Kathleen Mendes and Gardenia Tafao Tuu'u
From the 30 student teachers to receive this year's prestigious Kupe Scholarships, three hold a special place as Te Wānanga o Aotearoa tauira.
Congratulations go out to Kathleen Mendes, Gardenia Tafao Tuu'u and Kararaina Ruri who, in recognition of their outstanding commitment to education, will see their course fees paid along with receiving a $15,000 study allowance and mentoring.
The tauira were presented with their taonga, either a Kupe-inspired stylised carved hoe paddle or va'a symbolising their own accomplishments, by associate education minister Tim Macindoe at Parliament in Wellington last month.
Kathleen is currently in her second year of the Bachelor of Education in primary teaching, He Korowai Akonga at Māngere Campus, and is the first of her family to ever study at tertiary level.
"I loved the feeling here straight away. The vision, the values, they all resonate. I love studying here and I'm so glad I did. Everyone has been so accommodating."
After leaving school aged 15, the Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa grandmother says coming to the Wānanga has fulfilled a lifelong dream to create a culture of care in the classroom that encompasses living, learning and teaching.
"I feel like I'm on my life's path, I feel like I have so much to offer and that I can create life-longer learners. I never had that opportunity."
As well as envisioning a nurturing classroom environment Kathleen also believes children need to learn financial literacy, as this is an area where she has personally struggled.
As a solo parent Kathleen says the scholarship will help her immensely.
"It's a god-send. I feel like my prayers have been answered."
Gardenia, who is in her final year of her three-year degree at Māngere, is also passionate about primary teaching along with being a role model young Pasifika people, including her children.
"I did it to show them that if you work hard, good things will happen," the 30-year-old says.
Of Samoan descent, Gardenia is already weighing up her career opportunities with a particular interest in the ever-changing world of technology and its use in the classroom.
"My rangahau paper looks into the impact of digital technology on student learning, seeing the way in which children engage with it and use it as an advantage to enhance their learning."
Looking forward, Gardenia sees the use of skills like coding as being essential within all employment sectors and is excited by all of the unknown future prospects.
Te Waenga Mangakōtukutuku tauira Kararaina Ruri is the youngest of our high achieving recipients and as the daughter of a school teacher, she's ready to follow in her mum's footsteps as a person who influences her students for good.
Another one of Kararaina’s proudest moments also happened at Parliament nine years ago when she represented her koro during the signing of her iwi's historic Crown settlement.
"Ko tōku oranga, ko toku Tuhoetanga," she says.
"I hope to give back to my people, to ensure our reo, not only Māori but our own special Tuhoe dialect, lives on in the hearts of our next generation. An as an educator I make that my mission."
The Kupe Scholarships are part of a drive to encourage more high calibre professionals into teaching, with a strong focus on increasing the number of Te Reo Maori speakers.
From more than 90 applications ,21 Māori and nine Pacific scholars were selected nationwide, based on their strong academic success and demonstrable leadership experience in their respective communities.