The first of its kind in Aotearoa, Pūhoro STEM Academy is developing the passion for learning science amongst young Māori students.

Pūhoro sky rocket experiment 1

STEM motivation

The academy launched in 2016 in response to nationally low engagement of Māori students in STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering & mathematics. With a vision to advance Māori leadership and capability, Pūhoro is developing future indigenous leaders through long-term relationships that see the development of students from Year 11, through to university and employment.

Naomi Manu is the Director of the Pūhoro STEM programme and believes that these relationships are fuelling the growth and success of their students.

“What we’ve been seeing is students want to come back every year. Between year 11 and 12 our retention rate is around 92% which is significant” says Naomi.

Delivered throughout the school year, the Pūhoro programme engages students through tutorials, kaihaututū, mentoring, wānanga, exam preparation and whānau STEM expos. “Our kids are creative. And it’s broadening out those attitudes and beliefs about what science is”. Pūhoro lab experiment

Growth of the programme

In 2016, 8 schools participated in the programme. Now in its third year – demand for the programme from schools, parents and students continues to grow.

“Demand’s a big thing. We have students, whānau, schools, iwi, messaging us probably 2 to 3 times a week. Different groups asking if there were spots available on the programme, from up and down the country” Naomi says.

“Right now we’ve got a little over 450 students in the programme and that’s only within a few regions at the moment. Our first year was 97 students so it’s growth is because of demand and because of the reputation the program’s building”. 

"We have students, whānau, schools, iwi, messaging us probably 2 to 3 times a week. Different groups asking if there were spots available on the programme, from up and down the country””

Naomi Manu - Director of Pūhoro STEM Academy

Developing aspirations

rockets before flightStudents involved in the programme are setting their sights far beyond the end of each year with many planning to enter into engineering.

“We have students that come onboard in year 11 that talk about wanting to be engineers. And throughout the program we’re unpacking what that might look like.”

Naomi says female students are becoming increasingly interested in breaking into this traditionally male dominated industry.

“Girls are becoming more interested because we’re talking to them about what humanitarian engineering is.”

“Eventually what we want to do is – we’ll support students to go wherever there aspirations lead them. And that means connecting with other universities, depending on where they want to go”. 

Looking to the future 

The next steps for Naomi and Pūhoro is looking at tertiary support and internships for their students.

“With the Year 13 program they’re starting to touch their future careers. So we’ve got them involved in project based learning. They’re involved in projects throughout the term and that culminates in a wānanga event”.

The programme is pushing students to identify real life problems in their projects and put themselves in the roles of their potential career pathways. “[...] as if they were an engineer or if they were a vet or any kind of health issue, how they would solve those real world problems as if that was what they were doing in their jobs right now”. In doing so, Pūhoro students are able to get insight and exposure in the industries and continue growing Māori participation in the STEM communities.Pūhoro sky rocket experiment 2

Naomi also sees students becoming a part of the programme throughout various stages of their lives.

“For those who do come here, we’ve started to plan how they can contribute to Pūhoro. Some of our Year 13 students who do come here, we’ve had discussions about being employed in the Pūhoro program to be team leaders, be mentors and actually go and tutor back in the schools”.

Those that are coming through the programme now, already want to be able to manaaki the future Pūhoro students in years to come.


The programme has been sponsored by Te Tumu Paeroa from the beginning, when it was just an idea. Naomi says “A lot of that ongoing support from our partners is tremendous because it’s how we can keep doing what we’re doing”. 

- Maika Bennett