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Toloa helps Samoan Scientist boost next generation of Pacific innovators

Toloa helps Samoan Scientist boost next generation of Pacific innovators

  • 04 Oct 2021
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Ironically, Science was not really Amy Maslen-Miller’s (pictured) thing at high school. 

Fast-forward a few years, and Amy has completed a Masters in Science looking at the characterisation and pathogenicity of Phytopthora colocasiae on taro; and pursing her PhD while also creating further community engagement through her social media platform, Samoan Scientist.

Born in New Zealand of Samoan heritage, Amy grew up in Auckland, where she attended St Mary’s College.

The 2021 Toloa Community Fund recipient says it took a while for Science to grow on her.

“At high school I did not like Science, but I followed my friends to university and enrolled in a Bachelor of Science,” Amy says. 

“I decided to stay in Science as I was inspired by two things - firstly, a Māori lecture that taught about Māori traditional uses of fungi. 

“Secondly, a Māori research symposium, where researchers talked about their  projects that help the Māori community. 

“These experiences made me realise I could help my community through Science.” 

After completing her Masters, research which aimed to help taro growers produce healthy produce to provide income for their families and villages, Amy worked for two years as a Senior Research Scientist at the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS), within the plant and postharvest technologies division. 

“During that time, I was a part of leading a taro project, looking at gaining access of fresh taro from Samoa to Australia,” Amy adds. 

Taro is a staple crop in Samoa and has cultural significance, however in 1993 a fungus wiped out all crops in Samoa, she explains.

“At the time, taro was Samoa’s main export so this catastrophic event halted exports.

“Subsequently, the farmers suffered, and the locals had less food.

“Since that time taro crops have recovered, and we are seeking to reopen export markets and provide more economic opportunities for the people of Samoa.”

After Amy successfully applied for the Toloa Community Fund, she has since used the funding to create connections in the community such as teachers who are encouraging their Pacific students into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“The Toloa fund has helped me know what the community needs and how I can help them, and in addition Toloa has given me the confidence to bring my ideas to life.” 

One of her ideas, is Samoan Scientist, an online platform that inspires and supports the generation of Pacific scientists. 

“I have had a strong presence online, but I also wanted to take that knowledge to our community … I wanted to create a community event and Toloa provided that platform for me to do so. 

“As a Scientist, I am privileged to know so many amazing Pacific leaders in STEM. 

“I felt that it was extremely important for parents and their children to connect with the Pacific leaders in STEM, in order to know how to pursue a career in STEM, and to have a mentor/support person Pacific people can relate to and ask questions.” 

Now in its seventh year, the Toloa funds are achieving its goal of helping Pacific Aotearoa thrive in STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Maths – STEM has become STEAM. 

A revamped Toloa programme has key changes including the merging of Kenese and Community funding into one fund – the Community Impact Fund. 

Currently, applications for the Toloa Capability Fund, Toloa Substantial Fund and the Toloa Tertiary and Secondary School Scholarships are open.

There are many advantages to applying for the Toloa programme. 

Scholarships pathways will help to provide financial support and access to a wide avenue of STEAM networks such as providers, key stakeholders, employers and alumni; and the Community Impact Fund is an opportunity for providers who are currently already doing great things in STEAM. 

Amy says by seeing someone who looks like you, talks like you, acts like you, it makes you believe that you too can be where they are.

“The more representation that we have in STEAM and the more people know about our amazing Pacific leaders in STEAM. 

“Many Pacific people in Aotearoa will be inspired, feel included, know who to talk to and want to pursue a career in STEAM. 

“Samoan Scientist is always here to help our next generation of Pacific scientists. 

“So, whatever the community needs, I am here to help and support them.” 

Learn more about the Toloa funds