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Meet, Vaoiva.

Dr Vaoiva (Iva) Ponton is a Senior Research Fellow and Academic Advisor at Griffith University. Her doctoral research focused on the motivations, concerns, and educational challenges of Melbourne-based Samoan students. With a career spanning over 25 years, Dr Ponton is dedicated to enhancing student success in the transition from school to tertiary education and a strong advocate for employing Pacific methodologies to support communities in achieving educational and social outcomes. 

Dr. Vaoiva (Iva) Natapu-Ponton


Sitting with Dr. Vaoiva Natapu-Ponton, you immediately feel the warmth and passion she carries for education and her Samoan heritage. From her roots in Moata’a, Apolima, Iva, and Saipipi, to her scholarly achievements at The University of Melbourne, Dr. Natapu-Ponton’s story is a remarkable narrative of resilience, dedication, and success. 


“Balancing a Doctorate in Education as a full-time student while managing educational leadership roles and raising three young children was challenging,” she shares with a smile. “But with incredible support from my family, especially my husband Cole, I realised that achieving ambitious educational goals is definitely possible.” 

Dr. Natapu-Ponton’s research focuses on the motivations and barriers faced by Melbourne-based Samoan students. “We explored what drives them and what they struggle with. It was all about empowering them to use their cultural values as strengths in their educational journey,” she explains. Following her thesis, her participants and their families had the opportunity to engage further through Vaka Pasifika Academic Camps at Australian National University (ANU), thanks to funding that enabled deeply enriching experiences under the guidance of Prof. Katerina Teaiwa and her team. 


With over 25 years as an educator and researcher, Dr. Natapu-Ponton is dedicated to enhancing student transitions from school to tertiary education.  “Pacific Indigenous Methodologies are close to my heart. They’re not just effective academically; they resonate well with our community’s social outcomes too.”Her commitment extends beyond professional settings. “I loved volunteering at the schools my children attended here in Australia and back in Auckland. It was about being there, on the ground, supporting not just my kids but many others in their learning journey.” 

For educators working with Pasifika students, Dr. Natapu-Ponton offers this advice “Really get to know your learners and their families. Building a positive rapport is crucial. Once students feel cared for, their engagement and willingness to participate skyrocket.”  She also touches on the importance of challenging the dominant educational narratives that favour Western methodologies, adding that "incorporating Pacific methodologies broadens perspectives, making learning inclusive for everyone. It’s about valuing diverse ways of knowing and being, which benefits all learners.”  Reflecting on her own experiences in the classroom, she says, “it’s all about making sure learners can navigate educational spaces effectively. I want them to achieve outcomes they’re proud of, knowing that these align with real employment opportunities later on.” 


Dr. Vaoiva Natapu-Ponton remains a steadfast champion of educational innovation and cultural integration. Her journey and efforts continue to enrich the educational landscapes of Samoa, Aotearoa, and Australia, creating vibrant and inclusive pathways for future generations of Pasifika learners. 

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