An internship to SING about

12 July 2017

Nauvoo Begman

Nauvoo Begman, biological sciences student, was selected to attend the summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics (SING USA)

Excited is an understatement for biological sciences student Nauvoo Begman. The University of Waikato student is in Arizona, USA this week with his Waikato team attending the summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics (SING USA).

Nauvoo, from Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Hine descent, says he is honoured to have received an internship from the University of Waikato to attend SING USA. “I couldn’t believe it when I found out I was going,” he says. “I reread the email over and over again to check I hadn’t made a mistake.” The one-week workshop brings indigenous people, including students and academics, from across the USA to discuss how the study of genetic material can be used as a tool for indigenous peoples' communities.

One of the key goals of the workshop is to close the gap between those in genomics and indigenous people. “Indigenous people can benefit from understanding and being a part of genomics,” explains Nauvoo. “SING is an opportunity to offer education to indigenous people, but also encourage them to enter the field.” An indigenous person himself, Nauvoo says he feels proud to be Māori and focusing on genomics.

Nauvoo originally wanted to study computer science. He chose the University of Waikato because of its international recognition. “But I found myself just as interested in biology as I was in computers,” he says. “The fact DNA could build such complex things amazed me.” Nauvoo swapped to biology but continued to study computer science papers. “I’m really interested in combining computer science and biology now,” he says. “It’s a concept called biotechnology.”

Associate Professor Māui Hudson is attending SING as an invited speaker and says Nauvoo’s interest in future areas of science comes down to his inquisitive nature. “Nauvoo is developing skills that could lead him into bioinformatics, an area where there are almost no Māori students,” says Māui.

Māui recently led research focused on Māori views on Genomic Research and Biobanking. The project was based out of Waikato’s Te Mata Hautū Taketake Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre and produced guidelines that have been adopted nationally. Māui is now helping to build capacity and understanding of genomics through a New Zealand-based version of the SING programme called SING Aotearoa. This initiative, now in its second year, was funded through a Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund project and will now continue with the support of Genomics Aotearoa, a new entity supported by the Strategic Science Infrastructure Fund.

SING Aotearoa selected Nauvoo to attend their Auckland workshop in January. Nauvoo was then one of three SING Aotearoa participants selected to receive a scholarship to attend the SING workshop in Arizona.  “Our aim is to allow Nauvoo to further his learning around the technical, ethical, social and cultural aspects of genomics,” says Māui. “The workshop will help him develop relationships with other indigenous students and faculty working in this exciting field.”

Excited is a word Nauvoo uses a lot to talk about his internship with SING, but there is one thing that he wasn’t so excited for. “It’s around 40 degrees in Arizona,” he says. “Do you know how hot that is? I’m not excited about that.”