First Master in Professional Supervision graduate is ‘proud Papakura boy’ 

Social Worker Feleti Lotulelei, Tainui, ‘Eua – Tonga is Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland’s first graduate from the Master’s in Professional Supervision programme. 

The proudly Papakura born and raised 31-year-old currently works for Oranga Tamariki. He said completing postgraduate studies had reshaped his approach to supervision within social work. 

“It was like a gateway to another world… I always thought supervision was a dumping ground to vent your frustrations and then get on with the mahi again.” 

Instead Lotulelei discovered the science that sits behind supervision practice, championing critical reflective practice and reshaping his approach to supervision. 

“It provides the foundation of my supervisory practice. Going from a hierarchical approach in which I was familiar with, to professional supervision theory advocating for creating the vā (the sacred space between) for myself and the supervisees.”

Emphasising that in taking the journey together towards a new understanding of practice was a far better fit when it came to best practice and relating to those he works with.

As the social work field moves toward a new era of professionalism, Lotulelei says bringing about effective change required a paradigm shift and that for many the process of reflection was unfamiliar territory. 

“I’ve had similar experiences with others having the opinion that the way to do things is the way that it has always been done.” 

However, he says this practice was outdated, and professional supervision provides the platform to bring about effective change. 

“By encouraging quality professional supervision, we are able to shift that mentality of responding with process driven practice versus ‘informed’ safe practice.” 

Dr Matt Rankine, Senior Lecturer from the University’s faculty of Education and Social Work says Lotulelei is the first graduate of the Masters in Professional Supervision.  

“Feleti works for Oranga Tamariki as a statutory social worker, so this is a great example of the many students who come into the programme who are already engaged in full time professional work and successfully complete post graduate study.” 


Pursuing university studies was never on the social work supervisor’s agenda but he says faith led him toward the ‘helping profession.’  First volunteering as a youth worker after graduating from Papakura High School almost 14 years ago, he took the next step of completing a Bachelor of Social Work degree thanks to a scholarship from the Bongard family.  

“I sort of fell into the field, but I knew this is the path that God had created for me. I’ve been blessed each step I’ve taken, always trying to be faithful and obedient along the way.” 

He overcame the challenge of having to work and study fulltime with the help of colleagues providing flexibility to attend classes and a supportive family. 

“Everyone knows the struggles of paying off a student loan and trying to get by.  The struggle was real, Mie goreng became my new go to!” he laughs. 

Grateful for the village of people that have carried him through the journey, Lotulelei says everyone who has supported him should have their names added on his Master’s degree.

“I feel like all Pasifika people, we have an obligation to those who have paved the way for us to be where we are today.  My family from Tonga (and Aotearoa New Zealand) did not come from a rich background,” he says of honouring the sacrifices and challenges his family faced to realise his aspirations. 

“I told my Dad I wanted to wear a ta’ovala (fine mat worn around the waist) to graduation.  He asked me what ta’ovala I had to wear to graduation?

My sister and I joked with him, saying ‘you’re the Tongan, you should know?

He replied ‘I never had a graduation.’ This broke me. This is why we do it. We’re all graduating on that day.” 

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