Letuimanu’asina grew up in Samoa and came to study at Victoria University of Wellington on a New Zealand Aid scholarship, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English Literature and a Diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language. She went on to complete a doctorate in English at the University of New South Wales, after joining the National University of Samoa in 1987 as a lecturer in English, rising to become a professor in English and applied linguistics. Her long service at the National University of Samoa culminated in her appointment as Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Currently she is chief executive of the Samoa Qualifications Authority.
Alongside her academic career, Letuimanu’asina has established herself as one of Samoa’s leading poets and writers of short stories. Her writing is notable for its blending of the Samoan and English languages, which echoes her academic interest in bilingualism in Samoa and the connections between language use and cultural identity.
The University’s Chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith says the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature acknowledges Letuimanu’asina’s commitment to developing a bilingual Samoan–English education system, as well as her impressive body of work as a poet and author.
“Letuimanu’asina is an outstanding example of the type of graduate we aim to produce at Victoria University of Wellington. Both her creative and academic writing are grounded in a deep commitment to her society, and her academic leadership and service has done much to support Samoan students eager to further their education in Samoa and overseas,” Mr Paviour-Smith says.
Letuimanu’asina has served on a number of boards responsible for education and development at the Commonwealth, Pacific, and Samoan levels. She has always been a strong advocate for Pacific women graduates, and is a former president of the Samoa Association of Women Graduates and a founding member of the Pacific Graduate Women’s Network. In 2006, then Prime Minister Helen Clark presented her with a Prime Minister’s Award for Emerging Pacific Leaders in recognition of her commitment to initiating and supporting educational projects to help young women in education. The award enabled her to study at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
“Letuimanu’asina’s leadership and desire to serve others have been an inspiration to many across the Pacific, and make her a fitting recipient of this honorary doctorate,” Mr Paviour-Smith says.
The Victoria University of Wellington Council conferred an honorary doctorate on Letuimanu’asina Dr Emma Kruse Va’ai at a graduation ceremony on Thursday 16 May.