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Whānau motivation contributes to academic success

26 September 2018
Tumanako Fa'aui and family
Tūmanako Ngāwhika Fa’aui (centre), Te Arawa, Ngāti Uenukukōpako, Ngāti Whakahemo; Fasi Moe ‘Afi A Tungī, Tongatapu, Tonga

Graduate Tūmanako Fa’aui’s father was an engineer and as a child he remembers that whenever the family travelled anywhere, they would point out the bridges or structures their father worked on.

It was enough to inspire Tūmanako to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“At a young age it seemed the coolest thing to me that my dad had worked on these structures as an engineer, and ever since then, I have been drawn to building and designing things and solving problems in the same way he did.”

Of Maori and Pacific descent, and the youngest in a family of five, Tūmanako was born in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea where his father worked as an engineer in the construction industry. But while Tūmanako was still young, his father passed and the family returned to New Zealand.

This week his mother and siblings will proudly watch as Tūmanako is awarded his PhD in Civil Engineering.

“My family is the support and encouragement that underpins everything I do but especially education, at home I was always encouraged to study and work hard,” he says. “At high school, I was lucky that specific teachers encouraged and supported me and it was then that I decided engineering was the path for me.”

At the end of his Bachelor studies, he had a number of job offers but by then had decided that what he was really interested in was iwi and hāpu engagement with engineering projects and to help his own whānau with a disaster that had a big impact on Bay of Plenty communities – the Rena grounding.

The 2011 grounding of the ship off the Mt Maunganui coast is considered to be New Zealand’s worst environmental maritime disaster, with the recovery efforts costing upwards of $700 mil (NZD). Tūmanako’s PhD thesis assessed the impact of this disaster on the receiving waters and communities, with particular attention on affected iwi and hapū.

The consideration and integration of mātauranga Māori and Western scientific methods provided an enhanced understanding of the disaster context, and the impacts on all parties involved. Tūmanako’s research contributed to expert evidence given in the environmental court hearing, and to new marine resource management policy for the Bay of Plenty. 

Tūmanako has been appointed lecturer in the Department of Civil & Environmental engineering and hopes to encourage Māori and Pacific students to consider Engineering as a study option.

“It’s a discipline where both Māori and Pasifika are under-represented but as Māori, we come from a long line of navigators, thinkers and scientists so academic success should not be a new concept, it is at the root of who we are as Māori and Pasifika.

“More generally, my hope for the future is that pursuing higher education isn’t something special for Māori and Pasifika but that it’s considered a normal part of daily life.”