South Auckland STEM lighting a bonfire

Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of July 2023 saw the first South Auckland Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Conference & Expo take place at the Due Drop Events Centre in Manukau, Tāmaki Makaurau.

The conference was organised by Mary Aue, Managing Director of Coconut Wireless; Irene Naidu, Senior Sales Leader at Fujitsu, Jonny Faamatuainu & Brianna Heremaia from the Auckland Business Chamber; and Kui Sifaheone of South Auckland STEM.

The two-day event included a strong lineup of speakers from tech industry experts, non-profits, and subject matter experts, as well as an expo hall filled with organizations that play a role in Aotearoa’s thriving tech industry.

The expo hall also saw a range of amazing cultural performances

Building the #STEMVillage

The conference was a natural extension of the impressive, ongoing South Auckland STEM initiative led by Coconut Wireless. The STEM programs are held during the school holidays and are aimed at introducing children to the pathways and careers that exist in the tech industry.

This is crucially important in areas where access to technology isn’t a given, and exposure during these workshops can unlock lifelong interests in high-paying, rewarding careers.

The speakers and panellists presented on day one of the conference, covering innovation, digital sovereignty, and a concept referred to as STEM Village.

The latter is a key idea that tied into the overarching theme of the conference – how do we empower our Māori and Pasifika children to become the industry leaders of the near future?

The idea of a STEM Village neatly provides the answer: as Māori and Pasifika people, we already have strong community bonds tying us together which we can use to empower ourselves and future generations towards sustained success.

Mary Aue said the purpose of the conference “was to bring the #STEMVillage together – churches, community, industry, parents, schools, students – to plant the seed, a spark, and a bonfire was lit.”

Lighting the spark

Lexyan Kulatea-Ryan, a year 4 student from Mt Roskill Primary, was one of the panellists during the conference and spoke about his experience during his first STEM program during the recent school holidays. He said he did some “really cool stuff,” including coding, computing, and engineering challenges, ending his time on stage making his intentions known by asking Microsoft for a job.

“My favourite part of the program was computing … I loved what I was learning because we were learning topics I don’t usually learn at school,” said Kulatea-Ryan. “I would love to do another STEM program.”

Mary Aue, Lexyan Kulatea-Ryan, and Alirya Kultea-Ryan at the 2023 South Auckland STEM Conference & Expo

Speaking to Kulatea-Ryan after the conference, he said he loved the expo and would like to see more affordable STEM classes so other children could get exposure to the STEM world.

Mary Aue says she’s already planning next year’s conference and has already made bookings but will need to secure more funding. In the meantime, she shows no indication of slowing down, continuing her grassroots STEM programs with the weekly #CodingwithBen and support for the upcoming Ferguson Intermediate’s iMATUA event in August.

The South Auckland STEM Conference & Expo was also made possible by South Auckland STEM, a Coconut Wireless Initiative, Tech Step, Auckland Business Chamber support by TechBabes, Figure NZ, Opulence Interiors, Moana Connect, Indigitech, PB Tech, and Family & Friends of South Auckland STEM.

Check out the STEM South Auckland and Coconut Wireless pages for more information.