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Vets, volts and virtual technology

Year 13 tauira (students) in Manawatū are soldering electronics and hearing heartbeats while discovering what it's actually like to work as a scientist, technologist or engineer.

Rangatahi (young Māori) are gathering in Te Papa-i-Oea (Palmerston North) throughout the year to directly experience what it takes to be a vet, digital technologist or engineer.

They are doing this as part of a new project called He moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka (a choppy sea can be navigated), which aims to help them become more sure-footed as they take the leap from school to university, and beyond.

Students checking a dog's heartbeat

The project is part of the Pūhoro STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) Academy for Māori tauira. Its point of difference from the rest of the Pūhoro programme is that it caters specifically for Year 13 tauira who are considering tertiary education.

"Māori are underrepresented in STEM careers and even if they start studying these areas at university, for various reasons, many don’t go on to qualify," says Pūhoro founder and director Naomi Manu, who runs the project with kaihautū (leaders) Leland Ruwhiu, Courtnee Matthews, Te Hamua Nikora and Apiata Tipene at Massey University.

"We’re trying to change that, by getting students to have a go at doing these careers before starting university," Naomi says. "This is so that they can see themselves doing it in the long run and build resilience around the realities of tertiary study for Māori students."

Students soldering a circuit board

At the latest wānanga, the tauira split into three ohu – working groups – that explored completely different specialities.

The first ohu worked on ways of exploring and sharing their individual stories, such as learning how to develop their pepeha (who they are and where they come from), with the aim of creating a Virtual Reality interface – with help from experts at Google – that tells Pūhoro’s story.

"We’re focusing on developing self-confidence in the rangatahi by teaching them how build their skills but also to step up and project them out, before we start the digital storytelling," says Apiata.

Tauira finishing their solar cars

The second ohu created an environmentally sustainable solar car with help from experts at Massey’s School of Engineering. They looked at the life cycle of manufacturing things – from raw materials to waste – and how reusing, repairing and recycling plays a role in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.

"I want to be an environmental scientist so I did this because it looks at recycling plastic and solar power, not just engineering," says Meschka Seifritz from Feilding High School.

The rangatahi built the cars completely from scratch: from soldering diodes and resistors to the circuit board, to using an injection mould to create components from recycled plastic. They even uploaded computer coding to a chip in the car that tells it to drive towards a light source, and were able to take the cars home so that they could continue adjusting them.

Finishing and testing the car

"I’ve liked learning all the different skills in building the car. I really like engineering – especially the fabrication side – and, yeah, I definitely want to do that in the future," says Te Amorangi Gerretzen from Feilding High School.

Tim Carpenter, from Palmerston North Boys’ High School, adds, “I really enjoyed doing the soldering as I like doing crafts and that kind of hands-on stuff. I'll be giving the coding part a go at home too.”

The third ohu visited Massey’s veterinary science department to find out how vets work and the technology used to help them diagnose animal health problems.

Students learning about doppler ultrasound scanning

As part of this, they watched a vet carry out a Doppler ultrasound scan on his colleague’s dog.

"We learnt that the coloured part [Doppler] of the ultrasound shows the blood flow and how healthy it is," says Shelby Nicholson from Awatapu College.

The tauira also learnt how a CT (computed tomography) scanner works by putting a sealed box with unknown contents into the scanner and then using the resulting images to guess what was inside the box.

"I really enjoyed trying to figure out what was in the box by looking at it from all the different angles," says Jorgia Rose Knight from Freyberg High School.

"It was interesting learning how the CT scanner worked and that it’s actually continuously spinning all the way around the object to get the 3D image instead of just taking snapshots at certain angles."

3D CT scanner image

Following that, the rangatahi had a go at finding two pulse spots on two greyhounds, Gerry and Ivy, brought in by veterinary radiographer Clare Aitchison.

They also listened to the dogs’ heartbeat using stethoscopes and learnt how a healthy heart creates a classic ‘lub dub’ sound, with a specific pitch and volume.

"I had no idea that it’s the heart’s valves that makes the heartbeat sound when they close – I thought it was the heart itself making the sound," says Minnika Lawton-Rei from Freyberg School.

"This whole thing has been really cool – all the different perspectives and the variety of activities."

Student listening to a dog's heartbeatStudents listening to a dog's heartbeat

About the project

Puhoro logoMassey university logoHe moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka is run by Massey University as part of the Pūhoro STEM Academy, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.

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