Pasifika STEM room opening
Friday 16 July marked the official opening and dedication of a brand-new Pasifika STEM Space on the second floor of Cotton Building, Kelburn Campus.
Professor Dale Carnegie and Associate Professor Hon. Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban hosted the event, which was attended by members of VUW staff, including Professor Wendy Larner, Professor Dave Harper, Professor Marc Aurel Schnabel, as well as members of the VUW Pasifika community and family.
Honoured guest, Pastor Joe Serevi, provided the blessing for the room. School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) alumnus Ioritana Tanoi explains, “Pasifika STEM spaces like this will do so much for bringing more Pasifika voices into spaces where they are absent. We need our voices to be heard because science, technology, engineering, and maths are the future; we need to be part of the future.”
By providing this space the Wellington Faculty of Engineering have committed to encouraging a stronger connection with the Pasifika community. The area includes a framed tapa cloth gifted to the University by Letuimanu’asina Dr Emma Kruse Va’ai and a tatau window frosting designed by Andy Tauafifi, like those seen at Wan Solwara and Pasifika Haos.
The space is home to three Pasifika staff working in STEM. Kirita-Rose Escott and Jasmine Hall are assistant lecturers and PhD candidates from ECS and the School of Mathematics and Statistics, respectively. Teneya Nicol is the Pasifika Student Success Advisor for the faculties of Science, Engineering, and Health. Together, in this space, they provide academic and pastoral care for Pasifika students in STEM.
Professor Carnegie says, “Pasifika students are hugely under-represented in STEM subjects at our tertiary Institutions. Our Faculty is committed to meaningful changes that will help rectify this. Appointing our assistant lecturers Kirita-Rose and Jasmine is only the first step of our new direction. Through dedicating scholarships, assistant lecturer positions, and now this wonderful space, we can encourage and nurture our Faculty’s growing Pasifika community. We’ve made a good start, but there is still a lot more work for us to do.”
Winnie says, “It is important for our Pasifika peoples to study STEM subjects, as engineering, science, maths and technology are keys to a better future. The creation of these roles for Kirita-Rose and Jasmine is wonderful, and with Teneya as the Pasifika Engagement Adviser for Science, Health and Engineering, we want to see more and more Pasifika students choose to study these subjects, work hard and graduate to create a brighter future both here in Aotearoa New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands for all of our Pasifika peoples.”
While this is an initial start, there is more work to be done in Pasifika teaching and learning. Jasmine says, “The tertiary institution, like most education systems in Aotearoa, does not reflect Pasifika values, so the importance of a Pasifika space cannot be underestimated. We deserve to have safe spaces where our cultures are not simply accepted but celebrated. My dream is that this space will provide my Pacific brothers and sisters with the freedom and strength it has given me and that it will be a place to inspire and nurture the next generation of severely needed Pasifika scientists."