Naeisha Ngatuvai-McClain

PhD Student Naeisha Ngatuvai-McClain Receives Fulbright Award to New Zealand

As a third-year PhD student in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Urban Education program, Naeisha Ngatuvai-McClain (she/they) sees education as a broad field of study that extends beyond traditional learning contexts.

“People typically think of education as something that happens only within a schooling space, but I approach education as what we learn through our relationships that we have with people,” says Ngatuvai-McClain.

That focus on relationality — combined with a drive to hear and share stories of queer and gender non-conforming Oceanic people — is at the heart of a research project that Ngatuvai-McClain will conduct in New Zealand through an award from the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Beginning in January 2025, Ngatuvai-McClain will spend 10 months in Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu, the Māori language name for New Zealand. As a scholar whose research blends education, Pacific studies, queer studies, and religious studies, Ngatuvai-McClain’s project will examine how queer and gender non-conforming Oceanic people negotiate expressions of love, acceptance, and belonging within familial relationships that may be influenced by Oceanic cultural traditions and conservative forms of Christianity.

“My work focuses on the Oceanic diaspora with the hope for a future that embraces all of the different identities that we as Oceanic people hold, which are often in opposition to institutions that have been created for us, but not by us,” says Ngatuvai-McClain, who is of Tongan descent. “This project is about the path that queer and gender non-conforming Oceanic people are continuously taking, and the ways they can create relationships of care and love that extend beyond just relationships with other humans.” 

Ngatuvai-McClain will conduct a qualitative study using kōrero/talanoa sessions, which are informal, collective discussion settings where participants share their stories and experiences. Ngatuvai-McClain aims to examine their experiences with a notion called tauhi vā, which is how people sustain and maintain good relationships with each other and their surroundings.

In addition to collaborating with researchers at the University of Auckland, Ngatuvai-McClain will work with RainbowYOUTH, an organization in Auckland that provides services and resources for LGBTQIA+ youth populations. Ngatuvai-McClain also plans to collaborate with participants on a project that will allow them to share their stories of resistance, love, care, and becoming.

Ngatuvai-McClain says the Pitt Education PhD program has taught them to develop a more critical lens to their research. She values the mentoring relationship with her advisor, assistant professor Shanyce L. Campbell, who helped Ngatuvai-McClain center the research and apply for the Fulbright. 

“I’ve been fortunate to have really great professors within the School of Education that have helped me along the path of becoming the critical scholar that I want to be,” says Ngatuvai-McClain.

Two Alumni to Pursue Fulbright Programs in Taiwan

In addition to Ngatuvai-McClain, two Pitt Education alumni were named 2024-2025 award recipients by the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. 

Delphie Backs, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Applied Developmental Psychology in 2023, earned a Fulbright to spend a year teaching in Taiwan before she plans to move to Philadelphia to teach with Teach for America.

Brandon Yee, a 2023 alumnus of the Pitt Education Master of Arts in Teaching program, will also complete his Fulbright in Taiwan by serving as an English teaching assistant. The experience will further his career as an ESL teacher and contribute to Taiwan’s initiative to reach English-Chinese bilingualism by 2030.

Learn more about the University of Pittsburgh students and alumni who comprise the 2024-2025 cohort of Fulbright winners.