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Te Atawhai Kumar

Te Atawhai (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa) works as Poutautoko of Te Aho Tū Roa programme in Wellington, a Māori-led initiative that connects people to people, and people to place.

Te Atawhai with kōuraWhat do you do on an average work day?

I’m usually out and about in our taiao [environment] working with kura tuatahi, kura Māori, or Kōhanga tamariki.

I could be measuring water quality, organising a beach clean up, supporting uku [clay] workshops, creating awesome workshops/activities for rangatahi or attending regional educators hui to increase support and awareness for Mātauranga Māori especially kaupapa Pūtaiao [science in Māori cultural context]. I love that I can wear my gumboots to all of these kaupapa!

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

I studied the usual subjects - maths, English, science, te reo Māori and physical education. None of them really prepared me or contributed to my learning journey into adulthood. 

I attended a number of whare wānanga and jumped fields from Administration to Computing. I also enrolled in Te Ataarangi, and continued learning te reo at Victoria University where I graduated with a Masters in Māori Studies with Distinction.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

Not intentionally!

I grew up in a rural area in North Hokianga where our marae was our principal home. We grew up on the land tending to mahinga kai which inadvertently became a core part of my Masters thesis (traditional practices and occupation of Ahi Kā in Hokianga found in Papatupu Land Court Minute books). I never thought I’d go full circle as I was more interested in languages and other cultures!

I’ve now come to understand that language and culture are inextricable parts of science, which is the space that excites me most!

Te Atawhai testing water quality

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

There’s no such thing as failing, only lessons. Grow from these experiences, and you will hopefully discover that work is way more interesting when you’re passionate about it.

Look for spaces that support and advance women in the workplace, and grow your network! Spread the word, keep your support people close, and if you are a fluent speaker of te reo, you are already a front runner for a number of opportunities!

What are some of your career highlights so far?

The kōrero “do what you love, and love what you do” is probably the overall highlight of my mahi.

I love it when tamariki engage with our taiao, and are enthralled with new learning experiences. It’s magical when you impact a child in a way that they feel empowered to make change. That’s a real buzz!

Te Atawhai with her whānau

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

Aotearoa is in a great space to provide world leading research in a lot of STEM fields. For example, our marine environment is so unique that there are major opportunites to provide solutions to Climate Change, Health, and Education sectors to name a few. 

I believe Indigenous knowledge systems, which views STEM kaupapa in a holistic framework, have many answers to contribute to a lot of local, national and global issues we’re faced with today. If you attended the Waka Odyssey held in Wellington, you may have experienced how our voyaging knowledge embodies STEM and catapults it further into art, performance and stories. Many centuries of observation, theorizing and testing meant that our tūpuna were remarkable scientists!

Understanding what’s happening in your backyard, and getting the lowdown on some local knowledge and practices will go a long way in assisting how you can contribute to our place in the Pacific, and carve a way to a better future.

Te Atawhai on waka hourua

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

We need more women in STEM spaces to provide a more balanced, diverse and dynamic workplace. I’m equally passionate about seeing more Māori and Pasifika represented!

Different backgrounds, experiences and ideas are key factors to finding solutions and outcomes to restoring the mauri ['vitality'] of ourselves and our living world.

Te Atawhai (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa) works as Poutautoko of Te Aho Tū Roa programme in Wellington Region. Te Aho Tū Roa works with Kōhanga Reo, Kura Māori, and Māori communities which seeks to strengthen connections between: people to people (past, present, future) and people to place (taiao).

Te Atawhai in a waka ama

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

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