It is not common to associate a typical Bachelor of Computer and Mathematical Science Graduate with colourful dresses, flowers and dancing, which is why Eteroa Lafaele has made some significant waves in the last while. (If you did miss it, you can view her famous graduation dance here. ) 'I knew at the time when I graduating I would take over the stage because it was a well deserved moment,' she said. 'The dance was a celebration of a new season of life as well as one that helped me to take ownership of all my hard work.'
The 23-year-old said while there were plenty of surprised faces in the audience, those on stage with her couldn't have been more supportive.
As a Pasifika woman graduating from Auckland University of Technology with a Bachelor of Mathematical and Computer Science in NZ, she is indeed a rarity, but hopefully her presence and vitality will inspire many others to follow in her path. Eteroa is of Samoan descent, and her family moved to Porirua before she was born. Whilst one of her brothers is working within the government tech sector, Eteroa is the first of her family to complete a tertiary qualification. Eteroa humbly acknowledges that her educational opportunities would not have been possible without the sacrifices made by her hardworking parents, her taxi driver father and cafe cook mother.
Whilst attending an all-girls high school, Eteroa did not really notice any STEAM subject gender divide, however when she attended her first lecture at AUT, she realised she was one of only around 1% of females, and that representation decreased after the first year. I asked Eteroa what it had been like being the only girl, and what challenges she had faced within educational settings.
"In classes no-one listens. You do have a voice but you have to be louder. You have to go right up and speak right into their ear to be heard. " Eteroa half-laughingly says, but you can see that there have been times of frustration. "You have to be confident, and you have to back yourself, and believe in your ideas."
With a LinkedIn profile highlighting a passion for assisting research, and teaching and mentoring, especially young people, Eteroa is keen to promote CompSci as a career pathway to everyone, and points out that it is "not all about the games". Having earnt a TupuToa scholarship (for emerging Maori and Pasifika business leaders) for early next year, Eteroa has long term aims of becoming an IT Project Manager, bridging the gap between the clients, the users and the development team.
Her time has certainly been taken up with many media interviews since Eteroa's graduation, which Eteroa has used to spread her message of celebrating each day, and to inspire more Pasifika and Maori, and girls, into tech.
Her advice to Maori and Pasifika folk is simple: "Go in as who you are. Don't forget who you are and where you came from. Always be yourself."
For young women looking to follow tech as a career path Eteroa is vehement: " Stand for what you stand for Sister Girl! Don't be scared by anyone, use your voice and use it loud, because your voice matters."
Her general life advice is powerful: "Rejection is not the end of the world. If it is hard it means it's working, but you have to put the time in. And fail fast so you can succeed, that is when you will see results."
Finally Eteroa's message is simple. "This life is short......so make the most of every day..... and dance as much as you can!"
Thanks so much for your joyous graduation Eteroa, let's hope to see many more people follow in your path!
Manuia (Good luck) from the SIGNAL team