PhD a 'fantastic' achievement

Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa prepares to graduate with a doctorate from the University of Otago....
Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa prepares to graduate with a doctorate from the University of Otago. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa will have plenty to celebrate today when she graduates from the University of Otago, becoming the first Samoan-born person to gain a PhD in law from the university.

Otago University Law Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan said her achievement was "fantastic", and her doctoral research on aspects of the development and future of the Land and Titles Court of Samoa was innovative and valuable.

Over the years, as an international student, Miss Aiono-Le Tagaloa (33) has faced higher tuition fees, gaining scholarship support to cover much of those costs, but also needing to meet living costs.

Prof Henaghan said she had faced considerable financial challenges during her doctoral study and the faculty had tried to support her by providing her with research assistant and tutoring work.

Today, she completes part of a long educational journey which started when she began studying in the early 1990s at the age of 13 at Otago Girls High School on a New Zealand Vice-chancellors Committee scholarship.

She then gained a bachelor of law honours degree at Otago University in 2000 and a BA (Hons) in history in 2001.

After later starting her PhD studies, she continued to face financial hardship and took a break from Dunedin, spending two and a-half years back in Samoa, some of that time working in the Land and Titles Court, including as a legal officer.

She undertook field work for her thesis and earned money to enable her to continue her studies.

She returned to Dunedin and Otago University in 2006, supported by an Otago Maori and Pacific Islands PhD Scholarship, and with funding support from her family.

She is pleased to have completed her studies, plans to return to work in Samoa and knows that a new phase of her life awaits.

"I'm about to cross the threshold. There's a door at the end of the hall that I really want to go through."

She comes from a family of high academic achievers, and all her immediate family members have converged on Dunedin from various parts of the world to celebrate her graduation.

Her mother, Prof Aiono Dr Fanaafi, has a doctorate in educational philosophy and applied linguistics from the University of London, and her father, Le Tagaloa Dr Pita, a former Samoan minister of state and MP, has an honorary doctorate from Drew University in the United States.

They now both live in Samoa, as does Miss Aiono-Le Tagaloa's sister, Donna Aiono-Le Tagaloa-Ioane, a school principal.

Also celebrating with her today are two Otago medical graduates, her brother, Mr Semisi Aiono, a general surgeon based at Wanganui Hospital, and another sister, Dr Leinani Aiono-Le Tagaloa, an assistant clinical professor in anesthesiology at the University of California, in the United States.

Miss Aiono-Le Tagaloa is grateful for the crucial support of her family and vital backing from the university, the Law Faculty and the Otago Pacific Islands Centre.

Over the years, Dunedin had become a second home.

"It's a very pretty place and I like the size of it."


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