Leadership programme for Māori and Pacific students removes barriers

A leadership programme for Māori and Pacific students at the University of Auckland helps ensure every chance of success.

Kaita Sem who runs the Leadership Through Learning programme
Kaita Sem who is part of the Leadership Through Learning programme. Photo: Billy Wong

Applications are being encouraged ahead of Semester Two for a powerful leadership programme designed to help Māori and Pacific students achieve their potential.

The flagship programme, through Te Tumu Herenga Libraries and Learning Services, runs each semester. Kaita Sem is a team leader working in Te Tumu Herenga. He was employed in 2020 to run Leadership Through Learning, after completing his MA in Politics and working as a policy professional in Wellington.

“I’m responsible for guiding our learning support services for Māori and Pacific students, including the Leadership Through Learning programme. Having done it myself, I know first-hand the dedication and commitment required to succeed at the University.

“This programme has a special kaupapa in that all teaching staff must have also first completed it, which I did as a student.”

The programme builds leadership skills beginning with whakawhanaungatanga and reflection, where students identify personal values and aspirations before confronting self-doubt and vulnerability.

“I recognised these challenges during my education. The programme really struck home for me and provided the missing pieces because somewhere along the way I had removed ‘myself’ from my studies.”

Kaita says the real strength of Leadership Through Learning is its tuakana-teina approach.

“It empowers students to step into their own brand of leadership and is reflected by facilitators being students with important stories to tell. It removes any barriers between teaching and learning.”

Kaita, who is of Papua New Guinean, Cook Islands, Niuean and Pākehā heritage, says while his studies helped refine his understanding of the world, Leadership Through Learning provided him with the tools and a community in which to flourish.

“My research interests stem from a fascination with the way our planet has been partitioned by borders and how this fundamentally affects the way society is organised. With parents as academics, I have been fortunate to see how this plays out in Europe, in the Pacific and here in Aotearoa, although for a long time I did not have the tools to navigate these ideas on my own.”

Students are challenged in a safe space to plot a course to achieve their goals at University and beyond.

Kaita Sem, Leadership Through Learning Te Tumu Herenga, Libraries and Learning Services

Leadership Through Learning starts up again for Semester Two and runs for 12 weeks. It is open to all Māori and Pacific students from any faculty and at every level, and is delivered by Māori and Pacific student leaders.

“Students are challenged in a safe space to plot a course to achieve their goals at University and beyond,” says Kaita. “It’s a really transformative process and means the success of our students becomes normalised.”

The programme is in its eighth iteration in 2021 but Kaita says it’s set to grow.

“As well as our three streams at the City Campus, we are launching new streams in partnership with the Māori and Pacific Admission Schemie in Grafton, for Faculty of Medical and Health Science students, and at our Tai Tonga (South Auckland) and Tai Tokerau (Northland) campuses.”

Kaita himself has grown even further through being part of the programme, then leading it. 

He has just won a position at the Pacific Community (SPC) based in Suva, Fiji, where he will become a relationship and learning adviser for the Pacific Monitoring Evaluation and Learning Project.

“I’m really excited about the challenge,” he says. “It's really a testament to what the Leadership Through Learning programme has enabled me to achieve.”