Wero set for rising science pupils

Former astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss, middle, and aerospace engineer Mana Vautier, right, with pupils from Hato Pāora College.

Aerospace engineer Mana Vautier set a wero (challenge) on Saturday to 80 secondary school pupils at the launch of PŪHORO – the Māori Science Academy – to gain the skills and expertise to make an impact in our world.

Mr Vautier (Tūhourangi, Te Arawa and Ngāti Kahungunu) was joined by fellow National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) former astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss as well as Massey University Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey, Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith and chief executive of Callaghan Innovation Dr Mary Quin, along with an audience of around 350.

Mr Vautier, who is the ambassador and ‘big brother’ for PŪHORO, offered eight attributes of highly successful people: faith, determination, self-confidence, integrity, perseverance, endurance, fun and the lifelong pursuit of knowledge, and set the challenge for pupils of the academy to cultivate these attributes.

He said the pursuit of knowledge, through science and other disciplines, allows them to arm themselves with a raft of tools and weapons to reach their dreams.

“Work hard, study hard, play hard. Just like the warriors from the wero, become an expert in your field of study.”

He also spoke of what his own experiences as an aerospace engineer taught him about life and learning.

“My role is the integration of the many subsystems (guidance, navigation, life sustainability, thermal protection, power) on board the International Space Station. This relies heavily on the principles of guidance, navigation and control. These principles are also very applicable to real life as well.

“Everyone goes through life and faces challenges and difficult times. For those who are determined enough, these experiences provide contrast in our lives.”

He also highlighted the importance of role models, and aspiring to cultivate the qualities within yourself that you see in those people. Mr Vautier’s role models included neurosurgeon Dr Ben Carson, sailor Sir Peter Blake, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong and NASA flight director of the Gemini and Apollo missions Gene Kranz. He said he hopes he can be a role model to the pupils, but encourages them to also find other role models of their own.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) former astronaut Rick Searfoss addresses the pupils.

Strong relationships crucial for success

Colonel Searfoss was hopeful for the pupils’ success, saying; “the problems of the future will only be solved by talented and determined young people.”

He emphasised the importance of whānau and strong relationships as crucial, not only to the three space missions he has been a part of, but also to the world we live in today – aspects which he says are fostered in the academy.

Mr Maharey echoed this sentiment, saying support for the programme was extraordinarily high. “Everyone wants to see you succeed. The real secret to this success is whānau.

“The future of this country can be secured through science, and the reason to go to university is that it opens doors for you as a young person.”

Mr Maharey acknowledged the support the academy has received from organisations such as Te Puni Kōkiri, the Palmerston North City Council, Te Tumu Paeroa, Vision Manawatū, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. He was presented with an image of New Zealand from space, as well as a patch and medallion from Colonel Searfoss’ previous space mission.

Professor Bill Williams, left, encourages master of ceremonies Te Hamua Nikora to pour some liquid nitrogen as part of a flying rings experiment.

Exciting opportunites for science students

Mayor Grant Smith saw the academy as an opportunity for the region and the nation. “We already know we live in the best country in the world. Now we need to ensure that our people have the best skills in the world. May this initiative create even more stars.”

Dr Quin agreed. “There are so many exciting opportunities for people here in New Zealand. The future of New Zealand’s economy is going to be shaped by you [pupils].”

PŪHORO Associate Director Naomi Manu (Rangitāne, Ngāti Kahungunu) was excited to see the programme officially launched.

“In the space of a very short time this programme accelerated from initial concept to where we are today. This represents the message behind Te Kūnenga ki Pūrehuroa (the Māori name for Massey University) – which emphasises that the pursuit of knowledge is an endless journey literally from inception to infinity.”

Chemistry tutor Nessha Wise officially launches the academy with an elephant toothpaste experiment alongside chief executive of Callaghan Innovation Dr Mary Quin.

Young people are our change makers

The finale – and metaphor – for the official launch, was an elephant toothpaste experiment conducted by chemistry tutor Nessha Wise with the assistance of Dr Quin. Hydrogen peroxide decomposed rapidly with the aid of a catalyst to form a shooting tower of bubbles – appropriately coloured blue to represent the graduation cape for the Bachelor of Science.

The final word, however, went to master of ceremonies Te Hamua Nikora.“Today we launched a science academy. This is not a new concept, it’s a very old concept that goes back to our ancestors. The Māori word for science (pūtaiao) sums this up. ‘Pū’ is the source and ‘taiao’ is the environment in which we live. Everything around us is science.

“We have the opportunity for our young people to grow up and be the change makers in this world. Like the markings on the front of the waka they cut through waves and that is what young people are going to be doing not just for themselves but for their iwi.”

Former astronaut Rick Searfoss, left, helps launch PŪHORO – the Māori Science Academy along with aerospace engineer Mana Vautier, right, and Vice-Chancellor of Massey University Steve Maharey, middle.

Information about PŪHORO

PŪHORO seeks to advance Māori in science and is a community and industry collaboration that recognises whānau as a key driver of success.

PŪHORO will support students to complete the National Certificate of Educational Achievement curriculum within their respective schools. Kaihautū (navigators) will work with schools, whānau, iwi, students and industry sponsors to build a local science community and facilitate exposure to the breadth of career opportunities within the science and technology sector. The university and industry partners will provide academic support to increase Māori student engagement and success across science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and contextualise learning through field trips and laboratory visits. 

The academy will contribute to Māori economic development through Māori student success in STEM subjects, within the secondary and tertiary sectors, and skilled workforce shortages within science and technology. The Academy recognises that a STEM competent workforce is required for an innovation focused society.

The programme will be piloted in the Manawatū region across five schools – Manukura, Hato Pāora, Feilding High School, Awatapu College and Palmerston North Boys’ High School. A virtual support is also being extended to Murupara Area School. Approximately 80 students, with their whānau, will participate in the academy in 2016.  

The PŪHORO programme is funded by Massey University and Te Puni Kōkiri with support from the Palmerston North City Council, Te Tumu Paeroa and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

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