Lupesina Koro has a vision that Maori and Pacific people can succeed in maths and science.

The West Aucklander, of Samoan and Tokelauan ethnicity, is one of nine winners in the Prime Minister's Pacific Youth Awards, to be presented by Jacinda Ardern this evening.

Formerly head girl at St Mary's College, 18-year-old Koro is in the second of an expected five years of study at Auckland University for bachelor's degrees in commerce and engineering.

As well as immersing herself in study, she has taken on a role mentoring Maori and Pacific students in maths and science as they move from high school to university.


"That's my first exposure of the lack of maths and science skills that our students have coming out of high school, specifically Maori and Pacific.

"I'm shocked to see the lack of skills in these subject areas.

"I think it's because from a young age there's a stigma that maths and science are only for the smartest.

"This is clear for specifically Maori and Pacific students. They don't see in the media, or in life really, their own people reflected in these subjects and reflected in succeeding and excelling in science and mathematical subjects so that's why they think 'There's no one there that looks like me so it's probably not a thing that I should do'."

Koro believes children should from an early age be immersed in the language of maths and science so they will grow up seeing them as are fields for everyone, achievable by everyone. This would fuel students' interest which would in turn spur improvements in teaching and the curriculum.

She recalls being identified as "the smart one", as she always enjoyed maths and science.

"I did feel a bit out of place in high school mainly because I was one of two or three brown faces in the classroom studying physics and calculus at this high level and not many of us were really excelling at these high levels. While I recognised I was in a minority it didn't hinder me in any way because I genuinely had an interest and a passion in these subjects."

After finishing her first two degrees, Koro hopes either to become a chartered accountant or to go on to post-graduate engineering study.


She has won the Ako Aotearoa-Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Award, which comes with a $10,000 internship at her university.

This year's award winners have been offered personalised leadership development opportunities through the Ministry for Pacific People's partnership with Leadership New Zealand

The nine recipients, aged between 17 and 24 will be receive their awards at a ceremony at the Fale o Samoa in Mangere.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said the awards were an opportunity for high achieving Pacific youth to be recognised for their important contribution to New Zealand.

"It's my expectation that these recipients and all those who have gone before contribute to making New Zealand a far better and caring country for all New Zealanders.

"Each of their respective awards recognises their contribution to society, as well as excellence in their academic work, or demonstrating a skill in business.

"The awards recognise and celebrate Pacific youth success while also creating a network of young emerging Pacific leaders, showcasing Pacific talent to key stakeholders."

The other winners:
• Air New Zealand - Leadership and Inspiration Award (supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) - Asena Tolungamaka, 23, studying law, is of Tongan descent, from Auckland.
• Auckland Council - Community Star Award -Teri Tuuau, 22, studying law, is of Samoan descent, from Auckland.
• BNZ - Commercial and Corporate Award (supported by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples) - Hazel Umaga, 24, studying business, is of Cook Island, Maori and Samoan descent, from Auckland.
• Creative New Zealand and Massey University - Arts and Creativity Award - John Belford-Lelaulu, 24, an architect who owns the social design business MAU Studio, is of Samoan descent, from Auckland.
• Deloitte - Business and Entrepreneurship Award - Taylor McDonald, 21, completing a conjoint degree in business and design, of Samoan and Maori descent, from Auckland
• New Zealand Institute of Sport - Sports and Fitness Award - Monique Lawrence, 19, fitness student, of Samoan descent, from Auckland.
• New Zealand Institute of Sport - Sports and Fitness Award - Elena Euese, 19, fitness student, of Samoan descent, from Auckland.
• Pacific Cooperation Foundation – International Scholar Award - Charlie Sofe, 21, engineering student studying in Christchurch, is from Samoa.