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Tom Devine awarded 2020 Gordan Watson Scholarship

Posted by on 3 June 2020 | Comments

An Assistant Research Fellow at the University of Otago’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Tom (23) has won this year’s Gordon Watson Scholarship. The award is worth $24,000 and will allow him to spend two years at Columbia, beginning this September, to complete a Masters of Public Health.

Source: University of Otago

From a 10-child family in Whanganui to the fabled corridors of New York’s Ivy League Columbia University – it’s been a remarkable journey for Tom Devine.

It sounds like a fairy-tale for a young Kiwi researcher. But like all good fairy-tales, this one has had some forks in the road.

“When I was growing up all I wanted to be was a doctor. I'm from a family of 10 children, so I had to finance university studies myself at Otago. I did Health Science First Year, but I didn't get into medicine.”

Thankfully, Devine had “already fallen in love with microbiology”. No stranger to hard work – Devine finished his schooling as Dux at Whanganui’s St Dominic’s College – he knuckled down and gained First Class Honours.

Microbiology allowed him to put his mind to what he cares about – fighting health inequality in New Zealand. His research has looked at tuberculosis in the Māori population and will continue on a similar vein at Columbia; he plans to study the implications a global pandemic such as Covid-19 has on indigenous self-determination and autonomy, and where it fits in the grander scheme of a united public health response.

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Tom Devine, Assistant Research Fellow

 “I believe Māori will lead New Zealand into the future, and therefore solution-focused and equitable outcomes that valorise culture, language and traditional knowledge will play a significant role in nurturing the future of Māori people.”

Choosing Columbia University was easy, he says, as its Public Health school is ranked third best in the US with a programme known to be “very innovative and multi-faceted”.

“It will allow me to minor in history, law and ethics as well as carry out a placement of my choosing. I want to work directly with Native American communities. And, of course, it's in New York City.”

Following his time in New York, Devine hopes to continue his research on indigenous development and study a Masters of Public Policy in the UK.

“Then I want to return to New Zealand and enter politics.”

In this year of COVID-19, New York – which has been the epicentre of the virus outbreak in the US – may seem like a risky destination to some. But to Devine, who has never stepped foot on American soil and has never lived in a big city, it seems like a fairy-tale.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. It's truly incredible. I am still in disbelief that it's happening, I'm just shocked. I'll be going to an Ivy League school in New York on scholarship.”

“I am so humbled and very grateful to receive this scholarship,” he says. “The purpose of the Gordon Watson Scholarship is to study social and economic conditions. Now and in the future Māori Health and Māori people will be central to the social, cultural and economic development of Aotearoa New Zealand.”