Three of the ten semi-finalists for the 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year are academic staff at the University of Auckland.

Jane Harding (left) is a finalist for New Zealander of the Year

They are:

  • Vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris
  • New born intensive care specialist Distinguished Professor Jane Harding
  • ‘Rocket man’ Adjunct Professor Peter Beck

The annual New Zealander of the Year awards honour truly outstanding kiwis who are passionate and committed to making New Zealand a better place to live for everyone.

Distinguished Professor Jane Harding

Medical researcher Distinguished Professor Jane Harding of the Liggins Institute has developed therapies that have helped millions of babies around the world. Her team’s Sugar Babies Study was the first to show that a sugar (dextrose) gel massaged into the inside of a baby’s cheek is more effective than feeding alone for treating low blood sugar. Three quarters of birthing units in New Zealand now use this simple treatment and are reporting reductions in admissions to neonatal intensive care units for low blood sugar. The gel treatment is now used in many countries worldwide with similar positive results. It is just one of several research findings throughout Professor Harding’s career that has significantly informed and changed health policy and practice in New Zealand and globally. Professor Harding has also been nominated for the TradeMe Innovator of the Year award.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris is the Director of the Vaccine Datalink and Research Group at the University of Auckland. She has contributed to immunisation-related research in New Zealand for more than 20 years including the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. When preventable diseases like measles make an unwelcome return due to people not vaccinating their children, Helen provides uncomplicated, scientifically-based information on vaccines to communicate the benefits of vaccination to the public both in New Zealand and overseas.

Adjunct Professor Peter Beck

Space pioneer Peter Beck was named an Adjunct Professor in Aerospace Engineering in 2019. Dr Beck is founder and CEO of Rocket Lab and is helping to guide and grow the Faculty of Engineering’s capabilities in space research.

Two more finalists for New Zealander of the Year are alumni of the University: David Downs, a cancer survivor who is working tirelessly to bring the ground-breaking cancer treatment that saved his life overseas back to New Zealand; and Anne Gaze, a serial social entrepreneur, who initiated and helped fund the University’s Centre for Brain Research’s MovinCog programme, a ground breaking cognitive intervention programme for high-spectrum-need school students

The University of Auckland also proudly sponsors the Young New Zealander of the Year category. Among the nominees this year are alumni Bilal Nasier, a refugee and advocate who is completing his PhD at Auckland, and Ihumātao protest leader Pania Newton.

Two technology spinouts which began at the University of Auckland are in the running for the TradeMe Innovator of the Year award; PowerbyProxi – which developed from research at the Faculty of Engineering and has been acquired by Apple; and Soul Machines, which is headed by University-based Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s Professor Mark Sagar.

The University of Auckland also features strongly in the Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year category. Among the nominees are:

  • Emeritus Professor Bob Elliot, who worked at the University of Auckland for 29 years, for his work in child health research and his ongoing search for health innovations.
  • Lexie Matheson for her work in the performing arts, education and LGBTQI rights. Lexie worked at the University of Auckland for eight years as the Business Manager of the Maidment Theatre.
  • Elam alumnus Billy Apple for his work as an artist.
  • Emeritus Professor Michael Corballis is nominated for the second year in a row for his work with the School of Psychology.
  • Sue Kedgley for her work as a leading advocate for women, including founding the Auckland University Women’s Liberations Group in 1971.
  • Professor John Ormiston for his work in bench testing and clinic trials of new cardiac devices.
  • Miriam Saphira, who holds a a PhD from the University of Auckland in Developmental Psychology, is nominated for her work as an artist and as a highly respected member of the lesbian community.

The winners will be announced at the New Zealander of the Year Awards Gala in Auckland on Thursday, 20 February 2020.

Media contact:

Danelle Clayton | Media Adviser
Mob: 027 537 2580