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Exceptional student’s dreams to advance Asian development

Exceptional student’s dreams to advance Asian development a step closer

3 April 2014

An exceptional New Zealand student committed to creating a better world, with a focus on Asian development, has been awarded a scholarship to study at esteemed Duke University in the United States.

Benjamin Ayto, studying for a conjoint LLB/BA degree at the University of Otago, has received a Robertson Scholarship worth $70,000 a year. It is funded by New York philanthropist Julian Robertson.

Benjamin, a former Wellington College pupil and recipient of a University of Otago Law Faculty Scholarship, plans to focus on new and traditional ways of addressing development problems in Asia. At Duke he will take courses in philosophy, politics, economics, Asian studies and art and looks forward to “a world class academic experience and an internationally oriented and involved campus culture.”

Benjamin says that Asia is facing “myriad challenges” such as poverty and uneven development among its population, and he wants to explore how his passions for art, culture and technology could be used to achieve meaningful change in the region.

His interest in Asia began with the deep connections he has made with the Chinese culture through five years of travel, volunteering and studying the Chinese language. He was the top student in Chinese throughout his high school years – winning the National Chinese Bridge Speech Competition in 2010 – and was also placed first in English and History in his final year. In the 2013 NZQA exams, Benjamin gained outstanding scholarships in History as well as scholarships in physics, calculus, statistics, English and geography.

Benjamin, who has visited Beijing, has a long-term goal of working in Asia as a director of programmes at an organisation that offers public education, cultural and artistic conservation, and the promotion of sustainable design and technological innovation.
“Duke University has a rigorous liberal arts education and will challenge me to engage in learning across an incredibly broad academic and extra-curricular spectrum,” says Benjamin. “”I’m excited to spend the next four years expanding my ability to draw upon and emphathise with different cultural, ideological and disciplinary perspectives in pursuit of that goal.”

Talented in the performing arts, Benjamin took the helm of his school’s biennial Stage Challenge entry, an enterprise which involved the planning and integration of a dance production with over 120 students. Benjamin’s commitment as director and choreographer united diverse groups within the college and earned him both the Eddie Charles Cup and the Ministry of Youth Development Award for Outstanding Student Leadership.

A college Prefect and the Head of Student Welfare, Benjamin also served as the Vice President of the International Students Association, was selected to attend the National Model United Nations, and represented New Zealand at the Global Positioning Leaders’ Forum in China last year.

The Robertson Programme was established by Julian Robertson and his late wife Josie in 2000 with a $US24 million gift.

Up to three Robertson Scholarships are offered in New Zealand annually, covering free tuition, board and a living allowance for up to four years. Selection is focused on leadership ability, along with academic achievement, commitment to community service, collaborative spirit, courage and an ethical outlook.

Scholarships are also offered in Australia, Sweden and the United States.

The Robertson Scholars Programme in New Zealand is administered by Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara. More information about the scholarship can be found at


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