Highlighting who science is for—anyone

Highlighting who science is for—anyone

Master’s student and outreach volunteer Raiatea Barlow Kameta shares the importance of merging science and culture—concepts more connected than people might first think.


Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi.

“Without foresight or vision, the people will be lost”

—Kingi Tāwhiao Potatau te Wherowhero


At Victoria University of Wellington, matauranga Māori is many things:

For some lecturers, it is a box to tick in funding applications. For others, it’s a community—an opportunity to educate students on a history swept under the rug by colonialism.

For some students, it is being labelled not as scientists, but as Māori scientists, a reminder that they are judged not only by their merit but their history. Māori students are often reminded of their supposed “special treatment”, which are actually reparations due to institutionalised and historical terrorism.

For me, being a Māori student means standing with one foot in Te Ao Māori, and the other in science. Not a choice, but a challenge—an opportunity.

One way to bring both worlds together was through volunteering, including working with the University’s Postgraduate Student Association (PGSA), my school Board of Studies as a student representative, and taking up mentoring and outreach with Te Ropu Āwhina, now Āwhina.

I volunteer on boards and committees to support current students. This involves pushing for initiatives that streamline postgraduate studies, making it possible for students to give feedback, and ensuring that student Māoritanga is upheld.

I also volunteer with mentoring and outreach to support future students. This has included one-on-one student mentoring, hosting essay workshops, and partaking in outreach expos with up to 300 students per session, supporting Māori students to excel.

An AR (augmented reality) sandbox was used during Te Matatini 2019, the national New Zealand kapa haka competition. The sand can be manipulated into any landscape and digitally mapped, which is really fun to figure out and play with. This video shows Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour).


With Āwhina’s outreach programme, we’ve travelled across New Zealand merging scientific and cultural principles. For example, psychology is explained using the principle of Te Whare Tapa Whā, a holistic system of balance between familal, spiritual, physical and mental health. Another activity explains the different volcanic compositions of Taupō’s volcanoes through the Māori legend “The Battle of Three Mountains”.

Āwhina creates a platform for kids to engage with Māori and Pasifika university students. Students who work with holograms, robots, virtual and augmented reality. However, the best thing about this outreach isn’t the tech. It’s the fact that cutting edge science is explained to young Māori and Pasifika kids with their culture seen as an advantage, not a limitation.

This is the best part about my volunteering: highlighting who science is for—anyone.

Raiatea Barlow Kameta is an Master of Science candidate in Physical Geography.

It’s Student Volunteer Week! We’re celebrating our student volunteer superheros who are making change in their community. Use the hashtag #SVW2019 to share your volunteer stories with us, and find out how you can get involved and volunteer.

Read more stories from our student volunteers from our #SVW2019 blog series:

From street collector to international English teacher
Zoe Dickens
Getting involved on campus and in the community gave commerce student Zoe Dickens the confidence to embark on a life-changing volunteer trip to Thailand.


Volunteering—the path to postgraduate research
Michaela Pettie
Volunteering in a psychology lab as an undergraduate student was one of the best decisions PhD student Michaela Pettie made, igniting her passion for neuroscience and setting her on her research career path.


Giving back with Victoria House Enviro Group
Ben Linstone and Nina Hogg
Second-year students Ben Linstone and Nina Hogg started the Victoria House Enviro Group in 2018 to promote environmental awareness and action among their hall community.


Become a student superhero now!
Nicole Chan
Commerce student and Disability Services volunteer Nicole Chan believes volunteering is for everyone, and encourages students to find volunteering opportunities they can get passionate about.


A plastic diet for the earth—the University’s Waste Watchers
Abbi Nevil, Camila Gonzales, Kathy Thomas, and Kate de Boer

We sat down with student volunteers Abbi, Camila, Kathy, and Kate from Vic Plastic Diet—a environmental club on campus­—to find out more about how they’re contributing to kaitiakitanga—the theme of this year’s Student Volunteer Week.