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Source: Massey University

Eugene Hepi

The wellbeing of Māori students is in good hands with the appointment of Eugene Hepi as manager of Massey’s Te Rau Tauawhi, Māori Student Centre.

Eugene will move into the role from the Student Recruitment team where he worked to support students coming to Massey and he says that experience has given him an understanding of the issues new students face.  “University life is really foreign and unknown for many and I’m excited to be able to break down barriers for students and give them the message that there is heaps of support here for them – they can do this.”

Te Rau Tauawhi now has staff on all three campuses to support Māori students and Eugene says he’s been pleased to see the growing numbers making the centre their home. But he knows there are many Māori students still uncomfortable about reaching out for help.

“My personal vision is for those who don’t firstly acknowledge themselves as Māori to know there is a place where they can feel comfortable. People may think they have to be able to speak te reo Māori to come to Te Rau Tauawhi or may feel they have to have a really strong cultural upbringing.  Personally, I’m still uncomfortable in some Māori spaces sometimes but when I feel uncomfortable, I know it’s my challenge to become comfortable. I want to really encourage students to start their journey and get over the worry they might not fit in.“

Helping others reach their full potential has always been part of Eugene’s life.  After 16 years with the NZ Army as a physical training instructor he worked with disadvantaged youth at the High Wire Charitable Trust in Auckland before moving back to Palmerston North where he co-founded an organisation called Organic Development that provides resilience and leadership programmes to corporates and sports teams.

Sport has also been a large part of his life and his representative honors include Manawatu Rugby and NZ Open Mens Touch, including two World Cups. “I’ve been very fortunate to experience the benefits that come from maintaining purposeful well-being and the real reward is seeing my two children also develop this mentality where health and well-being is important to them.” Eugene says one of his greatest achievements in this space is having his son, Carson, playing alongside him at an elite level.

Eugene says while University was never a first option when he was growing up, he’s glad that it is for his son and daughter and he’s keen to ensure all Māori students have the support to excel in tertiary study.  He’s looking forward to helping students thrive through Te Rau Tauawhi and even encouraging their health and well-being. “I see them eating their pies and their chips and I think – well we won’t stop that, but we might just add some education around healthy options.  They might see their vege bin full for once.”

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