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Photo by Joe McMenamin

From the Hutt Valley to Silicon Valley – increasing Māori engagement with STEM

Tiaki Huria —

Kia ora! My name is Tiaki Huria, and I’m in 10ATA. This year, I had a literally life-changing experience in San Francisco, California. 

From the 1st to the 11th of October, I was in a completely different hemisphere, 11000 kilometres from home, to participate in a programme called “Āmua Ao”. The point of this programme (along with the sub-programme I was directly involved in, Te Pōkai Ao) was to introduce Māori students to the STEM-driven structure that is Silicon Valley, and to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) to young Māori.

To qualify for selection you had to be a Māori Year 9 or 10 student. I also had to fill out a few forms asking about school life and future intentions, then produce a sub-30 second video describing an issue, and explaining how I would solve that issue. It all sounds relatively simple, but even producing the video to sufficient quality took an entire weekend. I received that news that I’d made it in on my birthday, officially making that the best birthday of my life. I also had to I attend a Noho Marae in Canterbury over a weekend in mid-August as part of my selection. Over the course of two days, I learned more about Māori history, Māoritanga, Te Reo Māori, and kapa haka than I had in the 6 months prior. That weekend was also packed with whakawhānaukataka - I met the 13 people who would travel with me to California. After the Noho Marae, I spent the next six weeks completing an online course, which including topics like exploring the meaning of rangatiratanga, and how to leave the concept of shame behind. I feel like the online course didn’t have as much of an impact on me as the Noho Marae did, but they both had positive contributions to the way I handled myself on the trip. The online course provided me with a different view through a philosophical lens, while the Noho Marae helped with physical things and Māoritanga.

To condense such an amazing experience into such a short space seems a waste - words can’t fully describe those 11 days spent in the Bay Area. If I had to pick a highlight, however, it would be the visit to Stanford University Medical School. I and a few other Āmua Ao members went into the medical research facility (among other places), and received a talk from two medical researchers, both conducting research into HIV/AIDS and cardiopulmonary tissue. That was completely fascinating and inspiring - I met two people who are literally changing the world, and doing so in one of the coolest places on Earth. Of course, that had to come to an end as all good things do. I left Stanford poorer physically (thanks to a new Stanford hoodie), but enriched mentally. I feel that’s a fair trade.

An important lesson I learned from my trip? Where do I start? After meeting so many successful entrepreneurs, businessmen (and women), university alumni, and other inspiring figures, I feel the one lesson that’s resonated with me the deepest would be the old cliché “take every opportunity”. Before the trip, I’d thought of the phrase as nothing more than something we tell young people to motivate them. After meeting people who actually acted upon the words… my perspective has shifted poles. “E rere te huata, kapohia!” - when the spear flies, catch it!

Nine days of unadulterated exhilaration is hard to describe. The trip to San Francisco was easily the best experience of my life. Those words get tossed around a lot, but in this case, they actually mean something. I was able to hang out with people who I’d only known for less than a week, and by the end of it, we were all as close as siblings. Memories were formed, bonds were made, epiphanies were had, and inspirations were given - all in one of the coolest places on earth, surrounded by innovators and trailblazers. If you want to do what I’ve done, all you have to do is persevere, and know where to find opportunity. I’d like to take this space to acknowledge those who need acknowledging - my family, for pushing me to aspire to be the best version of me I could be. Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, for giving me the opportunity to go on the trip, and selecting the four amazing tuakana that went with us. Callaghan Innovation and Mana Tohu Matauranga o Aotearoa (New Zealand Qualifications Authority, NZQA) for sponsoring the trip and by extension allowing me to travel to San Francisco. Last but not least, I’d like to say thanks to all the companies, people, and organisations in the San Francisco Bay Area who allowed us to visit.

· Shay Taylor and Ben Kohlmann, students at Stanford University

· Gary Bolles, founder of eParachute

· FileMaker, an Apple subsidiary

· Facebook

· Dr. Richard Kaipo Lum, PhD in political science/alternative futures from the University of Hawaii

· Gary Petersen, Public Works Director in the City of Salinas

· Salinas Strawberry Fields

· Uber

· BetterUp

· The Exploratorium

· Andrew Zimmerman, developer and advocate of the “success mindset”

· The California Academy of Sciences

Once again, thanks to everyone who made this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible.

By Tiaki Huria (10ATA, Future Stanford alumnus)