In Conversation with an Environmental Engineer

  • Anastasis Niumata

Unitec lecturer introduces West Auckland high-school students to environmental engineering — including the girls

Anastasis Niumata, lecturer in civil engineering at Unitec, is teaching environmental engineering to high school students in six West Auckland schools as part of the EE2E (Engineering Education to Employment) programme.

The Government initiative was designed to promote engineering at a high school level and to provide students with the chance to pursue it at a tertiary level. Anastasis says it’s a great chance to promote environmental engineering, particularly among girls, and Māori and Pacific high-school students.

EE2E is great project to be involved in

Because these are students that don’t know anything about engineering. When you ask them what it is they think engineering is they think it’s fixing cars. This programme is opening up what engineering is to both the students and teachers. When I talk to them about water, waste, and environment -- which is all part of civil engineering — they’re quite surprised. They thought engineering was cars, bridges, houses, rockets. There’s so much out there in the engineering space that isn’t really well known.

And yes, females can do it as well

Even the teachers from high schools have been surprised when they meet me, a woman in this position. The students are amazed that I’m an engineer and female, and the teachers are ‘oh, great to see a woman in this role!’

I’ve really bonded a lot with the students I’m working with through EE2E, especially the girls.

Nothing against the boys, but it’s so new to me to be doing something in engineering and working with so many girls!

We’re also trying to target Māori and Pacific students, and being Pacific really resonates with the students -- that you can be Māori and Pacific and get a good education and have a career in engineering

When you’ve been in the minority for a long time, as I have, you get to the point where you think, enough. You think, ‘I can do something, I can give back to my community’. I struggled in the beginning when I was studying, because I felt that it was really hard to connect with Pacific students, because I was studying engineering, and as I was Pacific, it was hard to connect with European people. I got sick and tired of being lonely in my space, so I want to create a space, or get involved with people who will embrace me as an engineer, who is Pacific and female. And what better way than to start off than with our young emerging engineers, these students!

I’m also a big believer in promoting environmental engineering among Pacific, what environmental engineering is about; that it’s to do with the environment and water. I come from Samoa, where drinking water isn’t always good; there are times when it’s contaminated. If I can promote environmental engineering among the Pacific community, if we can train Pacific students, they can go back home and help make Samoa a better place.

Anastasis students


Why did I do engineering? I was always passionate about maths and chemistry

For most of my young life, before high school, I was home schooled, and throughout my home schooling, my dad would say ‘ if you love maths, and physics and chemistry you should pursue that through engineering’. I didn’t think I could, so I started out doing architecture. Architecture is challenging, but I didn’t feel satisfied. So I had a conversation with my Dad and he said, ‘go and try out engineering’.

So I did, and I thought, ‘this is me’. With engineering, you can influence how people think, how things are structured, and have a say in how things are built. It’s the maths behind it that I was most interested in.

But, I said to my father, ‘oh women don’t do engineering’.

He said, anyone can. He also pointed out that when he was growing up, everyone said that biology was a subject that women did, that women taught biology. ‘But I love biology, so I’m teaching biology’.

Environmental engineering was a natural fit.

My lecturer, Dr Terri-Ann Berry, was so supportive of me — she now sits in the desk beside me in our office. I’d never met anyone who was so passionate about the environment, and it rubbed off on me. The fact that she’s female also had a positive influence, encouraged me to think I can do this.

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