A powerful pairing: Statistics and a sustainability mindset

For Tuākana Science Scholar Ruby Pankhurst, a trip to Tanzania inspired her to combine Global Studies with her joy of statistics.

Ruby Pankhurst
Ruby Pankhurst

...sustainability is not a performance nor a privilege, but instead it is a responsibility.

“ONCE WE BECOME aware of the true impact we can have just by making even the simplest of changes, the sustainability fight is no longer this daunting uphill battle,” says Ruby. In her second year of a conjoint degree in Science (majoring in Statistics) and Global Studies, Ruby’s perception of sustainability has completely changed.

“As I’ve been learning, or rather unlearning during the course of my studies, sustainability is not a performance nor a privilege, but instead it is a responsibility,” she explains. “When we frame sustainability as a gift to give rather than a burden to bear, as an opportunity, rather than a punishment, I think that we will find more agency and empowerment to enact sustainable change out of genuine desire, rather than obligation, shame or duty, which I think is incredibly important to the effectiveness of any change.”

She chose Global Studies after a school trip to East Africa in 2017 left a lasting impression. “I had the privilege of visiting my school’s sister school in Tanzania. The Foundation of Hope school is an orphanage and school that runs from kindergarten to high school and visiting was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve ever had.

“Spending a month in Moshi really opened my eyes to just how severe global inequalities a disproportionate distributions of wealth and resources really are.” But she adds it also made her realise, “how these communities should not be defined by their contrast to our standards of living”. One of the reasons she was drawn to statistics was for “its ability to act as a mirror to a community or population”. 

“I think that the knowledge statistics can provide us with about our own society and lives is invaluable when considering how to most effectively enact change. Without an understanding of how we as a community exist, and furthermore who we are , I feel like change will always be ill-conceived, inaccurate and ultimately ineffective, and I feel like statistics is an incredible tool to gain this understanding.”

Director of Global Studies programme passes away

Dr Hilary Chung sadly passed away in August this year at 58 years old, after battling cancer for some years.

Ruby describes herself as not being an overly mathematical person in school so it was a surprise to her when she began to love statistics. Of Niuean and Samoan descent, she has been part of the Faculty’s Tuākana programme since starting university. “Being surrounded by so many people who were generally passionate about math and seeing them work together on math problems was super inspiring and they would make solving a math equation seem like a fun game that I wanted to be a part of.”

She was asked to join the Statistics Tuākana tutoring team this year and was selected as a Tuākana Science Scholar, which she says has been a highlight of her studies so far. Looking ahead, Ruby explains that what motivates her more than anything to contribute to a more sustainable world “is the inheritance that I leave behind”.

She asks herself, “what can I save a little of, to give in a big way to the future? Because comparatively the sacrifices we will be making today are small in comparison to the damage we may leave for the future to manage”.

After she has graduated, Ruby is considering postgraduate study in Medical Statistics driven by her interest in epidemiology and one that is certainly a timely pursuit given the global events of 2020. With forwardthinking young minds like Ruby, the sustainable solutions of the future are in good hands.

Science Student Support Fund

The global pandemic has challenged all of us and put added pressure on those students who may already have been grappling with financial challenges. They may need immediate emergency support due to a crisis or long-term support for those who, because of financial hardship, may not otherwise be able to undertake or complete their studies. Please help us to support our science students by making a donation of any amount to the Science Student Support Fund. www.giving.auckland.ac.nz/science


This article appears in the December 2020 edition of inSCight, the print magazine for Faculty of Science alumni. View more articles from inSCight.

Contact inSCight.