Thursday, 21 March 2019


Whitianga academic winner of inaugural Visiting Postgraduate Fellowship at university in the Netherlands

By Suzanne Hansen  

Whitianga’s Penny University founder and convener, Stella Pennell has won the inaugural Visiting Postgraduate Fellowship at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Wageningen University, 30 minutes southeast of Amsterdam, has a close academic relationship with Massey University, where Stella is pursuing her PhD in sociology. Stella is off to Wageningen in early September for three months, where she will immerse herself in an environment of focused academia. She will work closely with Dr Bram Büscher, the chairman of Wageningen’s Sociology of Development and Change Group.

Dr Büscher’s research in the sociology of ecotourism platforms bears similarities to Stella’s research in new platform capitalism models, such as Airbnb, and their effects on regional tourism. Stella will live in the historic town of Wageningen and share offices and facilities with the university’s Department of Sociology. She will also be asked to present her research and give guest lectures at the university while she is there.

In nominating Stella for this honour, her Massey University PhD supervisor, Dr Warwick Tie described Stella as an emerging scholar who presents a high level of academic excellence almost devoid of any ego. Dr Tie suggested that Stella’s sympathetic considerations of opinions other than her own, her focus on learning through other people’s experiences and her inclusiveness and wit, will serve her well in this academic venture. 

“With her enthusiasm and commitment, Stella exhibits a consistent state of leadership among her peers and colleagues and I doubt that she is even aware of this,” said Dr Tie. “I have no doubt that Stella’s contribution to the academic community at Wageningen will testify to her numerous qualities.”

Stella came late in life to the world of academia. More than nine years ago, as a single mother packing up her daughter, Shannon for university, she prepared herself to give Shannon the “mother lecture” about her university life ahead. Instead, Stella got a lecture back from her daughter about doing it herself.

Stella sat her first psychology paper soon after and just kept going. She figured out that she had a passion for learning and finished her undergraduate studies with a double degree in psychology and sociology. She moved on to her master’s thesis on the topic of the sociology of “pre-retiree in-migration” and the role that volunteering plays in integrating pre-retirees into their new community. Stella also has a passion for distance learning. She teaches an introductory sociology course for Massey University from her home in Whitianga. She is convinced of the importance giving people access to higher education without the need to leave rural communities.

Her other baby, Penny University will be on hold until Stella returns. She will be away until early December. Upon her return, she hopes to have completed her first draft of her PhD.



Should small businesses and farms be made subject to capital gains tax?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.