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Passion for chemical engineering, cricket and Cook Island heritage drive grad’s success

Ma'ara Ave playing cricket

“I am still in the high performance cricket set up with Central Districts cricket and managing to balance both work, study and sport.” Ma’ara juggles his busy life, all while studying for a Master in Dairy Science and Technology through Massey University, in conjunction with his new role.

Ma'ara Ave grandfather

Ma’ara feels a strong affinity with his
grandfather’s (pictured) work ethic.

Ma'ara Ave at graduation

Ma'ara at graduation earlier this year.

Ma'ara Ave family in Rarotonga

Ma'ara (left) and his family in Rarotonga in July 2017. From left: Ma'ara Ave
(father), Eddie Ave (brother) and Mereana Ave (sister).

Massey graduate Mea Tangi Me Ma’ara Ave (Ma’ara Ave) owes his success as a top engineering graduate, a Fonterra researcher and aspiring Black Cap in part to his heritage from a small Cook Island, Mangaia.

His grandfather, with whom he and his father share the same first name, left the southern-most island of the Cook Islands in the late 1950’s to undertake seasonal work in Tokoroa. He was in his early 20’s and couldn’t speak a word of English. He travelled back and forth over the coming years until eventually settling down south in Invercargill in the early 60’s. Here he brought up his family and spent time working stints in the freezing works, on power lines and in the aluminium smelter. Ma’ara feels a strong affinity with his grandfather’s work ethic, describing him as “very hardworking – he was paving the way for his kids and future generations.”

“Being around him was a cool experience. He always had other people’s best interests at heart and wanted to give opportunities to others,” recalls Ma’ara, whose Cook Island heritage is a big part of his life, and gives him mana he says.

Though currently immersed in high-tech developments in the dairy industry through Fonterra’s Technical Graduate Programme following completing a Bachelor of Engineering (first class honours) last year, he’s keeping his eye on another ball.

“I am still in the high performance cricket set up with Central Districts cricket and managing to balance both work, study and sport.” Ma’ara juggles his busy life, all while studying for a Master in Dairy Science and Technology through Massey University, in conjunction with his new role.

His current role fulfils his intellectual interests and strong passion for problem-solving. In Fonterra’s Graduate Technical Programme he gets the chance to contribute to making a difference in dairy manufacturing processes by “coming up with new ideas for innovation and looking at ways to do things more efficiently and sustainably.”

The opportunity has been the ideal pathway “from deep science to a broader perspective of the industry and being able to impact the way we do things,” he says.

Describing 2021 as “a whirlwind year”, he spent the first four months visiting manufacturing sites, getting experience and insights into processing milk, and the range of different products, from cheeses and butter to protein products and milk powder.

Over the winter, he and 14 other graduates in the programme attended lectures from business and dairy science experts from Massey and Fonterra. His next focus will be researching the rennet ­– a complex enzyme used to separate milk solids – casein process for his master’s through Fonterra’s R&D unit, which he hopes will lead to “adding value as part of a bigger project.”

Eye on the ball

A keen sportsman who was a member of Massey’s Academy of Sport, Ma’ara has aspirations to play professional cricket and one day crack the Black Caps “It’s been my dream goal growing up – I’m aiming to make big steps over the next couple years.”

Although the recent lockdown has curtailed his regular cricket training, he is staying fit by completing at home workouts and runs.

Having debuted for the Central Districts Stags at 20 in October 2018, Ma’ara has eight domestic caps to his name and relished his opportunity on the national stage. Growing up in Marlborough, he always dreamed of becoming a Black Cap but was well aware that while pursuing his passion of cricket he also had to be prepared for life afterwards.

He became a member of the Massey Academy of Sport after moving to Palmerston North in 2017, joining the United Cricket Club and making the Central Districts A side, juggling a hectic training regime while staying at the top of his game academically. Aided by Massey University Sport Advancement Manager and former Black Cap Jacob Oram, Ma’ara found training partners and coaching with the Massey Cricket Academy where student athletes meet twice a week to train together.

Sustainability lens on milky ways

Like many new graduates, Ma’ara hopes to one day work overseas and experience other cultures. During the penultimate year of his undergraduate degree, he travelled to the Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea visiting companies, universities and institutions to observe how the horticulture industry operates overseas. His focus was looking at innovative technology and market gaps to see how improvements can be made in New Zealand.

These days, sustainability in primary industries remains a strong interest – he learned a lot from the trip and is pleased to see a shift in attitudes and practices in terms of sustainability being a priority. “It’s driving people’s decisions now, which is pretty awesome.”

Moving to more sustainable primary industries, whether through reducing the use of coal in boilers or improving on-farm practices, it brings a competitive edge to the products Fonterra makes, he says.

His time at Massey as a student whilst competing in cricket helped him learn valuable time management and life balancing skills, he says. “The knowledge I gained has given me the stepping stones to succeed in industry. It was a really good grounding, and the lecturers were so supportive.”

Manawatū to Mangaia

From a chilly Manawatū winter, Ma’ara looks forward to his next trip back to his roots in Mangaia, home to around 500 people including many relatives. When his grandfather died in 2015 at the age of 77, he and his family returned him to Mangaia to be buried with other relatives at a special tanuamanga (Mangaian word for urupā) site known as Maoke.

They visited often before the COVID-19 pandemic, while extended family spread around the world keep in touch via a Facebook page. “It’s always nice to go back there and to feel at home,” says Ma’ara, who can understand some of the Cook Island Māori language spoken by his family in Mangaia thanks to learning te reo Māori at secondary school in Blenheim.

“I’m really invested in my Cook Island heritage, and I want to keep learning more about the language.”

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