Tētēkura – Student-driven positive impact

Our Tētēkura, Student Leads, are employed as part of the Sustainability Office team to support and improve the University’s culture of sustainability. This unique opportunity offers our students the chance to invest their passion for sustainability into designing and creating positive changes on campus from the ground up.

The Student Leads’ work outputs are guided by the Sustainability Development Goals and our University of Otago Sustainability Strategic Framework, all while challenging the norm, thinking outside the box and working collaboratively with the team.

In all, our Tētēkura collaboratively designs a series of sustainability-focused experiences on campus ensuring progress is endorsed and supported by our student and staff communities. These include events, relationships, campaigns, awareness, and project delivery.

>  The initiative

Tētēkura – Student-driven positive impact

Our Sustainability Office employs six Tētēkura (Student Leads) for four hours every week to work with office staff to support and improve our University’s culture of sustainability. The Te Reo Māori name gifted to these roles refers to the carved figurehead on the prow of a canoe (waka).  That figurehead leads the way on challenging voyages. Each of the six roles has a different way of leading the way:

  1. Marketing, content creation, and social media delivery
  2. Sustainability Neighbourhood and whakawhanaungatanga (relationships) management
  3. Green Your Scene team support
  4. Data analysis and goals reporting
  5. Events coordination
  6. Campaigns and generating ideas for initiatives

These roles increase University-wide engagement through a range of activities and initiatives designed to grow staff, student, and wider community involvement in sustainability. The Student Leads’ work outputs are guided by the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGS) and our Sustainability Strategic Framework, all while aiming to challenge the norm, think outside the box and work collaboratively with our Sustainability Office team.

An example of their key projects is Toitū Te Whenua, Sustainability Week.

In 2020 Sustainability week captured the reset after our country’s pandemic lockdown so encouraged our staff and students to “Reboot”. The week offered 19 events in five days, focusing on a range of solutions and alternatives that could help people live sustainably. During this week, we collaborated with 22 groups, organisations, and businesses, engaged with more than 500 students, and reached 200 staff.

In 2021 this annual week-long campaign hosted a range of events that encompassed sustainable education, awareness, and solutions. As always, almost every event included either one key collaborator or multiple partners. Our Tētēkura’s ideas are incorporated in the programme, they provide vital help running events, they enable wider engagement just through their presence, and they have a unique ability to talk peer-to-peer with students. This helps ensure sustainable action is seen as a collective effort and helps to share the space with others doing great things.

Key events included a skip diversion day, submission writing workshops, a Sustainability Market, bike grab, sustainability pub quiz, Recycling Centre garage sale, social media takeovers, Lorax movie night and connections to funding for good ideas.

Sustainability Week’s launch was a hit, with our social media promotion reaching about 7,200 people.

Skip Diversion Day took place at a huge scale with six tonnes of glass, two skips of cardboard skips and eight loads of cans being removed throughout the day as students were encouraged to sort waste from their flats to avoid it ending up in landfill.

There was an SDG theme where we d encouraged our community to ‘Be a Legend’, which we captured in a video (see link below). During the week, we collaborated with 38 groups, organisations, and businesses, engaged with more than 500 staff and students, and sold out our Planet D Drag Show in five days, bringing 140 people into the room to learn how wellbeing, gender equality and equity connect to sustainability through the SDGs (SDG’s 3, 5 & 10)

The key events included meat-free campus, Planet D Drag Show, a Sustainability Market, well-being events, social media takeovers, sustainable living workshops, a bike grab, and connections to funding for good ideas.

Sustainability Week’s 16 events in seven days enabled staff and students to be involved at the highest levels we have seen, especially with our social media promotion reaching about 7,950 people.

We wanted to ensure the Drag Show’s impact reached further than our campus so gave all profits from ticket sales to Dunedin Pride. This resulted in a $1,488 donation that will go towards continuing the success of programmes like Alphabet Soup Dunedin and Rainbow Leaders, and supporting our LGBTQIA+ youth to feel empowered and connected right here in Ōtepoti (Dunedin). Facebook Event Link   Undergrad Magazine

Other examples of their work throughout the year include:

