University provides Māori youth with STEM opportunities

6 September 2022

Virtual reality was one of the topics in focus at the Pūhoro wānanga at Waikato University this week.

It was a taste of University life for 76 Māori high school students from around the Waikato, who attended a one-day Pūhoro STEMM Academy regional wānanga yesterday at the University of Waikato, hosted by the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences.

The Year 11 and 12 students from seven local high schools - Te Kauwhata College, Fraser High School, Ōtorohanga College, Tai Wānanga Ki Ruakura, Hillcrest High School, Fairfield College and Waikato Diocesan School for Girls - spent the day engaged in activities and workshops based around Waikato-Tainui pūrakau (local iwi narratives) linked to STEMM subjects.

The Pūhoro programme works with Māori high school students to ignite their passion for STEMM subjects - science, technology, engineering, maths and Mātauranga (Māori knowledge), hoping to inspire them into STEMM tertiary study and careers.

It is the first year the programme has run in the Waikato region, after the collaboration between the University of Waikato and the Pūhoro Charitable Trust was announced last year.

Ōtorohanga College Year 12 student Kyle Davis enjoyed the Pūhoro wānanga at the University of Waikato on Monday.

Ōtorohanga College Year 12 student Kyle Davis (Ngāti Maniapoto) was in his second year of the programme - having participated last year when he was a student at Te Pā o Rākaihautū in Christchurch.

“It’s taught me a lot and helped me with school work, and made everything easier. I like that it incorporates Māori culture, and then you can relate what you do in everyday life to what your ancestors used to do,” said Kyle, 16.

His highlight of the programme was building a dam during one of the workshops. He is currently considering a career in engineering or architecture.

“I don’t think I’d be considering those if I hadn’t come to Pūhoro,” said Kyle.

Another student, Tania Pakinga, 15 (Ngati Tamaterā, Waikato Tainui), from Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, said she enjoyed the one-day wānanga, including the opportunity to get to know other students and learn more about te ao Māori (the Māori world).

“This programme opens up more life opportunities in STEM subjects for young Māori,” said Tania.

Launched in 2016, Pūhoro was developed in response to national low engagement of Māori in STEM-related career pathways and lower numbers of Māori representation in science and technology industries in Aotearoa. The programme is run in Auckland, Rotorua, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu and Christchurch.

Tania Pakinga, 15, from Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, said the Pūhoro programme opened up new career pathways for young Māori.

Throughout 2022, Waikato University kaihautū (mentors) have been visiting students at their schools for one hour, once a week throughout terms one, two and three.

They work with students on subjects such as computing, coding and mathematics as well as cultural identity. One-day wānanga are held once a term, bringing all the regional students together for a series of workshops.

Naomi Manu, CEO of Pūhoro Charitable Trust, said the partnership with the University of Waikato was “significant”, enabling high school students to build a relationship with academic staff, students and the learning environment at the University.

This relationship helps remove some of the barriers to tertiary study for rangatahi and set them up for future success in science and technology careers.

“Through this partnership we can create seamless transitions, in a consistent, sustained and relational way, from secondary school to tertiary,” said Manu.

“Waikato University staff are able to provide exposure to a range of programmes and offerings which,when coupled with industry and career exposure, allow students to develop a line of sight from secondary school, through tertiary and into high value STEM employment,” she said.

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor, Professor Neil Quigley, spoke to the students at the wānanga about the University’s unique and valued relationship with the Kīngitanga and Waikato-Tainui.

He also highlighted the University’s strong reputation in STEM subjects including computer science, data mining, artificial intelligence, software development, biological sciences, conservation and climate change, engineering, health, sports science and nursing.

Professor Quigley invited the Pūhoro students to come to the University of Waikato when they have finished high school, where they would be well supported.

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