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Zoe So'otaga

Zoe (Tokelauan, Samoan, European) is in her third year of study for a Bachelor of Building Science, double majoring in Project Management and Sustainable Engineering Systems.

Zoe So'otagaWhat do you do on an average work day?

My days tend to consist of a mix of going to university, exercising and making time for my family.

I have a full time workload at university (Victoria University of Wellington) and my degree is quite hard but I can’t really keep my sanity without doing some form of exercise at least once a day.

I live at home and have my nanas living with us, so there’s always someone around and lots of people to cook for.

What did you study in school? And after high school?

In college I loved science and art so all the way to Year 13 I took Physics, Chemistry, Art (painting), English, Maths with Calculus and Religious studies.

After college I came straight into university with an aim to study and complete my degree in Building Science.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

This is a hard one as I am still studying but what I want to go into from my degree is project management in construction, specifically Housing. I have a real passion for solving the housing crisis from seeing our big Pacific families being crammed into small homes.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

Don’t be afraid to push yourself into something difficult. If you want it then go for it - and don’t let anyone stand in the way of that. 

Being a woman and Pacific does increase your chance as being a minority in these fields but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Zoe with plants

What are some of your career highlights so far?

Again a difficult question for my position as a student, but in terms of studying I can say a few. Definitely one of my first highlights was receiving one of the first ever Toloa STEM Scholarships. Gaining this really gave me the freedom to come to university without the burden of a massive student loan over my head.

Other highlights from choosing this path have been the people I have met with the same passions and (being a minority) being able to analyse how other cultures think and work in this type of industry whilst also brining my own knowledge from my cultural background.

Above it all the biggest highlight has to be the knowledge I have gained through studying this field and being able to pass it forward to the younger generations coming through, especially in study groups like Pasifika Power Up. It truly is a great feeling showing the kids coming through that they can do it, and being a nerd and actually trying hard isn’t as ‘uncool’ as it seems.

Zoe with her family at Te Umiumiga a Tokelau

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

New Zealand needs more doctors, engineers and everything else that we can study here and give back to our community.

STEM subjects (especially in Pacific students) are really underrated but for the wrong reasons. The majority of people shy away from such subjects because it seems too hard, too much work, or they either feel or have been made to feel like they couldn’t pursue it. When the reality is, if you are interested or love such fields you should go for it!

I’m not going to lie, I have never been the smartest cookie and I have had plenty of doubts and hurdles - but everyday that I get back up and go back to university has definitely made me stronger, no matter what is going on in the background.

So, long story short: if I can do it, anyone can!

Zoe with glowing green rope art

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

Women are such a minority in STEM! I think we are strong and definitely have insight and methodical knowledge that can be brought into the industry. I am not quite the feminist but I truly believe women can do anything a man can.

At the moment the biggest thing for me about being a female in STEM is using my platforms and knowledge to inspire younger girls to stop shying away from hard or ‘boy’ jobs - especially when they are so intrigued about them! I want to encourage girls to feel strong and empowered and to study and pursue the career path they want.

Zoe with her family

Zoe is in her third year of study for a Bachelor of Building Science at Victoria University, Double Majoring in Project Management and Sustainable Engineering Systems. 
She comes from Samoan, Tokelauan and European descent and is proud to be all of her cultures. She is the eldest of four children to Ana and Mathew So’otaga and the first in her family to attend university and study in the STEM fields. 
In her spare time she works as a mentor at Pasifika Power Up in Hutt Valley, teaches as a Group Fitness instructor at Les Mills, plays sport and spends a lot of time with her family.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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