We chat with Jonathan Leaver, an Associate Professor and Research Leader in the School of Engineering at Unitec.

What is your role at Unitec?

I am an Associate Professor and Research Leader in the School of Engineering.

Why did you decide to enter the world of academia?

In my late 40’s my job as a Regional Manager and Chief Petroleum and Geothermal Inspector with a self-funding group of the Ministry of Commerce was going to be disbanded as the group was subsumed into what is now Worksafe. As I had a post graduate Diploma in Geothermal Energy Technology from Auckland and a Masterate in Petroleum Engineering from Stanford University I already had significant experience with both academia and research. When I saw the job of Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Unitec advertised I applied and after due process was appointed. Wanting to be fully engaged in the research aspect of academia I immediately enrolled in a PhD at Auckland focused on the dynamics of geothermal features.

What subject do you most enjoy teaching your engineering students and why?

I most enjoy teaching students the fundamental engineering principles especially in mechanics. If students get the basics right, they have a good foundation on which to build their depth of expertise.  I like to see students thinking about what you have taught and then asking the “what if” questions. It’s great to be part of growing the students’ confidence in their own abilities.

How does Unitec embrace diversity?

Under a recently developed Code of Conduct, Unitec has formalised its ethos that everyone in our diverse academic community are treated with dignity and respect. There is a special partnership between Unitec and Maori established under the charter of Te Noho Kotahitanga which is supported with designated academic liaison staff for both Maori and Pacifica students. The diversity of Unitec staff along with that of the students makes for a stimulating environment.

There are more and more people taking up engineering as their second or third career.  It’s never too late to learn.  What other careers have your former students had?

I have had students who were information managers, taxi drivers, mathematicians, labourers, interpreters, mechanics, landscapers, officers in the armed forces, hospitality workers, and prison officers. Just to name a few.

How did you get involved with Engineering New Zealand?

My first contact goes back to gaining registration four years after graduation under the NZ Institution of Engineers. With my eventual move to Unitec I was involved in promoting the benefits of Engineering New Zealand student membership, hosting Engineering New Zealand staff at Unitec for information sessions, attending various Engineering New Zealand awards, branch and special event meetings and liaising with Engineering New Zealand accreditation personnel. I have almost 20 years of experience either as a volunteer Practice Area Assessor for engineers wanting Chartered Professional status or as a Knowledge Assessor for alternative path engineers wanting to be benchmarked against Washington Accord standards as a Professional engineer. I have also been involved with international reviews in Fiji and the UK. This experience has been very helpful in guiding Unitec students in their aspirations to maximise their potential.

What is your favourite piece of engineering in Auckland?

There are a plethora of excellent infrastructure and structural projects but my favourite piece is the Hillcrest Rd overbridge on the Northern Gateway toll road. The subtle deck curve aligns harmoniously with the surrounding terrain and the red angled support legs remind me of the many pukekos that stroll the grassy embankments. Simple but elegant.

What do you do in your spare time?

Spending time with my wife, our three children and their spouses, along with six grandchildren who are split between the South Island and Australia is a natural favourite. I enjoy keeping fit with cross training. Among the more satisfying achievements were winning a silver medal in the 400 m at the World Masters Games in Auckland in 2017, and completing the Auckland marathon and the Rangitoto Island to St Heliers swim some years ago. I enjoy tennis and golf, and as a Christian enjoy discussions on faith and life with friends from many backgrounds and cultures.