Partnership sees students gaining hands-on highway experience


Five Māori university students are gaining first-hand experience on one of New Zealand’s largest infrastructure projects thanks to a new partnership between student support programme Pūhoro STEMM Academy and Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway.

The students – who are studying science, social work and arts through Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington – are working on various aspects of the $620 million, 11.5km highway, which will replace the now-closed road through Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency project spokesperson for Te Ahu a Turanga, Grant Kauri, says the interns on the project will receive valuable experience in STEMM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related career pathways, in which Māori make up just 2% of the workforce.

“We share many of the values and intentions of the Pūhoro Academy so we’re happy to provide the students with learning opportunities on the project, while also benefiting from the skills and knowledge they bring to the table.”

Mr Kauri said the partnership was one of the ways the project was creating community outcomes that will extend and last beyond the construction of the road.

“The construction sector in particular needs leaders who can incorporate Mātauranga Māori values into everything they do.

“By providing Māori students with the opportunity to gain hands on experience on a major project like this, we hope we can inspire them to pursue STEMM careers that will benefit the wider community for years to come,” Mr Kauri says.

“Our internship programme is growing rapidly, and we are seeing more Māori interested in entering the STEMM workforce,” said Navarone Watson, Kaihautū Te Urunga Pae at Pūhoro.

“Pūhoro is committed to bridging the gap for rangatahi transitioning from high school into STEMM related studies and on to the workforce, and the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and build industry networks is critical in enabling this.

“Without the shared commitment and vision of our partner organisations, our rangatahi wouldn’t have access to these growth opportunities”, he says.

Saylem Napia, who studies zoology at Massey University, has been working with the project’s ecology team to relocate eels from waterways that have been impacted by construction.

"It’s been great to get experience that’s relevant to my course of study. I think this will be good for my CV.

“I feel I’m going to be really well prepared when I leave university with all the hands-on experience I’ve been getting.”

For Sophie Marsden, who’s studying anthropology at Massey University, the internship is helping her develop valuable people skills.

“Whatever I end up doing, I’m sure it will involve working with people. On this project I’ve had such a varied range of experience with a bunch of different teams, which is helping me get better at forming connections.”

As well as working with the environmental, landscaping and lab testing teams, Sophie has also worked with the kaitiaki (guardian) team, who monitor the cultural health of the project and specific sites that are culturally significant to iwi.

Kobi Hopkinson-Clayton, who’s studying social work at Massey University, says her goal for the internship is to be more confident in her work.

“I want to improve incorporating Te Ao Māori into what I do and really embody those values in my work. I feel like my experience at Te Ahu a Turanga has helped me do that.

“I’ve gained better interpersonal skills and I’m much more confident working with people.”

The first intake of five students started in late 2022 and will continue through 2023, with the intention of providing opportunities for more interns across the duration of the project.

For more information about the project, head to

More information about Pūhoro STEMM can be found at link)

About Pūhoro STEMM

Pūhoro was set up in 2016 to improve engagement among Māori in STEMM careers by encouraging and supporting them to become leaders in their fields. STEM commonly stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but Pūhoro added an additional letter for Mātauranga (Māori knowledge), highlighting its emphasis on a by Māori, for Māori, with Māori approach.

Two people using stainless steel equipment to conduct soil and aggregate testing

Pūhoro STEMM interns Ryan Cutler and Sophie Marsden learn how to conduct soil and aggregate testing in Te Ahu a Turanga’s on-site lab.