Gail Pacheco was just 15 when Iraqi troops invaded her home country of Kuwait.

The AUT professor still recalls gun-toting soldiers in her living room, telling her to play the piano for their entertainment.

Pacheco, who this week received AUT's top award, the University Medal, has built a career on researching issues such as the minimum wage, the gender pay gap and mapping New Zealand's poorest and most transient communities.

She says the trauma of the 1990 Iraq attack and subsequent escape with her family contributed to a passion for applying her economic research to the lives of the most

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Gail Pacheco: