Māori students put chemistry theory into practice

Students Medchka Seifvitz and Te Wairoa Wanoa Sundgren wait for their solution to boil.

Massey University’s Manawatū chemistry labs hosted more than eighty Māori secondary school students last week as they continued their journey to careers in science.

As part of the University’s Pūhoro Academy Programme, students had the opportunity to extract and identify the pigments in either blueberries or cabbage by dissolving them in solvents over a bunsen burner. The Institute of Fundamental Sciences provided the lab space, equipment and supervisors to oversee the experiments.

Director of Academy Programmes Naomi Manu says, “A lot of these schools don’t have labs in which they can do these practical experiments in and this gives them an opportunity to put theory into practice in a university lab.”

Manukura High School student Pipar Awahou says, “Being able to come here and learn first-hand is awesome. We usually just learn the theory by writing notes, but actually doing some experiments makes it way easier to understand.”

Along with an introduction to Matariki, students participated in veterinary science, marine biology and engineering career exposure workshops. Massey scientists held Q+A sessions on topics such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics pathways, scientific research, transitioning from secondary school to university, student debt and scholarships.

Ms Manu says the Academy is working to remedy the shortage of Māori studying science at university. 

“While the past 20 years have seen increasing number of Māori engaging in tertiary study, Māori have been more drawn to the social sciences, arts or humanities. This programme is all about ensuring other options for Māori are explored, particularly within the sciences.”

The students, much to their delight, were presented with Pūhoro Academy hoodies and t-shirts.

Academy kaihautū (leader) Leland Ruwhiu says the clothing is an important step in unifying the students. “We’re really trying to get them to think of themselves as one unit and not individual schools, so giving them t-shirts and hoodies that bring them together, helps to mentally break down those barriers.”

The programme was established last year to expand the tertiary and career opportunities for Māori rangatahi (youth) by providing opportunities for them to consider science based study and employment opportunities. The Academy supports students from year 11 through to university, with extra tutoring on a fortnightly basis, laboratory space for schools without their own facilities, support selecting qualification standards at school, and field trip opportunities.

The 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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