Community Scoop

Mentoring programme brings science careers one step closer

Press Release – Liggins Institute

When high achieving school science and technology students visit The University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute during Genesis Energy’s Realise the Dream event next week, two of them will be on familiar ground.1 December 2011

Beating the odds: mentoring programme brings science careers one step closer

When high achieving school science and technology students visit The University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute during Genesis Energy’s Realise the Dream event next week, two of them will be on familiar ground.

This weekend Alvina Pau’uvale (Tamaki College) and Shreya Handa (Mt Roskill Grammar School) join 17 other students from around the country who were selected for the prestigious, week-long event organised by the Royal Society of NZ. The group will visit leading science and technology organisations including the Liggins Institute, as they travel from Auckland to the awards ceremony at Government House in Wellington on 9 December.

During their five hours at the Liggins Institute on 5 December the students will meet biomedical scientists and postgraduate students and participate in a range of activities. They will explore the role of science research in NZ and find out what it takes to be a successful researcher. They will also get a chance to do practical genetics experiments using some of the Liggins Institute’s state of the art scientific equipment.

For Alvina and Shreya the trip is the culmination of journeys they began four years ago as Year 10 students. Since then they have both been part of a unique student-scientist mentorship scheme within the Liggins Institute’s LENScience programme. Now in its fifth year, the mentor programme was established to provide opportunities for students, particularly those from communities not well represented in science, to realise their potential to succeed in this field.

Both students have just completed the LENScience Junior Scientist Award which links directly to the school curriculum and presents challenges extending beyond Year 13. It involves completing an in depth research project plus science communication and community engagement activities. Alvina and Shreya were selected for Realise the Dream following successes in this year’s NIWA Auckland Science and Technology Fair, where they placed first and third (respectively) in the senior science section as well as each picking up a number of other awards including University of Auckland study scholarships.

Alvina who was both Head Girl and Joint Dux of Tamaki College this year says, “LENScience has given me opportunities to get involved in real environmental projects and work with people I would never come in contact with. It has helped me find a way to make a difference in my community.”

Her research project Kauri Killer on the Loose? – study of human vectors and PTA hygiene treatments, reflects the passion she has developed for environmental science. In it she investigated the effectiveness of measures that have been instituted to contain the spread of a soil-borne pathogen implicated in the recent decline in Kauri trees in the Auckland-Northland region. Throughout, she has had support and mentoring from Nick Waipara of the Auckland Council and Stanley Bellgard at Landcare Research as well as LENScience. She will be working at Landcare until she begins university study next year – and what she hopes will be a further step towards a career in environmental science.

Shreya’s project Cosmetic Controversies investigated whether parabens, a group of chemicals that are widely used in cosmetics, shampoos and deodorants, increased the growth of melanoma cells in culture. Her interest in cancer research has been sparked by her mentor over the last four years, Liggins Institute senior research fellow Dr Jo Perry. This year Shreya organised melanoma awareness and fundraising campaigns at her school. She also took home a number of school prizes and awards and is hoping to get into The University of Auckland’s Biomedical Science Programme. “But I’m looking forward to finding out more about other fields of science during the Realise the Dream trip,” she says.

Director of the Liggins Institute Professor Wayne Cutfield says that it is very gratifying to see these students performing at the very highest level in science competition “It demonstrates the extraordinary value of the LENScience programme in mentoring and creating opportunities for students at lower decile schools,” he says.

Tamaki College and Mt Roskill Grammar School are two of only three low decile schools amongst the 16 schools represented in the 2011 Realise the Dream event. Both schools say they are thrilled at their students’ success but are quick to acknowledge the guidance, support and scholarship provided by the LENScience programme.


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