Continuing the legacy for Ian Shirley Award recipient

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Lena Bath has been awarded the Ian Shirley Award for 2023, acknowledging her achievement in the social policy courses while studying towards a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) qualification.

Lena Bath, the recipient of the 2023 the Ian Shirley Award.

It’s been a five-year study journey for Lena, who moved to New Zealand from Hamburg, Germany over a decade ago. Starting in 2019 following the birth of her daughter, she spent the first two years in part-time study before moving into full-time study for the last three.

Lena says the recognition for excelling in social policy has her thinking back to the beginning of her study journey with Massey.

“As German is my native language, in the beginning it felt quite daunting to tackle social policy topics at tertiary level in my second language of English. It was my passion for equity and creating opportunities for change at macro and micro levels that had me invested and made my social policy courses some of the most intriguing learning experiences throughout my degree. I have an activist background, and for me it’s important to be part of the changes I want to see in the world.”

She says the courses included in her degree helped give her a strong understanding of the history and flexibility of social policy, as well as how its influence is an essential tool for progress in the existing system.

“Part of my coursework included assessing specific policy fields overseas and evaluating what had and hadn’t worked. This part of our learning was a great way to refine my argument for change. Social policy evaluation taught me to articulate the need for transformation in a language that speaks to those who hold privilege.”

Lena says it was a wonderful surprise to learn she was this year’s recipient of the Ian Shirley Award.

“I feel honoured and humbled. It is a wonderful way to celebrate students’ achievements but also a lovely way to remember and honour Ian’s legacy together with his whānau. Learning about his achievements as a fierce social justice advocate and trailblazer, and his impact on how policy is taught today, it feels quite spiritual that I started my BSW journey the year of his passing.”

Lena says being dedicated to her academic pursuits comes from a place of genuine enthusiasm.

“It all comes down to whether social work and social policy is a matter of the heart for you. If you can immerse yourself in your learning, you’ll not only achieve better grades but enjoy the journey. Make sure to trust the process and remain open to learning about yourself, connecting with those around you and growing personally and professionally as you go. The better connected you feel to your own learning journey, the more you get out of it to ultimately become a great practitioner.”

“Time management and using the services available to you also helps – use the library, marking guides, reference programmes and the pre-reading services to your advantage,” she adds.

Lena says the most memorable moment of her Massey journey was the noho marae experience with members of Massey’s Whānau Pūkenga, including Dr Paul’e Ruwhiu and Deacon Fisher.

“It was one of the most meaningful learning experiences I have ever been part of. Coming together in the safe space of Te Rangimarie marae to reflect and grow was powerful and deeply meaningful to me. A precious memory and something I would encourage future tauira to embrace fully.”

With plans to graduate later this year, Lena says she’s now focusing on the next step in her journey.

“Throughout my studies, I mainly focused on child welfare, as I believe if we strengthen our tamariki we create a better future. As a result, I took a position as caregiver social worker as soon as I was registered. Supporting caregivers directly impacts on tamariki in care, who we need to do better by. I’m also beginning my te reo Māori journey with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, which I love, and next year I hope to return to Massey to start my master’s, so watch this space!”

Lena with her daughter Frankie.

Interested in social work?

Related news

Honouring a culture of care: a spotlight on Whānau Pūkenga

Friday 15 March 2024

For this year's World Social Work Day, we caught up with Whānau Pūkenga who are passionate about keeping tikanga and mātauranga Māori at the heart of social work.

Celebrating the champions of change at the 2023 Social Work Awards

Friday 3 November 2023

The School of Social Work recently celebrated their top students, who were commended for their academic and practical excellence alongside their ongoing commitment to the field.

Top grades lead to memorial award for Social Work student

Friday 17 March 2023

Lainey Phillips has been awarded the Ian Shirley Award for 2022, which recognises significant student achievement in social policy courses.