Social Work Professor’s Fulbright Will Take Her to New Zealand

Posted: December 23, 2009 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: December 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty

Halaevalu Ofahengaue Vakalahi

Halaevalu Ofahengaue Vakalahi

Halaevalu F. Ofahengaue Vakalahi, associate professor in the Department of Social Work in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), was recently granted a prestigious Fulbright Faculty Scholar award.

Beginning in February 2010, Vakalahi will study the meaning and role of grandparents among the Maori and Pacific Islander population in the island nation of New Zealand. Her host university is Massey University, Palmerston-North.

“I’ll be interviewing grandparents and conducting focus groups with grandchildren,” says Vakalahi.

This project builds upon previous research Vakalahi has worked on over the past decade, she says. Her recent publications include articles about grandparenting in the Tongan culture and Pacific Islander youth, and current research includes a study on the health and well-being of Samoan and Tongan elders.

“I am a Pacific Islander woman, so this is core on a personal and professional level,” Vakalahi says. “New Zealand has large populations of Pacific Islanders similar to Hawaii, so these two locations are great for study.

“Grandparents are central to the survival of my Pacific Islander culture, and grandchildren are carriers of the culture,” Vakalahi says. “The cultural aspect of my research is my passion.”

Vakalahi will spend the month of February in New Zealand. She will return to New Zealand in the summer, for a total of four months. The Fulbright award covers the cost of travel, living expenses and research.

Vakalahi also was appointed a Hartford Social Work Faculty Fellow for the John A. Hartford Foundation to study the health and well-being of Pacific Islander grandparents.

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