Victoria University of Wellington honours outstanding alumni

Six alumni of Victoria University of Wellington have been selected as Distinguished Alumni Award winners for 2019, recognising their outstanding contributions to fields ranging from business, to youth justice, to space exploration.

The recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Awards 2019 are business leaders Rob Campbell and Whaimutu Dewes; Pasifika academic Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop; sustainable building advocate Pamela Bell; judge, youth justice advocate and co-founder of Wellington’s Circa Theatre Judge Carolyn Henwood; and astronaut Dr Alexander Gerst.

Chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith said the award recipients had established themselves as leaders in their respective fields over the course of their careers, and were outstanding examples of what graduates from Victoria University of Wellington could achieve.

“These alumni have achieved at the very highest level and made an immeasurable difference to those around them. In their different ways, each of these award winners have demonstrated the best of our University’s values and the quality of an education from our institution. We are honoured to count them as alumni.”

The Distinguished Alumni Awards will be presented at a gala dinner in Wellington on 14 November 2019. Tickets are available at


Pamela Bell (BArch 2003, MArch 2009)

Pamela Bell was New Zealand’s first Olympic snowboarder, and went on to found the New Zealand Snowboard Academy and her own snowboarding clothing company.

After completing a Master’s degree in Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington, she established PrefabNZ, the heart of innovative construction in New Zealand, which engages, challenges, and leads on innovation and sustainability through prefabricated building methods.

Under Ms Bell’s leadership, PrefabNZ has grown to almost 400 design and construction members involved in the delivery of prebuilt technology, and is encouraging open-source designs and pattern-book smart housing for use in the New Zealand building industry.

Rob Campbell (BA 1972, BA(Hons) 1974)

Rob Campbell is a professional business director and an advocate for more equitable and responsible practices in business management.

Mr Campbell held senior roles in the trade union movement before becoming a professional director. He currently chairs the boards of Skycity Entertainment Group, Summerset Group Holdings, Tourism Holdings, and WEL Networks. He is a director for a number of other companies, and is also the owner and director of Tutanekai Investments.

Mr Campbell is an outspoken critic of a lack of diversity on boards and the need for more proactive directors. In recognition of his efforts to address these issues, in 2017 he was awarded the Beacon Award for business leader of the year by the New Zealand Shareholders Association, and Chairperson of the Year at the Deloitte Top 200 Awards.

Whaimutu Dewes, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Rangitihi (BA 1975, LLB 1977, MPA 1988)

Whaimutu Dewes is a prominent business leader and a strong advocate for te reo Māori as well as Māori economic development.

He has held a large number of governance roles in various industries, with particular expertise in the Māori fisheries sector. He is the current chairman of Sealord Group, Moana New Zealand, and Ngati Porou Seafoods, and served as a member of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission in its first 10 years.

In 2018, Mr Dewes was awarded the Māori Governance Leader Award as part of the Māori Business Leader Awards.

Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop (BA 1974, BA(Hons) 1977, MA 1982)

Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop is a trailblazing Pasifika academic and an expert in a range of Pacific development issues.

As well as undertaking Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Victoria University of Wellington, Professor Fairbairn-Dunlop was the inaugural director of the University’s Pacific Studies department, Va‘aomanu Pasifika. During her tenure, she established the influential Pacific postgraduate Talanoa national seminar series, which connects students and academics with peers around New Zealand and across the Pacific.

Professor Fairbairn-Dunlop has held posts with several United Nations agencies and she sits on a number of New Zealand government committees relating to Pasifika issues. In 2017, she was one of four commissioners appointed to oversee Samoa’s first national inquiry into family violence.

Judge Carolyn Henwood (LLB 1971)

Judge Carolyn Henwood is a District Court and Youth Court judge, and a prominent supporter of the arts.

Outside the courtroom, she helped implement Te Hurihanga, a youth justice programme, and served as chair of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, which supported people who suffered abuse or neglect while in the care of the state before 1992. She also established, and currently chairs, the Henwood Trust, which provides independent policy advice on working with young offenders. The Trust has worked extensively with iwi on a number of key initiatives.

She is a founding member of Wellington’s Circa Theatre and a foundation trustee of the Theatre Artists Charitable Trust, and remains an active member of both organisations.

Dr Alexander Gerst (MSc 2003)

Dr Alexander Gerst is a highly regarded volcanologist and astronaut, who has undertaken two missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

During graduate study at Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Gerst developed new volcano-monitoring techniques that can improve volcanic-eruption forecasting. After completing a doctorate in volcanology in Germany, he was elected as an astronaut by the European Space Agency in 2009 and has been a member of the European Astronaut Corps since then, based in the European Astronaut Centre in Germany.

He travelled into space for the first time in 2014, and returned to the ISS in 2018 as commander. He is the first German to have held this position, and only the second European.