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Wendy Donaldson

Wendy is a researcher and change manager at Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui, which helps improve the performance of mental health, addiction and disability services in Aotearoa.

Wendy DonaldsonWhat do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

Where I work, at Te Pou o te Whakaaro NuiI usually have a really interesting day as it is rarely repetitive.

The day starts with checking emails to keep up with research alerts on various topics, what’s happening in the health sector nationally and globally, requests for information from all sorts of people, and to file data or information requested from people for various projects.

Then I start on the day’s work – it could be looking for evidence and research on a topic; writing up a literature review, case study or a thematic analysis; dealing with data such as listening to recorded interviews from individuals or focus groups; or working up a presentation on implementation.

Lunchtime three days a week means a half hour session with a personal trainer, a quick shower and back to work.

What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?

At school I studied the sciences, maths and history, which catered for all my interests. From school I went to Otago University for a degree in Physical Education, followed by teaching qualifications. 

Afterwards I went straight into teaching PE and health in secondary schools for many years. In my education years I led a PE Department in a co-ed school, helped with some writing of NCEA, and helped facilitate the introduction of NCEA with PE teachers. These years were interspersed with having three children, being a farmer and running a sewing business. Being a teacher was a good job to have when your own kids are at school.

Looking for a new challenge, I joined the health sector firstly in a District Health Board (DHB), then a Primary Health Organisation (PHO), and now with a non-government organisation (NGO) – which is Te Pou and where I am now. In that time, I completed a Masters in Public Health through Massey University and a Post-grad Certificate in Public Policy through Victoria University.

This year I became a registered Change Manager by completing the PROSCI intensive course and assessments.

Wendy at work

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?

Everything I have studied and experienced is related to what I do now!

I wouldn’t be as effective in writing up the feedback from educative workshops if I hadn’t been a teacher myself and studied education theories. I wouldn’t know about the influences of the determinants of health on trauma and resilience if I hadn’t studied public health.

I wouldn’t know the resilience mothers have to have in the workplace if I hadn’t had children of my own. My appreciation of how busy people are, along with the theory of change management, is reflected in my change management and implementation work.

Being able to put a holistic world view on all my pieces of work is a direct result of the subjects I studied and life’s experiences.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?

Know what your interests are right now and study that. It doesn’t matter what that is, because that passion will lead you to a path of work that is fascinating for you. That will change as knowledge and life’s experiences round out your original thinking and career choice.

Rather than study for a particular career, study for an interest - as it may well be the case that your future career hasn’t been ‘invented’ yet!

Don’t be afraid to combine all sorts of unlikely combinations of subjects to study – they will all combine to lead you where you would love to be.

Wendy with kayak in Tutukaka

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

I loved working in the DHB and being able to set up a process to enable local Māori people to make their own decisions around funding and accountability, to make a difference for their people in terms of nutrition and physical activity.

I also led a Physical Education Department of six committed teachers who believed in holistic wellbeing for their students, and worked hard to create that kaupapa.

Another highlight has been researching and writing about trauma-informed care and being able to put into context the effects of historical and intergenerational trauma felt now by some Māori people due to colonisation, along with the other effects of trauma.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

Engaging in STEM allows the world of technology, data, research, information and many more descriptors, to be available to you in a way that you can understand and make the most use of the information. The more you know, the more you can have choices and options in everything in life. The STEM subjects are the basis of this fountain of knowledge, the basis of life itself.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

Women need to be taken seriously in the science fields - so the more we can saturate the STEM workforce, the more acceptance will come.

We need to make a stand for allowing women to work in these fields and for creating an even workplace, even though it is us who have the babies. Women need support to be able to have both a full career and babies - not just from men but from other women as well.

Wendy sparring with her Personal Trainer

Wendy is a researcher and change manager at Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui (Te Pou)a national centre of evidence-based workforce development for the mental health, addiction and disability sectors in New Zealand.

Her role, in the Data, Information and Research team for Te Pou, means she works across various projects and teams in Te Pou to support both the development and the implementation of evidence-based practice to strengthen the services that organisations deliver for people.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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