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University of Canterbury announces four new Distinguished Professors

17 December 2021

The University of Canterbury’s four newly announced Distinguished Professors are world-leading researchers in their fields: (from left) Distinguished Professors Steven Ratuva, Maggie Lee Huckabee, Charles Semple and Michael Hall.

The University of Canterbury has appointed four new Distinguished Professors: the world’s first Pacific Distinguished Professor, the innovating founder of the UC Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research, a leading international sustainability and tourism researcher, and a leading international mathematical modeller for the evolutionary history of species.

Working to advance understanding in very different areas of research, they have each achieved international recognition for the impact and excellence of their research and engagement.


Leading light for Pacific academia - Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva

Distinguished Professor Ratuva is the first Pacific person ever to be promoted to the highest professorial status of Distinguished Professor.

The award-winning Fiji-born University of Canterbury political sociologist was recognised for his global leadership and pioneering interdisciplinary research in a range of fields including ethnicity, security, politics, affirmative action, development, and social protection.

A prolific author, in the last two years alone he has authored and edited five books, including a three-volume global project on ethnicity - the largest and most comprehensive on the subject.

Among his academic leadership roles, he has led pioneering projects on global security in collaboration with international agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Chair of the International Political Science Association Research Committee on Security, Conflict and Democratization.

He currently leads projects worth several million dollars and is co-leading a University of Canterbury and University of the South Pacific joint project on climate crisis and resilience, covering 16 Pacific countries and funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as leading a New Zealand Health Research Council-funded health and social protection project.

Last year Distinguished Professor Ratuva was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi and won the society’s Mertge Medal for New Zealand social science research excellence. In 2019 he won the University of Canterbury Research Medal and received a Senior Fulbright Fellowship in 2018 to conduct research on ethnicity and affirmative action with leading experts in the field at University of California, Duke University and Georgetown University.


New technology addresses swallowing difficulties - Distinguished Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee

Distinguished Professor Huckabee is a preeminent scholar in the field of dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), whose research focuses on rehabilitating those who have difficulty swallowing due to stroke, brain injury or neurological disease. These patients have primarily suffered damage to the part of the brain that controls swallowing, and through her research and repurposing of existing technology, she is exploring ways to recruit undamaged parts of the brain to serve that function.

In 2014, Distinguished Professor Huckabee founded the UC Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research based at St George’s Hospital, Christchurch, a multi-disciplinary research and clinical facility with a focus on bioengineering applications for stroke rehabilitation. Patients travel from around the world for intensive treatment using her biofeedback techniques. Evidence shows that intensive treatment works best to rehabilitate swallowing in patients.

Distinguished Professor Huckabee’s innovative technologies (BiSSkiT and BiSSkApp), clinical tests (ToMaSS) and contributions to other tests (cough reflex and ultrasound) have had substantial positive impacts on clinical practice in Aotearoa and overseas. Her world-leading work continues to shape contemporary research on dysphagia diagnosis and treatment.

She is currently working with local investors to commercialise the BiSSkiT concept into an app that will be marketed internationally.

In 2021, she won the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s MacDiarmid Medal for sustained excellence in translational research that improves outcomes for individuals with swallowing impairment, the latest in a long string of recognitions. In 2014 she won the UC Innovation Medal.


World leader in tourism research - Distinguished Professor Michael Hall

Distinguished Professor Hall is one of the foremost international scholars in tourism and human mobility. He has had enormous influence on this field of research as well as its connection to related areas including migration, sustainability, environmental history, geography, regional development, social marketing and behavioural interventions.

One measure of success is his published work - he has authored and co-authored 43 books, edited and co-edited 50 books and has had 410 chapters published. His works have been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Korean, and Spanish. He is also the author or co-author of 317 articles in refereed journals as well as numerous reference and other works, including media commentary.

Consequently, Distinguished Professor Michael Hall is the world’s most frequently cited tourism scholar in tourism and regional development, and is highly cited in global environmental change, geography, and sustainability.

He also has honorary doctorates in science from the University of Oulu, Finland, social science from Lund University, Sweden, and in the arts from Umeå University, Sweden. He won the UC Research Medal in 2014.

Distinguished Professor Hall is known as a key contributor to the success of the Marketing and Tourism Group at UC Business School, is a highly successful and dedicated supervisor of thesis students, and a highly effective mentor and co-author for many of his colleagues.


Trees of life - Distinguished Professor Charles Semple

Distinguished Professor Charles Semple is an internationally recognised-leading researcher in mathematical phylogenetics and matroid theory.

Phylogenetics is the reconstruction and analysis of evolutionary trees and networks based on inherited characteristics. Phylogenetic methods are widely used by biologists to classify species, date evolutionary events, and trace the origins, relationships, and future developments of viruses such as influenza and HIV. In contrast, matroid theory is a central branch of discrete mathematics, the area of mathematics that underpins the theoretical foundations of computer science. Matroid applications extend to electrical engineering and coding theory.

Distinguished Professor Semple has been awarded seven Marsden Fund grants as a Principal Investigator. The latest of these, awarded in 2020, is to investigate mathematical models for extinction events in the disappearing tree of life. Using a mathematical and algorithmic framework, Distinguished Professor Semple and his co-investigators are addressing fundamental questions in biodiversity theory and conservation.

Alongside publishing in journals, Distinguished Professor Semple is co-author of the first book to describe the mathematical foundations of modern phylogenetics (Oxford University Press), which has become the standard reference and is used as a postgraduate text at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oxford.

He has held Visiting Fellowships at the University of Oxford, University of Montpellier II, and the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

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