10 Questions - Lara Tookey - Lecturer Unitec, Department of Construction

For many females the idea of working in construction would never enter their minds – diggers, dump trucks and lots of dirt is a male dominated domain right? Chelsey asks the inspirational Lara Tookey, Lecturer, Department of Construction at Unitec why she thinks she has the best job in the world!

1.  What inspired and motivated your love of construction?

Inspired by my grandfathers and mother who were ‘craft’people, I was fascinated by the skills and attention to detail required to create something so unique. I knew I would need a career to keep me ‘entertained’ as I bore easily.  Construction has it all – ever changing projects; teams of people and working environments. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you have been responsible for putting in place the infrastructure for a new community; developing commercial hubs or new residential nodes.  What you create leaves a mark, and that mark for me is inspirational. 

2.  Your teaching philosophy is around student-centred learning – what can students expect?

Student-centered learning for me is like a jigsaw puzzle.  Each learner (you) will achieve the end goal, but your approach is varied.  My role is to facilitate your development in achieving the end goal. You will be challenged, share experiences and engage with each other. To engage successfully in the construction sector you need to have a voice and the ability to question information.

3. Having experience in tertiary institutions in South Africa, Glasgow, Singapore and now at Unitec, what does Unitec do differently?

Unitec is not a ‘traditional’ institution. The teaching and learning environment is friendly with a very hands-on approach.  We have very close links with industry sectors and various professional bodies, with final year students having access to industry based mentors.

4.  You were awarded this years’ Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award, what does that mean to you?

It is an incredible honour.  There was that initial feeling of being an ‘imposter’ – why me?  But over the past few months and having just returned from a mind-blowing two-day symposium hosted by Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence, I now know that I belong.  A butterfly cannot see their own wings, but others can.  So I can liken this award to a mirror, allowing me to see what others saw.

5.  The Unitec way of teaching is immersive and hands-on – does that mean your students get practical on the job experience or is it lecture/theory based?

We embed a vast amount of practical work into the courses to replicate real world learning.  There is a mix of theory – buildings do not build themselves – but the application of that learning through multiple scenarios / simulations, over the programme, is what we pride ourselves on.

6.  What are the types of qualifications and courses that Unitec offer for construction management?

Unitec offers a Bachelor of Construction with options in Construction Management, Quantity Surveying and Property Development.  We also offer a National Diploma in Construction with stands in Construction Management and Quantity Surveying.  We offer numerous pathways - if you are unable to gain entry into the degree programme, there is a two-year diploma.  Having achieved the diploma you can then enter into the degree.  We also have a Graduate Diploma in Construction Project Management.

7.  What book are you reading at the moment?

Depending on my mood it would be either The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M Auel, Achieving Successful Construction Projects by Ian Gardner or Heathrow’s Terminal 5: History in the Making by Sharon Doherty

8.  Are you ever too old to undertake tertiary education?

Never! For me learning is precious.  The more we learn, the more we engage with others and the more we experience.  This keeps your outlook fresh and exciting.  Whether it’s a community based course or more traditional courses, they all have something to offer.

Ironically as someone who was a reluctant secondary scholar, I am surprised at what ‘learning’ I have achieved.  Having completed my Bachelor of Science (Quantity Surveying) I realised that I had limited ‘soft’ skills, so I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Management.  Thirteen years later I completed a Graduate Diploma in Higher Education, followed shortly thereafter by Postgraduate Diploma in Education.  This year I decided to start my Masters of Construction Management. 

9.  In a fast growing technological world, what do you see as the future for tertiary learning?

Both the education and construction sectors are evolving, so what we ‘create’ as graduands, must be appropriate.  This will require educators to rethink what they do and how they do it, in a manner that is engaging, but challenging.  The pressures from government require institutions to revisit the way they use space, the time spent with students, and the environment in which learning occurs.  There will always be a place for tertiary learning.  The question should be ‘what will it look like’, not, ‘is there a future for it’. 

10.  Emigrating from South Africa nine years ago, do you now consider New Zealand home?

When I arrived in New Zealand in 2006, having just moved from South Africa to Scotland 18 months prior, I was reluctant to put down roots, just in case…

However, everything grows in New Zealand, even if you do not plant it – it was impossible not to grow roots.  I do not know if it is something in the soil, or perhaps the air, but I now call New Zealand home. 

To learn more about Unitec’s construction management courses go to: http://www.unitec.ac.nz/career-and-study-options/construction-management

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