Teaching graduate's photo predicts her future

09 December 2016

The first person in her family to earn a tertiary qualification, Nina Vailu'u will graduate in the University of Canterbury graduation ceremony on Wednesday, 14 December.

The first person in her family to earn a tertiary qualification, Nina Vailu’u will graduate in the University of Canterbury (UC) graduation ceremony for the College of Education, Health and Human Development on Wednesday, 14 December.

It was 18 months ago, when she was halfway through her three-year Bachelor of Teaching and Learning (Primary) studies, that she starred in what turned out to be a prescient photoshoot at Cotswold School as part of an advertising campaign.

An award-winning student, Nina had many schools wanting her to work for them before graduation. However, the serendipitous photoshoot predicted Nina’s future.

In a ‘back to the future’ twist, Nina recently accepted her first job as a teacher at Cotswold School. In a further coincidence, she also had her very first student teaching placement at Cotswold School three years ago.

Now she’s getting ready to start teaching Year Two pupils full-time at the Christchurch school next year.

Before studying at UC, Nina had been living overseas pursuing a very different career path.

“I was working in hospitality, working as a manager in a bar and in restaurants, and lived in Wales for a while. Part of the plan was to come back to study teaching in Christchurch,” she says.

Here’s a Q&A Nina did while studying at UC:

How did it feel starting UC as a mature student?

Great. I didn’t want to go straight to uni at age 18. I wanted to gain more maturity and life experience first.

Have you found yourself in good company?

Definitely. I generally hang out with other mature students – there are a lot more than I thought there would be! It's nice to be in the same boat. We tend to share the same priorities and attitudes.

How has UC helped you get back into studying?

There are so many workshops you can go to. The Academic Skills sessions in the library are great. The Pacific Development Team has also really helped.

Tell us about the Pacific Development Team.

It’s like a community within the wider community. I’m half Samoan but after the earthquakes, all my Samoan family left Christchurch. Through the Pacific Development Team I’ve been able to regain that connection.

What’s your favourite part of the UC experience?

The people. I have such great relationships with my lecturers. They genuinely care about you. The course itself has been really practical. I’ve had a lot of those ‘a-ha moments’ when the theories you learn in class come to life in practise.

Your proudest achievement so far?

Getting the Pacific Achievers College Award two years in a row and having my parents at the ceremony. I’m the first person in my family to go to university and they had been a bit unsure about me studying teaching. Now they’re both 100% behind me. I’m really proud that I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve.

How have you grown at UC?

I’ve become much more confident in who I am. To be a good teacher you have to be able to identify your biases and know yourself really well. We ask ‘why’ a lot – it’s been enlightening!

What does having a degree from UC mean for your future?

I can have the career I want and I can travel. UC is a friendly and supportive environment to get where you need to go, and have a great time along the way.


UC Graduation Ceremonies will be held on 14 and 16 December 2016 in the Horncastle Arena as follows:

Wednesday 14 December 2016

  • 10am Colleges and Faculties of Engineering & Forestry, and Arts 
  • 2pm College of Education, Health and Human Development

Friday 16 December 2016

  • 10am Colleges of Law & Commerce and Science).

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 | margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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