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Victoria University science mentoring system

Victoria University launches secondary school science mentoring system

Victoria University’s science faculty has launched a mentoring system with a Wellington regional secondary school in a bid to boost the numbers of Maori and Pacific Nations students taking science at the university.

The project is an extension of the faculty’s successful mentoring programme, Te Ropu Awhina Putaiao (Awhina), through which undergraduate and postgraduate Maori and Pacific Nations science students support Maori and Pacific Nations students enrolled in first and second year science courses.

Science faculty Associate Dean (Equity) Liz Richardson says Awhina has been highly successful at the university and she and the mentors wanted to extend it to local secondary school Maori and Pacific Nations students, to raise their awareness of tertiary education and stimulate their interest in science. It is part of a long-term project to improve Maori and Pacific Nations student achievement and retention rates in science, and encourage them to consider science as a career option.

A group of eight Awhina mentors is now working at Porirua’s Mana College with a fourth form science class of which a good proportion are Maori or Pacific Nations.

“We want to raise the aspirations of these students and already the mentors are buzzing with excitement about the response they are getting. Mentors have said things like “interacting with these students has rekindled my enthusiasm for science”, “turning them on to science is the best thing I’ve ever done” and “I’m learning as much from them as they are from me”, which shows that they are also benefiting from the experience”, Ms Richardson says.

“This interaction also provides professional development opportunities for our mentors and staff. Mentors are learning to interact with younger people in science in the school classroom environment and science faculty staff will also become involved. In the past our interaction with Maori and Pacific Nations secondary school students has been campus based; this time we are on their turf” she says.

The school mentoring scheme has been developed in conjunction with Partners Porirua, a trust that develops education/business partnerships with the goal of creating opportunities for students.

Partners Porirua co-ordinator Michelle Robinson says the trust’s focus is on broadening the horizons and experiences of students. “It’s not about work experience, but about sharing resources, and people, and knowledge. It’s creating opportunities for students to learn through exposure to role models,” she says.

“This relationship with Victoria University is a wonderful opportunity to increase these students’ level of participation and success in science. The mentors are positive role models and lift the students’ aspirations,” Ms Robinson says.

“Obviously working with the group is a long term project and we hope they will consider tertiary education as a real option. For many, they would be the first ones in their family to go to university. So we want to raise their awareness of the possibility, and raise their confidence in their ability to do it,” Ms Robinson says.

Mana College is funding the initiative itself in the short term, but the Faculty of Science and Partners Porirua is looking for long term funding to run the mentoring programme in the four colleges in Porirua.

Mana College principal Mike Webster says the class is a newly established accelerated class of able students and the mentoring programme provides them “something extra”.

The mentors work alongside the students in their science classes, and they are also encouraging them to prepare exhibits for the region’s forthcoming Science Fair.

“The mentors are role models who are saying: ‘Science is fun. Science is a great career. Look at us. We are doing well and you can do well in science too’. The students’ response has been positive,” Mr Webster says.

Mana College’s Head of Science Diana Wright, who teaches the class, agrees: “The students really seem to identify with the mentors. I’m sure it will be very, very positive for them. Already I’ve seen some able students just suddenly switch on to science. They can relate to their mentors. They see they are people who come from the same culture, and they are studying at PhD level. The mentors are enjoying the contact too,” Ms Wright says.

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