Home-grown initiative inspires youth to take up STEM-related careers

posted: 12:00 pm - 25th October 2018
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(Picture caption: 'Amanaki STEM Academy aims to normalise the uptake of STEM-related subjects by Pacific students in years 7-13, while encouraging them to achieve great things in these areas.)

What started at the kitchen table of Tanya Koro and Viliami Teumohenga, ‘Amanaki STEM Academy (ASA) is a fast-growing opportunity achieving amazing results for young Pacific in New Zealand.  

The Academy aims to normalise the uptake of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related subjects by Pacific students in years 7-13, while encouraging them to achieve great things.

Viliami says the ASA project started at his family home when the achievements of Viliami and Tanya’s eldest child prompted a fellow parent to ask for learning support for her daughter.

“This led to three more girls joining tutoring sessions in our home – and this original group of five students gained university entrance in 2016,” Viliami says.

“Three were awarded scholarships from Auckland University, Massey University and the University of Otago, while two of the five are currently in the second year of medical school at Auckland and Otago Universities.”

The achievements and success of these students saw more and more parents requesting learning support for their children, he adds.

This led to the evolution of ASA, of which Tanya, from Tokelau, and Viliami, a Tongan from Vava’u and Ha’apai are the Founders.

Viliami is also the Director of Programme Development and Learning Success and a member of the ASA governance board.

He says the future is changing rapidly and will be dependent on workers having acquired STEM skills.

“While we have an increasing number of Pacific students taking STEM subjects and following a STEM career path, we still have the lowest uptake and achievement in STEM subjects nationwide.

“The growing demand from parents for tailored STEM learning support led to the establishment of formalising ASA so we could extend our resources to include more Pacific students and their families.”

‘Amanaki STEM Academy’s vision is to nurture and develop successful Pacific youth by prioritising work ethic and normalising excellence in STEM, Viliami says.

“Values of respect, humility, faith, love and serving family and the community are incorporated into the programme to complement the academic focus.”

“We currently have 20 students, five tutors and 14 students aged 12-17 on the waiting list for 2019.”

In November 2017, ASA applied to the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Toloa Community Fund, set up to promote and increase the number of Pacific peoples in STEM-related careers.

Aimed at community organisations that run innovative initiatives in the Pacific community, ASA was selected to receive some of the allocated funds for 2018, which it used to purchase resources for learning support, as well as hiring venues, running school holiday STEM programmes and parents’ community talanoa sessions.

Viliami says initiatives which encourage Pacific people to take up STEM-related studies and careers are vital to Pacific peoples’ success in Aotearoa.

“Research tells us in 15-20 years, the job market will be predominantly in the areas of STEM – and that means most jobs we know today which our people are over-represented in, will not exist in the near future.

“We need to collectively close the existing gaps and open up these pathways for our children.

“The risk of not addressing these challenges will only push them further towards the lower end of the social economic status than what the majority of us are facing today.”

Toloa Community Fund is a great initiative for Pacific groups and individuals who need help with resourcing the programmes they are delivering, and people should apply for some of the $100,000 allocated funds now!  Which is for this current financial year 2018-2019.

“At the end of the day, lack of resources is a barrier and funding enables groups to do more for their young people and communities.”

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples is currently looking for initiatives or activities which are creative, innovative, have high impact and will lift STEM aspirations for our Pacific communities.

Visit MPP for more information on the initiative, and to apply – applications close November 14.

Check out ASA for more information.