign of how far those before us have come, but it is a support to those who go on to face the challenges of the future.”

As the night came to an end, it seemed more than appropriate that the Science Centre atrium was chosen to memorialise someone who metaphorically broke through the glass ceiling, under a literal glass ceiling. The Kathleen Curtis Atrium was named, and now acts as a powerful reminder of the path she forged, and the work yet to be done.

Read Leilani’s full speech on her website.