Engineering intern named as top Pacific New Zealand Scholar

Engineering intern named as top Pacific New Zealand Scholar

T+T’s summer internships are well underway, and we’re delighted to share that Vensel Margraff, a Design Services Intern in our Auckland office, recently took home the Inaugural Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF) Youth Leadership 2020 award for his outstanding engagement and immense passion to use Engineering for the benefit of his Pacific community.

Originally from Samoa, Vensel made the move to Auckland in 2019 to study a Bachelor of Engineering degree – majoring in civil engineering.

We caught up with Vensel to chat about what the award means to him, the transition from Samoa to New Zealand, and Pasifika representation in Engineering.

So what does it mean for you to win this award?

It means so much for me and for my family as well. Considering it's been a tough year, not just for me but for everyone, this has been a sweet ending to 2020. It really holds testament to my passion for engineering and for my passion to serve my Pacific community. I see this award as a platform to inspire other Pacific youth to pursue careers within the STEM industries - these are the industries that will benefit our communities going forward. There isn’t a lot of Pasifika representation and through this award I hope to inspire our upcoming youth to study towards these degrees so that the trend will continue for many generations to come.

So, have you always been into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Science has fascinated me from an early age, and I was a bit of a math whiz. I love numbers and enjoyed watching science documentaries growing up. That passion made it easier for me to study science and maths at school, which is why I was able to do so well in those subjects. That passion continued onto my University years - I'm now in my second year of civil engineering. It’s a program that I really enjoy but the main reason why I decided to take civil engineering was because I see it as a platform to give back to the Pacific community and the people that raised me to become the person I am today. From past work experience, I've seen that there's a high demand for civil engineers within the Pacific region and by contributing to that and supporting development projects within the region I see it as my way of giving back.

You finished off high school in Samoa but came to New Zealand for University. How did you find the transition?

It was definitely tough at first, but I’m fortunate to have family in New Zealand to support me. I feel like whatever road you’re taking, it’s always important to have people that you can rely on. For me that was my family in Auckland. There were cultural barriers to be overcome, especially because English isn’t my first language - I had to get used to people speaking differently and acting differently. In terms of lifestyle, everything in New Zealand seemed to be in such a rush, while back in Samoa things are a lot simpler. Socialising was another a big challenge. In terms of the academic side, the workload was a big step up. University is a lot more intense than what you’re used to in high school. In high school you know the teachers and they basically spoon-feed your learning - at Uni you have this new sense of independence. I’ve received so much support since getting to this point from not only my family, but the Pacific Community here in Auckland and at the University of Auckland. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the past two years of Uni without the advice and turning to them when things get tough.

What are you studying and what fields of engineering interest you the most?

I’ve just finished my second year of Civil. My passion lies with structures. I've always been fascinated with the process of creating buildings from the design phase, through to the construction phase and finally when it's open to the public. I feel like the best part about being a civil engineer is seeing the projects that you work on make a real difference in your community. I've been fortunate to work on projects back in Samoa, and had was involved with the procurement phase of a pretty big bridge project over there. The bridge opened recently at the start of this year and it now serves as a main connection route between the commercial area in Samoa and the main town area. Just seeing the projects that you work on a make a change in people’s lives - that what's really important to me.

While you’re finishing off your studies you’re also here at T+T on an internship. How are you finding it at the moment and what stuff are you looking forward to getting involved with?

The internship experience has been great so far! I've been working on a side of engineering that I haven't really had much experience with, just designing and working with AutoCAD. There are so many different things that I've had to familiarise myself with. I feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end, but the team have been great in accommodating me and supporting me. I feel like I have too many questions at times, but the team have been super awesome in answering everything. I’m keen to just keep learning. I feel like with the team there’s so much more to learn and also just forming connections with people inside and outside of T+T and the wider community here. It’s such a great environment and I just want to make the most of the opportunity that I've been given.

Once you graduate and settle into the engineering profession, what would you like to achieve?

Me personally, I’d like to make an impact within the Pacific region. An upcoming goal would be to hopefully graduate with honours, and I’d like to inspire other Pacific youths to pursue engineering careers because we need more brown representation within those spaces. I’d like to go back to Samoa, gain some work experience and build my own professional capacity as an engineer - either working through private sector or with contractors and consultants. Hopefully I can branch into government and make an impact in that space. The long-term goal is to open up a construction firm with my cousins and relatives who are also pursuing engineering degrees. The dream is to branch out into the Pacific, serve the community within the Pacific, and provide employment opportunities to people in the region.

What advice would you give to Pasifika people looking to get into the engineering field?

It’s to never underestimate the tasks ahead and to keep up your consistency from the beginning. If you want to get into engineering, make sure it is what you want as there are many challenges that will come up. It's important to build up essential skills like time management too and a strong work ethic.

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Vensel Margraff was named “Top Pacific NZ Scholar” by the PCF on the 10th of December.

Born and raised in Samoa, Vensel Margraff is a high achiever who has consistently excelled throughout his educational journey to serving as a leader in his Pacific community and Engineering field.

In 2016, he was awarded head-boy and Dux of Robert Louis Stevenson College. The following year he was announced as the top national student for the foundation year at the National University of Samoa. Subsequently, he was awarded an international scholarship under New Zealand MFAT to study a Bachelor of Civil Engineering with Honours at the University of Auckland.

Awarded the top first-year SPIES award for Engineering he was subsequently inducted into Lalava Scholars, an ambassador’s program under the Pacific Pro Vice-Chancellor. He continues his passion for academics by carrying out infrastructure vulnerability research with the University.

During his holidays, he garnered work experience for the Land Transport Authority and the Ministry for Public Works in Samoa, assisting with the technical design and management of local government projects. Over this summer, he will be working a placement for the design services team at Tonkin +Taylor.

Exemplifying student leadership, he was elected as part two representative for the civil faculty committee and is a mentor for the student organisation SPIES. He enjoys tutoring calculus and science for the Pacific Academy and Tuakana programs. Through his lessons he wants to inspire younger Pacific and Maori students towards STEM-related careers.

Outside of University Vensel loves playing rugby for the Under-21 representative squad of the coveted Ponsonby Rugby Club.

He aspires to use his degree to support future development and sustainability projects in Samoa. His goal is to launch a construction firm with his relatives who are likewise studying Engineering. With such a venture, they desire to provide high-quality solutions and employment opportunities for families around the region.