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South Auckland students are on a mission to Nasa

31 May 2023 9:49 AM | Mike Hearn (Administrator)
Future scientists from Ōtara are heading to Nasa for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study space exploration and STEM at the US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama.

The 2023 Advance Space Camp – Expedition 49 opens in August and the cohort of 16 rangatahi are thrilled for the opportunity, organised by local charity Community Builders NZ Trust (CBNZ) through the Ōtara Youth Hub.

“These guys are really excited. They turn up to every hui we need to have, and their whānau are backing them. We’re super proud of them coming from 274 to Nasa. It’s a huge accomplishment,” says CBNZ chief executive Terangi Parima.

The cadets will engage in all areas of STEM over in a seven-day camp sharing dorms, eating, and socialising with other young people from around the globe.

Daily sessions will be interactive, promoting STEM learning as well as team building, leadership, problem-solving and confidence. Trainees experience a variety of astronaut training exercises, engineering challenges and team-building activities all culminating in an extended-duration simulated space mission.

After the expedition, the group has three days to explore Alabama before returning home to Aotearoa with a kete full of knowledge to steer them into the next step of their STEM journey.

Tangaroa College student Danielle Tupuanai Viliamu, 16, has her trip sponsored by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. Proud of her heritage, she says if she could travel to space and place one item on the moon, it would be her Samoan flag.

“In school we haven’t learned much about space so I’m really excited to see the physics and science about rocket ship operations and the biology of space. I haven’t decided on a future career yet so I’m hoping this will help to expand my mind and find my career path

Benjamin Goldsmark, 15, is of Niuean, Samoan and Māori descent. He attends Green Bay Highs Shool in west Auckland, but spends his weekends in Ōtara with his dad, step-mum and younger brother.

He has always been a major sci-fi fan: “It’s my dream to work with Nasa. I’d love to build rockets that could go out further into the galaxy to explore and learn more about space.”

Ben is one of three cadets sponsored with $1000 each from Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi.

His dad Lewis and step-mum Deborah saw the call out for cadets and after a meeting with his mum, submitted an application knowing he would be stoked with the opportunity.

Their families have been in Ōtara for generations and Deborah is a passionate community advocate.

“For us this is a dream come true. To have this opportunity, something that could have been considered a pipe dream, is just overwhelming. We’ve got a whole bunch of rangatahi, the largest cohort in New Zealand,” says Deborah.

She says their whānau is privileged for the opportunity that will develop future engineers, scientists and mathemeticians from Ōtara.

“We’re not just at the bottom and considered a deprived community. We are a community that is thriving.”

Environmental engineer Nadeen Papali’i was a mathematics teacher at Tangaroa College in 2020 when she put together a group of students for the same expedition, but the Covid-19 pandemic closed international borders.

Forced to stay on home soil, the cohort ventured across the country to explore STEM in Te Waipounamu (South Island).

She took the journey herself the year before in 2019 and has now teamed up with CBNZ to support this year’s cohort.

“For Ōtara Youth Hub to pick up the baton, extend the opportunity to more rangatahi across Ōtara, has re-birthed that dream. It’s an opportunity for rangatahi to be exposed to a rich learning context and experience, that provides another way to learn or understand STEM.

“It will engage students into discussions about STEM, not just of what we could do, but whether we should do. It is also an opportunity to take our community with us,” says Papali’i.

Ōtara Youth Hub administrator Nevaeh Tawhi-Marsters, 18, is among the 16 space cadets.

She is running for a spot on the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board in June’s byelection, sparked by the resignation of community advocate Swanie Nelson.

Tawhi-Marsters says she is standing to engage other rangatahi in local politics and give them a say at the decision making table.

Each cadet has been tasked with raising $5000 toward their expedition, half of that amount being the starting rate for entry to the space camp.

Parima is grateful for the support received so far from Spark Foundation, Ministry of Pacific Peoples, and Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi, but more financial aid is needed.

A Givealittle page has been set up to help reach their total goal of $80,000.

She says: “Three are fully sponsored so now we’re looking for support for our other 13 awesome rangatahi. That’s our biggest need at the moment.”

Follow their journey to Nasa:

- This report was produced under the Public Interest Journalism initiative, funded by NZ on Air

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