Karen O’Leary

We spoke with alumna Karen O’Leary—an early childhood teacher known to most of us as ‘Officer’ O’Leary from the television show Wellington Paranormal.

Karen O'Leary

Officer Karen O’Leary from Wellington Paranormal has become a familiar face, using humour to impart important advice on behalf of the New Zealand Police during the COVID-19 lockdown. From today she’ll be pairing her acting skills with more than 20 years’ experience as an early childhood teacher by providing helpful advice for parents at home with young children as part of the home learning education television channel.

We spoke to Karen ahead of the channel’s debut and learnt it was the experience of working with a couple of key lecturers at the Wellington Faculty of Education that gave her the foundation for both careers—learning the value of authentic and engaging ways of sharing knowledge.

Karen began her Bachelor of Education focusing on primary education, but a stint doing relief teaching in the early childhood sector led to a change in focus. She says her lecturers, particularly Anita Mortlock, were really inspiring, engaging, and passionate about early childhood education and the value it can have for children and families. “I thought, hopefully I can be like her one day.”

Karen believes the most useful thing she learnt in her tertiary education was the value of relationships and embracing differences. “Relationships with people are the most crucial thing you can develop and spend time investing in … If you get relationships right and know how to relate to a diverse range of people in a positive way, that sets you up for success.”

After more than 20 years with Adelaide Childcare Centre, most recently as head teacher, Karen has learnt to juggle the demands of her two careers and says she is very lucky to have the support of her co-workers. And it’s thanks to that support that allowed many of us to see Karen in character as ‘Officer’ O’Leary—first as one of the leads in Wellington Paranormal and more recently fronting a campaign for the New Zealand Police.

“If someone had said to me you are going to become the face of COVID-19, I would have said firstly ‘what’s COVID?’, and secondly ‘I doubt it!’ ... Full credit to the New Zealand Police for using entertainment and humour to get their message across and really glad Minogue and I could help out.”

You can hear more about Karen’s time at the University, her favourite lecturers, and her passion for early childhood education by listening to their interview with the University's Sarah Forster.