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A new mentoring programme at Unitec is aimed at getting more Pasifika high school students into, and then completing, Level 6 and 7 engineering programmes. Unitec is promoting the opportunities and rewards of an engineering career and supporting Pasifika students to enrol in and achieve an engineering qualification.
The mentor's role
The Pacific Mentor provides academic support for all Pasifika students enrolled in engineering. He keeps an eye on students' progress, talks to anyone having difficulty, and encourages them to complete the required coursework on time. Winston Hiliau, the Pacific mentor, shapes his role around his understanding of how Pasifika students perceive tertiary study. If he wants to talk to a student he goes and gets them, because many find a request by an authority figure to come to his office quite intimidating. "I don't tell them I'm coming I just find out where they are, at the Pacific Centre for example. It's very informal, but that's how they open up."
Targeting school students
While the mentor's role was established to support Unitec students, Winston saw a gap between secondary school and tertiary education. He began attending school careers events to discuss engineering pathways, targeting Year 9-10 students who are open to considering various careers and could go on to study the prerequisite subjects. "I also touch base with the Year 12-13 students, but it's often too late to catch them."
Winston also attends whanau evenings to talk to parents about the opportunities for their children in an engineering career, something he considers to be an effective strategy.
Indicators of success
The promoting/mentoring activity does appear to be paying off. The proportion of Unitec's engineering students who identify as Pasifika has increased from 13% in 2011 to 18% in 2015. The pass rate for Pasifika students rose from 45% in 2010, to reach almost 80% in 2013, above Unitec's target of 75%.
This case study is an example of good practice in engineering education. Other examples are available on the Engineering E2E Programme's website http://engineeringe2e.org.nz/.
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