Toloa Scholar counts his blessings
(Picture caption: Aisea Fanamanu says receiving a Toloa Tertiary Scholarship has been a huge blessing in what has been an uncertain year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Receiving a Toloa Tertiary Scholarship in 2020 - a challenging year which has presented many unforeseen obstacles - has been a huge blessing for 22-year-old Engineering student Aisea Fanamanu.
Aisea hails from the Tongan villages of Haveluloto (Tongatapu), Pangai (Ha’apai) and 'Eueiki.
Growing up, Aisea spent most of his childhood in Auckland, and attended primary school in Maraetai, followed by Howick College for one year before returning to Tonga to complete high school.
“In Tonga, I attended ACTS Community School … I was initially against the idea of moving to Tonga, though it ended up being great, as I got to learn more about my culture and experience a different way of life,” Aisea says.
“My experience in Tonga played a big part in where I am today.”
Aisea is currently in his fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree at the University of Auckland.
He is specialising in Civil and Environmental Engineering, a broad discipline that involves creating, improving, and protecting the built and natural environment.
Aisea has always enjoyed studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, and in high school, got a taste for the various sciences.
“I didn't have a specific career goal, so I picked subjects I enjoyed and did well in, which ended up including Maths and Biology.
“Once I learnt about Engineering and how it combines Maths and Science to real-world applications, I knew it was a path I wanted to follow.”
With two brothers simultaneously studying Engineering at university, successfully applying for a Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) funded Toloa Tertiary Scholarship has assisted greatly, he says.
“It has eased the financial burden on my family and me.
“My two brothers and I all study Engineering now, and we all have student loans, so receiving the scholarship was a massive help especially during the current COVID-19 climate we are living in.”
Receiving the Toloa Tertiary Scholarship has also helped Aisea to stay motivated to study during lockdown, he adds.
“Knowing people had invested in me, I didn't want to let them or myself down and waste the opportunity I was presented.”
While hard work is a given, Aisea thoroughly enjoys university life, where he has met a lot of great people during his time there.
“I am part of SPIES (South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students) which is where I’ve been able to meet a bunch of other Maori and Pasifika Engineering students.
“Coming to university after schooling in Tonga was initially difficult as I didn’t know many people at university, and the workload can be difficult to handle by yourself.
“Thankfully, through SPIES, I was able to make friends which made studying much more enjoyable.”
Looking forward, Aisea wants to find work as a graduate Engineer in the construction industry, and gain experience on-site, outside of the office.
“I would like to work on infrastructure projects as these can be large projects that can often go unrecognised but help to keep society functioning.
“My long-term goal is to put my Engineering experience and knowledge to use on projects in the Pacific where there is plenty of room for development – I would love to be a part of it.”
Working on projects that impact Pacific communities is important to Aisea – whether they are in New Zealand or the Pacific, and he hopes to be present at the decision-making table to ensure Pacific peoples best interests are being taken into account.
“Pasifika are under-represented in Engineering and I hope to show the possibilities available in STEM for younger students who are still deciding on a career path.
“Growing up, I didn’t know anything about Engineering but hopefully with more brown faces in the profession, more of our Pasifika youth will see it a viable option for them.”
Applications for 2021 Toloa Tertiary Scholarships are open and will close on November 9.
Visit MPP to apply.