Problem solving made possible with STEM

posted: 12:00 pm - 10th May 2018
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Toloa Tertiary Scholarship 2018 recipient Bruce Graham (pictured) has always been a problem solver.

His curiosity for why things are the way they are developed at a young age, he says.

This intrigue about how to fix problems and find solutions meant the sciences were a natural fit for the young Tokelauan/Palagi boy from Wellington. 

“At primary school I carried out a number of investigations into the environment around me,” Bruce says.

“One of these involved considering and testing different methods for preventing rubbish entering storm-water drains and it was here I realised my interest in the sciences.”

Once at high school, Bruce’s fascination for the sciences grew as he was exposed to physics, chemistry and biology, he adds.

He was naturally gifted at these subjects, which provided added motivation to succeed in them.

While growing up, Bruce’s family and teachers encouraged him to find a job he was passionate about.

Half-way through high school, the talented student started to seriously consider what sort of career he wanted.

“I knew I wanted to help people and improve the lives of my community, and I knew that global warming posed and would pose an ever-increasing threat to Pasifika communities.

“The sciences and maths were my passion and I wanted to continue studying them.

“With all these factors in mind, a career in Civil Engineering was the perfect career choice for me.”

Once Bruce finished his final year at Wellington College, he headed straight to Christchurch to begin studying a Bachelor of Civil Engineering with Honours in 2017.

Now in his second year of Engineering, the 19-year-old is fully focused on finishing his degree and looking at what he can achieve with it.

During his first year of Engineering, Bruce was involved in a project which examined ways to recycle water in Vanuatu.

It is a real problem, an issue which Engineers Without Borders (EWB) are trying to resolve, he explains.

“In five to ten years’ time, these are the sort of challenges I can see myself solving.

“My dream is that I will be practising as a Civil Engineer within a Pasifika community - I want to provide solutions which will improve the lifestyle of Pasifika people.”

Climate change is already creating negative impacts for Pasifika communities, he adds, with sea levels rising and severe ocean pollution only growing worse over time.

“These changes pose a serious threat to the physical survival of many Pasifika nations.

“I plan to give back to the Pasifika community by engineering structures which can withstand and adapt to the rapid changes created by global warming.”

Bruce is one of this year’s 13 recipients of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples funded Toloa Tertiary Scholarships due to his achievements and ambitions in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) field.

The purpose of the scholarships is to encourage Pacific students to pursue studies in STEM subjects at tertiary level and increase the numbers of Pacific people employed into STEM careers.

Receiving the scholarship has significantly helped Bruce and his family, he says.

“It has removed a huge financial burden and in doing so it has enabled me to focus my efforts into supporting fellow Pasifika students.

“Mentoring and supporting younger Engineering students, particularly Pasifika students, is something I see as an obligation and thoroughly enjoy.”

Although the number of Pasifika students is increasing at Canterbury University, there is still a significantly high proportion of non-Pasifika versus Pasifika students.

“As an Engineering student and mentor to younger Pasifika Engineers, I’ve really noticed the limited number of Pasifika students doing Engineering.

“Winning a Toloa Tertiary Scholarship means so much to me because it’s my opportunity to show future Pasifika students what we can achieve, that University is within our reach and that we’re able to pursue professions such as Engineering.”

Visit MPP for more information about Toloa Tertiary Scholarships.