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Māori science academy ready to take off

Aerospace Engineer Mana Vautier

Massey University with Te Puni Kōkiri support is launching the first science academy of its kind in New Zealand next year with the help of Aerospace Engineer Mana Vautier. The Massey Science Academy – Pūhoro will foster Māori secondary school pupils from year 11 through to university and, ultimately, the work force.

The university will work alongside five Manawatū secondary schools, Manukura, Hato Pāora, Palmerston North Boys’ High School, Awatapu College and Feilding High School to select 15 year 11 students per school with an interest in science. University academics will engage with teachers, students and their families to foster students along their journey to a science career.

Support will be in the form of selecting appropriate qualification standards at school, providing extra tutoring on a fortnightly basis, providing laboratory space for schools where this is not available, offering field trips and showing students the varied opportunities available to them.

Mr Vautier, who has previously worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is the ambassador and “Big Brother” for the campaign. Mr Vautier is excited to be part of the academy, which he says is “much needed.” “I especially like the ‘hands on’ aspect of field trips, lab work and career exposure. I have always enjoyed helping other people, and with my Māori heritage, I am excited to be a part of this academy. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to hopefully inspire and motivate others to bigger and better things by sharing my life experiences with them. I have always loved looking up at the night sky as long as I can remember, and just knew that I wanted to one day be involved in some way with the human exploration of space.”

Mr Vautier will be regularly checking in with the students and providing on-going support. He will officially launch the academy next year in Palmerston North with former NASA astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss.

Massey University Assistant Vice-Chancellor Maori and Pasifika Dr Selwyn Katene says that the programme provides an opportunity to increase Māori student engagement in science. “There are so few Māori in science. We want to create an environment and a culture of wanting to achieve and not understating your significance. Pupils will be learning in a kaupapa Māori environment, with strong role models and community support”

Palmerston North Boys’ High School science teacher Stacey Lambert says there is a large drop-off of Māori pupils in the sciences as they move from years 9 to 11, where it is a compulsory subject, to years 11 and 13, when it becomes an option. “Both tertiary providers and industry are screaming out for Māori science pupils and graduates” he says. “We are optimistic to work with the academy and believe it will bring to light the opportunities that are out there in the science world as well as provide academic support for those who want to be helped. We believe this initiative will help us to keep more Māori students engaged in the sciences.”  He says for many students the belief that they can do it is just as important as the content of the curriculum. “Some of the challenges we face as educators is a lack of role models for students and a lack of understanding around what a career as a scientist involves. The academy is a great opportunity to support students in both these areas.”

Yvette McCausland-Durie from Manakura School says studying science nurtures more than just a love of the subject.  “Science encompasses so many essential life skills like problem solving, logic and critical thinking. This makes the Academy a very attractive. Massey University has a strong science brand and, through this the academy, will provide students with exposure to the engaging world of science.”

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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