Engineering a future in STEM

posted: 12:00 pm - 12th April 2018

New Zealand-born Samoan Hayes Okesene (pictured) identifies with his Polynesian roots and takes great pride in his heritage. 

The Auckland-based teenager was educated in Samoan bilingual units from pre-school through to intermediate school, and it was during this time his pride in his culture was instilled. 

“It felt like I was a proper Tama Samoa, even though the complexion of my skin might tell people something different,” Hayes quips. 

Hayes attended King’s College in Otahuhu, and initially, he struggled with the massive cultural change.

However, his natural leadership qualities started to shine and he flourished in this environment.

He went on to become a Senior Prefect, Head of House and First XV Captain in 2017.

Aware of the challenges he faced on arriving at King’s, Hayes put his hand up to be a key liaison for new Pasifika students to the South Auckland secondary school - something which he is proud to be able to do.

This year, the talented student and rugby player became one of 13 Toloa Tertiary Scholarship recipients.

The scholarship will help him financially with the cost of completing a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at the University of Auckland.  

Funded by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP), the purpose of Toloa Tertiary Scholarships is to encourage Pacific students to pursue studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at tertiary level and increase the numbers of Pacific people with careers in STEM fields.

Hayes has always had an interest in the sciences and he has known it would most likely be where his future would lead him.  

“Going through King's, I quickly realised that I was mediocre when it came to history, classics and those sorts of subjects,” he says.   

“I was never really interested in the business and economics side of things either, so that really only left sciences, languages and mathematics … the sciences were my best subject, and I think with some people, like me, you love what you're good at. 

“The sciences were my best subjects, and I enjoyed them.” 

When he was deciding what he wanted to pursue as a career, he says he changed his mind a lot. 

“First I wanted to be a Chef, then a Physiotherapist, but when I found out there weren't many jobs for these professions, I changed my mind … sometime during college, I set my sights on becoming an Engineer.” 

Understanding the sciences has come relatively easy to Hayes, while being aided by some exceptional teachers, he says. 

“I had very good chemistry teachers especially in my last few years, so they have birthed my love of chemistry as opposed to the other sciences and I am looking to potentially specialise in Chemical and Materials Engineering next year.” 

Giving back to his Pacific heritage is important to the proud Samoan. 

Currently, he tutors Pasifika students for the sciences and maths, and he is looking into how he might get involved in Engineers without Borders, he adds. 

“That way, I will hopefully be able to give back directly to the Pacific.” 

Hayes has found great satisfaction from his love of the sciences, and he encourages others to get involved in STEM subjects as he sees it is the way forward. 

Visit MPP for more information about Toloa Programmes.