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Wairarapa rangatahi embracing sciences

A Wairarapa STEM programme, designed to empower rangatahi Māori to embrace the scientific world and “dream big”, kicks off next week for its second year.

The Puāwai Pūrau Academy was founded last year to support young Māori to succeed in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] subjects at secondary school – and inspire them to consider further STEM study and careers in scientific fields.

At Puāwai Pūrau, ākonga Māori [Māori students] studying NCEA Level 1 science and maths received weekly one-on-one tutoring from local secondary school teachers as they prepared for assessments and exams.

They also connected with Wairarapa Māori who have succeeded in STEM fields, and toured the science departments at Victoria and Massey Universities – which helped introduce tertiary study as “a real option”.

After a successful pilot, the academy, supported by REAP Wairarapa and Māori health mentorship organisation Kia Ora Hauora, will start its first tutoring sessions for 2023 next Thursday – this time, open to all ākonga Māori taking STEM subjects at the senior level [Years 11 to 13].

Puāwai Pūrau was founded by Masterton local Waireka Collings, pouārahi Māori [Māori advisor] at NZQA and māmā of five, to help bridge the gap in STEM achievement between Māori and Pakeha students in Wairarapa.

Collings said, at present, Māori students are discouraged from pursuing STEM subjects beyond Year 11 – so those studying at higher levels can feel and under-represented in the classroom.

“This year, we wanted to reach and support as many ākonga as possible,” she said.

“Being Māori and a senior student in STEM can be a difficult and lonely experience. So, it’s important for them to know people are here for them on this journey. They can meet other students who have chosen the same pathway – and they can see their teachers are willing to contribute to their lives beyond school.

“We want our students to feel supported, connected and empowered to dream big – and to know what they can contribute to the world. And that they do not have to do it alone.”

Last year, eight teachers from four secondary schools contributed to the programme as tutors – five of whom will stay on for 2023.

The 2022 academy, Collings said, included a mix of “homework sessions”, visits to Fab Lab Masterton, and guest presentations from Wairarapa locals in STEM-related fields, such as physiotherapy and environmental science. A highlight for the ākonga was their visit to the Victoria and Massey campuses – which included a tour of the biology and engineering departments and a demonstration of the scientific formula behind music production.

The students got to experiment with the equipment and create their own song – now “the official academy anthem”.

“It helped them put science in more context. Science is not just something they learn in school – but something that enhances our creativity and informs all the things we enjoy on a daily basis,” Collings said.

“When you’re from a small town, it’s easy to build up university as something really massive and far away. But going to Vic and Massey showed the students it wasn’t as intimidating as what they thought, and it was a real option for them.”

This year’s academy would include sessions on tikanga and te reo Māori – to help the ākonga “connect with who they are, their whakapapa, and the mana whenua of Wairarapa”. These will be delivered by UCOL teacher and kapa haka leader Shari Kawana-Taylor.

“When ākonga Māori know who they are, where they come from, and feel a sense of pride in their identity, they are more likely to try new things and be resilient,” Collings said.

Last year, the academy, supported by Kia Ora Hauora, was able to secure an internship at Wairarapa Hospital for one of its students, Memphis Millward – an aspiring neurosurgeon. Collings hoped to help organise similar opportunities for this year’s cohort.

The first session for the Puāwai Pūrau Academy will be held on Thursday, 20 July from 4pm to 6pm at Hau Kainga, 15 Queen St, Masterton. For more information, email [email protected]

Matariki Riwai-Couch, of last year’s Puāwai Pūrau cohort, explores the equipment on offer at Massey University. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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