Weaving the journey of science with culture

Environmental scientist Bryann Avendaño is one of eight international students studying in Aotearoa New Zealand invited to design his own graduation gown. It’s part of Education New Zealand’s Think New initiative, emphasising New Zealand’s unique attributes for international students and that an education here is about more than academic achievements and extends to their cultural journey.

Environmental scientist Bryann Avendaño in his graduation gown that reflects the diversity of his Latin American heritage.

From Bogotá in Colombia, Bryann is completing his PhD at the University of Canterbury in Civil and Natural Resources Engineering. He worked with world-famous Māori fashion designer Kiri Nathan to design a garment that reflects his experience.

“The education here helps me understand that as scientists, we should be kaitiaki (guardians of the land). New Zealand is putting all eyes into new things. And how to think ahead for next generations.”

Bryann believes New Zealand’s thinking about the environment and sustainability comes from the values inherent in Māori culture.

“If we, as scientists, think like Māori – connected to the land and always grateful because the land is giving us everything we need – I think we will have a different perspective,” he says.

“This gown is for next generations. The way the gown is made by many hands and lots of thinking; it’s kind of an analogy of how science is made. It’s a collective effort to create new things, innovate and make the world a better place.”

The back of each gown features a stepped Poutama pattern. Described as a staircase to heaven, it symbolises advancement and growth. Bryann’s poutama is personalised with a design based on traditional Colombian weaving using hues of red, orange yellow and purple cross-stitches.

“I chose the colours for the gown to represent the explosion of diversity that we have in Latin America and in my country, Colombia. I’m an explorer and receiving this gown represented discovering new ways to do things. This is actually new. This is New Zealand.”

The first of his family to attend university overseas, Bryann says New Zealand’s education system encourages innovation and freedom to try new things.

Bryann travelled extensively after leaving Colombia to study in the U.S and Europe and decided to study in New Zealand because of the holistic approach to education, he says. He chose Christchurch because represents an alive laboratory to understand the community resilience that the city developed in the wake of the 2011 earthquakes.

“Christchurch has a lot to teach us about resilience and building back better to other cities. It is the perfect place to study my PhD related to resilience planning.‘’

After Bryann finishes his studies, he hopes to work in local government in New Zealand and learn from local communities about resilience before taking his knowledge back to Colombia.

To inspire the next generation of scientists, he has set up two non-profit organisations in Latin America. Ultimately, he wants to bridge the gap between scientists, communities, and policy makers.

  • UC PhD student Bryann Avendaño talks about his studies and how the gown was created to reflect the diversity of his Latin American heritage in his video here.