Disaster management leaders named as Distinguished Professors

Monday 8 July 2024

Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas has announced the appointment of Professors David Johnston and Christine Kenney as Distinguished Professors.

Massey's two new Distinguished Professors.

Last updated: Wednesday 10 July 2024

The title of Distinguished Professor is bestowed on up to 15 Massey Professors who have achieved outstanding international eminence in their fields. Both new appointees work within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in the field of disaster management.

Professor Thomas says, "The awarding of such prestigious titles to two scientists in the field of disaster management signals the importance the university places on mitigating the negative effect of climate change and adverse natural events, such as earthquakes, for not only New Zealanders but also the international communities we engage with."

Distinguished Professor David Johnston is the Director of the Joint Centre for Disaster Research within the School of Psychology. He is also the Deputy Director of the New Zealand Centre for Earthquake Resilience. Distinguished Professor Johnston earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science at the University of Canterbury before completing a PhD in emergency management at Massey.

He then spent time working at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, the University of Canterbury and was an Honorary Professor at University College of London. He has more than 30 years of research experience, and his work on multiagency community engagement during disaster recovery informed the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority wellbeing programme and, more recently, recovery programmes for COVID-19 and the Auckland floods in early 2023.  

He has authored or co-authored 260 articles in leading international peer-review journals in the fields of disaster management and is the editor of The Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies. He is also a member of the editorial boards for two international disaster management journals. He is a member of numerous international scientific working groups and committees, and is frequently approached to provide expert advice to international agencies.

In 2016, Distinguished Professor Johnston received the Civil Defence Emergency Management Ministerial Award. He was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering in 2019 and has twice been on the winning team for the Massey University Team Research Medal. He has also nurtured the careers of numerous emergency management researchers and is a highly sought-after doctoral supervisor, having supervised 35 PhDs and 16 master’s projects to completion.

College of Humanities and Social Sciences Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Cynthia White says, "Distinguished Professor Johnston is an exemplary academic who has made deep connections between his outstanding scholarship and his advocacy for improved and more resilient disaster management in New Zealand and internationally. He is a core leader within the College and is eminently deserving of this title."

Distinguished Professor Christine Kenney, Te ​Ātiawa ki Kāpiti, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Toarangatira, works in the discipline of disaster risk reduction in the School of Psychology. She is internationally recognised as a pre-eminent social scientist and policy leader in disaster risk reduction. She is also well known globally as the foremost science leader in the recently established field of indigenous disaster risk reduction, a research field she created and continues to pioneer.

She started her career with a Bachelor in Midwifery from Massey University, before completing a Bachelor of Arts awarded with distinction. She then completed a PhD in 2010, which was included in the Dean's List of Exceptional Theses. She is currently the Co-Director of Research in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences after a career traversing Canada, Australia, China and New Zealand.

Distinguished Professor Kenney's indigenous paradigm-situated research produced the first indigenous emergency management theory underpinned by cultural values and has been recognised as best practice science by the United Nations, where just over one per cent of studies are accepted. She has received grants from every major science funding body in New Zealand, and been a principal investigator on projects allocated more than $12 million in funding, including three Marsden Grants and one Endeavour Grant.

Distinguished Professor Kenney has received multiple accolades and is sought after as a conference speaker in New Zealand and internationally. She is an in-demand postgraduate supervisor, known for her supervising, mentoring and nurturing of young researchers. She is a member of the Massey University Research Committee, the Doctoral Research Committee and is a Marsden and Endeavour Grant mentor.

Professor White says, "Distinguished Professor Kenney is outstanding in every aspect as an academic leader, and the professionalism she enacts in all of her leadership roles has resulted in numerous national and international appointments. Her exceptional work in indigenous disaster risk reduction created a new research field and has led to the global prominence required for a Distinguished Professor.”

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