Papakura born and raised Jacqueline Paul (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is on her way to the world's top university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The 28-year-old lecturer of architecture, Paul has just returned to Aotearoa after completing her Masters' research in Philosophy in Planning, Growth and Regeneration at The University of Cambridge in England. Now, MIT, the world's best university according to the QS World University Rankings, wants her.
MIT, in the United States, has offered Paul a full scholarship which will cover all expenses. She will be joining the Department of Urban Studies and Planning as a PhD student for the next five years.
But Paul isn't fulfilling her dreams just for herself - she wants to give back to her community in Aotearoa.
"It is not about you. It is about your purpose," Paul told the Herald.
"Those humble words from my Māori father have always been instilled in everything I do. It shaped my thinking and ensured the work I do is of service, not to myself but to my family and our communities in Aotearoa New Zealand."
"I want to be able to use the time and resources to develop research that contributes and benefits Māori. I hope that this will be a contribution and piece of work that can make a difference to improving the lives of Māori."
Paul teaches architecture at Unitec and told the Herald it often takes people by surprise, especially being Māori.
"I've been discriminated against in so many ways. I think about all the roles I hold, like teaching in architecture, which is a predominately white, pale, male and stale profession in the industry, and architecture education."
"I'll share a story I've told maybe once. The first year I started teaching at the architecture school in 2019, I was at the pōwhiri to welcome incoming students. I remember being with the other staff and overhearing one of them say, 'oh, I hope we don't have to do that hongi thing today'.
"That same staff member proceeded to ask me where the water was with the assumption that I was working at the marae and not realising that I was actually an incoming lecturer."
"I was 25 at the time and it's scarred me ever since."
Paul's academic journey started 10 years ago when she was 18. She graduated in 2018 with her Bachelors in Landscape Architecture.
In 2019, she was able to travel across the world for work where she worked alongside other indigenous communities. In 2020, she pursued further studies at The University of Cambridge and graduated in February this year.
"Cambridge was hard. I moved there amidst the pandemic and I moved there alone. I was really unsure when I'd be able to visit [New Zealand] because of the borders. I was studying fulltime, and working part-time because I was committed to supporting the kaupapa from afar."
But now with MIT on the horizon, Paul is excited and ready to tackle her studies again.
"Housing is the most pressing issue in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am hoping to invest my time [at MIT] in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning into researching finance and policy mechanisms that enable diverse Indigenous housing innovations.
"This is an opportunity to explore how housing is a constitutional issue, which was a key finding that came out of my Masters thesis, so that we can contribute to the broader discussion of constitutional transformation."
Paul has a message for fellow South Aucklanders who are often falsely represented in public discourse: "Being young, brown and highly educated is extremely intimidating – but our own people always celebrate us and love it.
"For so long we have grown up in a society that stigmatises us and our communities. I am so proud to be from South Auckland.
"I hope this journey and the power of education will inspire many other young Indigenous Māori to chase their dreams and serve our communities.
"Be the narrators of your own stories and the architects of your own futures."