With the goal of becoming a Chartered Process Engineer in mind, Sela Maka never does things by half measure.
It is this resolute and high-achieving attitude which has seen Sela excel in her studies, and become the first recipient of the King Tupou VI Coronation New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) Scholarship through her Dux achievement in Tonga High School 2016.
Two years later, the 20-year-old from a small village, Lotoha'api in Tonga, received recognition from MFAT as one of the top academic achievers.
During her first year of study at Massey University in Palmerston North, Sela and her team won the Creative Solutions Award for the wine New Zealand industry in her engineering project course, and she was also chosen as a summer intern in a global engineering consultancy GHD.
Sela is currently a mentor at Massey University Pasifika Students Association and has previously tutored for Amanaki Stem Academy; and she belongs to Tonga Youth Leaders, a non-profit organisation focused on providing opportunities for the next generation of young leaders.
Sela has added a 2019 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award to her list of achievements, winning the Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF) sponsored International Scholar category, whichrecognises a young person who epitomises the strong positive relationship between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands through their leadership, community service and academic performance.
She will receive $10,000 to go towards a project or opportunity agreed on by PCF.
Sela says the award is not a product of all the accomplishments in her life but a reminder of her life journey and the good and bad parts which have moulded her.
“The real award is recognition that we can celebrate a product of humble beginnings, with successes and many failures,” she adds.
“Celebrating it with my loved ones, other awesome Pacific leaders and also the Prime Minister feels extremely humbling and rewarding.
“I recognise I have been chosen to empower others through this award.”
The award also means the world to Sela’s family, and is a tribute to her late father, a farmer who could not complete tertiary education because of inadequate funds but always encouraged her to be the best she could be, she says.
Sela wants to invest in her community, she says, because the award is not hers to keep but to share with the community that raised her.
“My plans are around community projects targeting water supply, youth empowerment, and education but with an innovative approach.
“This award gives me the opportunity to connect and network with people to gain advice on how and what will bring out the most beneficial impact for my community in the long-run.”
After gaining her degree in Chemical and Bio-process Engineering, Sela wants to use her experience and knowledge to find potential engineering solutions towards issues Pacific communities face such as climate change, water and food security, and pollution, she adds.
She also hopes to inspire other Pacific people in Aotearoa, especially girls, to pursue a challenging but rewarding career pathway.
“I believe we are inherently community-driven and we work much more efficiently together.
“It would be awesome to see more Pacific people in this field forming Pacific-engineered solutions to Pacific and global issues.”