Monthly Archives: May 2017

I love learning more about what our students do and create in life after their graduation.  As part of that process we host two evenings per year where companies who wish to recruit our Engineering Science and Biomedical Engineering students make presentations to our students.  This year's events were really exciting - if I didn't already have an Engineering Science degree I'd be wanting to sign up!

The companies presenting were a mix of large NZX40 listed companies, through to consultancies, through to a growing mix of vibrant mix of start-up ventures who are growing exponentially.  One of the most unsual start-ups is Soul Machines.  They work on avatars with emotional intelligence.  "Emotional Intelligence is at the heart of forming engaging interactions with people. By adding El to our avatars, it also gives them the ability to connect and engage users on an emotional level. Our avatars can recognize emotional expression by analyzing facial expressions and vocal expression in real time." (from

How do Soul Machines take us to this brave new world?  Dr Mark Sagar, the founder of Soul Machines speaks about some of that technology in a TED talk here.

Mark gave that talk in late 2014 - at that stage he was based at the University of Auckland.  Fast forward to late 2016 and Soul Machines had been formed and had attracted $US 7.5 million in venture capital funding.  The company's unique blend of expertise is now creating avatars that are set to revolutionise the way we interact with computers - for example in a project the company has with Australian government where Cate Blanchett is providing the voice for an avatar which will support disabled Australians.

I think it's awesome that one of our Biomedical Engineering degree graduates from last year's class now has a job title of "Avatar Engineer".  She's part of the journey Soul Machines are o to bring us emotionally intelligent technology.

Yesterday was the May graduation ceremony at the University.  The vibrant procession of staff and graduates moving down Queen St (Auckland's main street) is always a fun sight.   It's a wonderful opportunity to meet friends and family members who have supported our graduates on their journey through their degrees.  The day ends with the formal presentation of degrees on stage at the Aotea Centre.  I was seated at the side of the stage and could see almost all the graduates "grow an inch taller" as they proudly walked across the stage to receive their degrees, to applause from the audience in a theatre that seats over 2,100 people.

Graduation robes

For me graduation is chance to reflect on the difference we make in the life of our students.  After all that is a big part of what "gets me out of bed" in the morning.  However I know the process of getting a degree is not easy - so is it worth it?

Universities NZ researched the value of a degree in 2016.  They found:

“A typical university graduate will earn around $1.6m more over their working life than a non-graduate.  This is much higher for a medical doctor ($4m), professional engineers ($3m) and information technology graduates ($2m), but is still high for arts graduates – with an average earnings premium of around $1m to 1.3m (depending upon subject)."

Those numbers definitely imply the effort to get a degree in engineering will (on average) significantly improve the financial circumstances of our students over their lifetimes.  Hopefully that thought can act as "light at the end of the tunnel" for students facing financial difficulties during their degrees.    Students at the University of Auckland in financial distress should consult the resources here for information on hardship grants and the AUSA food bank.