Celebrating 25 years of changing people’s lives
Dr Margaret Southwick prefers the term ‘‘25 years’’ to ‘‘ quarter of a century’’. Mentioning the latter results in a steely glare.
Dr Southwick has been involved with Whitireia’s nursing programme since even before the polytechnic – which celebrates its 25th birthday this year – was established.
Various courses held locally were funded through the Wellington and Hutt Valley polytechnics.
The former tutor, who is now the dean of the health faculty, recalls a first intake of 45 students embarking on a diploma in nursing. Classes were held in prefabs in the Mana College grounds, before the programme moved to Parumoana St in December 1985, and later to the main campus on Wineera Dr.
A lot has changed since the days when a self-correcting electronic typewriter was considered the latest technology.
‘‘It was a challenging time,’’ says Dr Southwick. ‘‘We had a real range of people that first intake; some were enrolled nurses, we even had a bank manager. There was some negativity around the programme being in Porirua – people used to say the best thing about Porirua was the road out. Now look at our graduates.’’
The faculty of health now has over 40 staff and students under its umbrella number in the thousands. Graduates include former Capital & Coast District Health Board chief executive Margot Mains.
What is most important to Dr Southwick, however, is the reputation for excellent teaching they have forged, especially in the areas of Maori and Pacific health.
‘‘It’s of concern to everyone that Maori and Pacific are doing especially bad [in terms of disease and ill-health] and the courses that are available here are encouraging them to make a contribution to changing those health statistics.
‘‘ There are a number of bachelor and diploma courses that people can do and we can staircase them into further education.’’
Whitireia being able to offer degrees, rather than diplomas, from the late 1990s, was ‘‘ very significant’’, she says, but the philosophy of having students spend half their time in class and half in a ‘‘clinical environment’’ has never been altered.
Dr Southwick is modest about her own achievements, rising from being a tutor to a dean, helping to set up the Pacific health research centre at Whitireia, and collecting a Queen’s Service Medal recently for her commitment to nursing. She is also chairperson of the Nursing Council.
Aside from a part-time stint at Victoria University, her heart belongs at Whitireia and in the Porirua community, where she has lived for 40 years.
Dr Southwick enjoys the challenges she faces in her role.
‘‘There is nothing particularly heroic about longevity but I love being here, I’m truly immersed. I’m surrounded by a lot of long-serving staff and something quite momentous happens every so often – if I was doing the same thing for 25 years I’d be ready to be locked up.
‘‘The ethos of Whitireia is difficult to talk about, you have to experience it, but before long you understand how education has the power to change people’s lives..’’
Whitireia will hold its 25 year celebrations in November.
Looking forward: Dr Margaret Southwick has seen plenty of changes in her 25 years at Whitireia, even if some of the buildings – like that behind her – remain the same.