HECUA faculty

Faculty Profile: Charles Dawson, HECUA New Zealand

We love highlighting the stories of students here on the HECUA blog, but occasionally we’d also like to introduce you to members of our hardworking staff and faculty. We’re starting out our staff profile series with New Zealand Program Co-Director Charles Dawson. Charles was kind enough to sit down with us after a long day of campus visits this week and answer a series of questions. Charles is our guinea pig for this series, so if there’s anything you’d like to see included in these profiles in the future, feel free to make requests! Just email lohmans@hecua.org.

Here’s Charles:

What’s your favorite part of the HECUA semester?

“Being able to show students some really amazing community projects, and introduce them to people who are doing ground breaking work in New Zealand.” Charles gives as an example the trip HECUA students take to the tiny beach town of Raglan, which houses a community-supported non-profit waste and recycling plant that has exported its “No Waste” model throughout the country. Read more about Raglan here:  http://www.good.net.nz/article/2014/10/waste-not.


A man stands on a mound of bundled recycled products in the back of a truck.

Photo from New Zealand Fall 2015, of Raglan’s X-Treme Zero Waste. Photo credit Ratih Sutrisno. 

Charles adds that it’s really wonderful to watch students thrive in their internship placements and independent research projects once they’ve settled in Wellington. He knows of at least two students who’ve expanded these projects beyond the class, and are continuing their studies on their home campus.

What’s been a challenge?

It was difficult to get Charles to name a negative feature of his time in the HECUA classroom, but he would say that the comprehensive nature of the program means that, “sometimes the teaching challenge is leaving enough time for discussion. Collaborative teaching means students are driving the inquiry, and this requires us to work very hard to balance many aspects of the program. The experience is so rich, so packed.”

How would describe your teaching philosophy?

Charles’ teaching philosophy is informed by his own lived experience. “I grew up with social justice issues absolutely saturating the family home. My father worked as a defense attorney for Pacific Island peoples involved in immigration law disputes. I’ve had my own experiential learning journeys, traveling through India and Bolivia. Having worked in policy, outside of academia, I do find it helpful to move into applied spaces, to discuss issues that make a difference to New Zealand communities. I really like connecting students to community leaders, people who are exemplars of hope and the restoration of spirit and community.”

Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Charles’ father, Martin, was a strong advocate for the rights of the Maori people in New Zealand. Martin’s work on the tribal understanding of the rights of the Whanganui River meant that young Charles, as a 20 year old with a freshly minted undergraduate degree in history, was invited to travel the length of that river by canoe in a ceremonial journey. He says, “that river journey was where I first saw place, memory, identity really lived out simultaneously. The experience changed my understanding of learning. I had just finished my degree at Victoria University in Wellington, but seeing the issues I’d studied played out on the ground, and particularly seeing how the elderly Maori people on the trip nourished their traditions brought history to life for me.” Charles spent years studying the literary traditions of Pacific Island and Native American peoples in Honors, Masters, and Ph.D programs.  He describes the long journey from student to HECUA director in this way, “My Ph.D thesis from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver was titled “Writing the Memory of Rivers.” As you can see, that journey as a 20 year old had a tremendous impact on me. I worked in policy for a while, after I earned my doctorate, in the area of treaty relationships. My family and I traveled and lived internationally. When we moved back to New Zealand, I heard that Peter Horsley was looking for an assistant. When I read through the HECUA website, and saw the goals and the mission, I felt that my work and love of teaching and learning fell into place with this philosophy perfectly. I feel fortunate to facilitate these students’ experiences.

We think Charles is a perfect fit for HECUA, too. Photo: Program Representative Lauren White and Charles on a spontaneous hike during a visit to Colorado College. 

Ok, what’s one surprising thing? 

I’m a lapsed black belt in ken po karate. No, don’t write that!


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