  • Toitū Toiora, Sustainability Sussed Poster – The Dunedin City Council offered funding so our Sustainability Office could have a Summer Studentship for one of the Tētēkura to develop a student flatting guide, by researching sustainability resources and opportunities relevant to students living in flats. The content intended to engage a diverse range of students and help them change to more sustainable lifestyles. To make the information accessible and attractive, it was turned into a poster that students could easily put up in their flats. We printed 250 to give away. Poster Promotion
  • Toitū Toiora, Sustainability Sussed Podcast – Our Student Leads choose topics they believe relevant to explore in podcasts aimed primarily at other students. The Student Leads have meaningful, easy korero (talks) with local experts on campus and around Aotearoa. The purpose is to deconstruct big messy topics into simple ideas everyone can use. The podcasts started on 17 March 2021 and there have been five so far. The aim is to produce 10 this year. Spotify Podcast Link
  • Toitū Taiao Social Media Campaigns – Both our Sustainability Office and Student Leads run sustainability social media campaigns. This kind of engagement cannot be underestimated. Exciting social media content and campaigns help empower and support students and staff to make changes, while also ensuring our Sustainability Office’s work is visible and accountable. Our social media audience – Facebook and Instagram from mid-2019 – is growing and currently totals about 2,790.  We use Instagram for engagement and Facebook to promote for events. Instagram Handle Link
  • Unpacked Events – This initiative started in May 2021 to highlight topical issues linked to the SDG’s. It aims to enable critical thinking that will help reduce climate anxiety while increasing awareness of each issue. The first event was Seaspiracy Unpacked where an audience of about 80 staff and students watched the controversial Netflix documentary then a panel of six experts (academic staff and students) unpacked points in the documentary to reveal the key information that was important to takeaway. This event sparked a buzz and some of the academic staff immediately asked to be involved in future unpacked events, which has created valuable relationships with academics. Facebook Event Link 

>  Environmental and social benefits

The benefits seen through operational outcomes:

  • Encouraging sustainable practices among staff and students so it becomes the norm.
  • Showing staff and students ‘easy grabs’ they can use to be more sustainable.
  • Students designing their own sustainable experience on campus.

The benefits seen through environmental and social outcomes:

  • Showing our Tētēkura their input is valued and beneficial by paying them.
  • Other students seeing the value we are placing on our Tētēkura.
  • Peer-to-peer engagement.

The benefits seen through sector benefits:

  • Inspiring our University to include youth voices in more spaces.
  • Forging strong links with our academic staff.

>  Leadership and engagement

This unique opportunity offers our students the chance to invest their passion for sustainability into designing and creating positive changes on campus from the ground up.  All Tētēkura output is student-led, which means they can advocate for change, connect with a network of like-minded people, and empower other students and staff, while designing and driving the changes they want to see on campus. Our Tētēkura also get valuable work experience while studying and we show them how much their input is valued by paying them.

>  Wider societal impact

The wider societal impact we have seen from our Tētēkura’s student-led projects include:

Increased social sustainability education and reduced inequalities – Evidence Link 1 & Evidence Link 2

Our Planet D Drag Show was designed as part of Sustainability Week to help align sustainability more to social issues, such as SDG 3, 5 & 10 (good health and well-being, gender equality, reduced inequalities). Our Tētēkura wanted to this event to maximise its benefit by giving all profits from ticket sales Dunedin Pride. This resulted in a $1,488 donation to the organisation, which will to go towards continuing the success of programmes like Alphabet Soup Dunedin and Rainbow Leaders, and supporting our LGBTQIA+ youth to feel empowered and connected right here in Ōtepoti (Dunedin).

This was an opportunity to also showcase the University’s continued commitment to having an accepting and diverse culture of excellence, while supporting our staff and students to achieve their fullest potential.

After this collaboration, we had the Otago Students Disability Association reach out to establish an official collaboration called “Our Normal”, which will showcase students with disability here at Otago and how their ‘normal’ day looks, to raise awareness about the difficulties they can face.

Enjoying nature and connecting to place
Because our students are in Dunedin for a short time, it can be hard for them to connect to a sense of place. Our Tētēkura’s peer-to-peer communications means we can deliver relevant activations, solutions and ideas that encourage students to explore and enjoy nature here in Dunedin. With a more established connection to place, students should be more likely to look after it while they are here.

Top 3 learnings
  • Students designing their own sustainable experience on campus boosts engagement.

  • The Tētēkura have increased the visibility of our Sustainability Office and our key messages.

  • Including youth in change and decision-making should be enabled in all sectors.

SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being
SDG 13 – Climate Action
SDG 17 – Partnerships to achieve the Goal
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