J’aime Laurenson

J’aime Laurenson, University of Auckland alumnus (Law and Engineering) and recipient of the inaugural 2010 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards talks about striving for the best and encouraging others to do the same.

J’aime Laurenson
J’aime Laurenson

I graduated earlier this year with a BE(Hons)/LLB(Hons) with First Class Honours. When I started University it was the first year that they offered both degrees as a conjoint. I was generally good at maths at school, and so Engineering was a natural choice for me. My dad is a lawyer so there was a lot of encouragement from him to study Law. I am usually keen for a challenge so I thought: “Why not?”

The first year was quite difficult, as combining the two was really hard at times. Sometimes I felt I had to be two different people. In some cases you need to think like an Engineer and sometimes like a Lawyer. But I also found that the skills I learned in each were transferable, and that I was able to view things from a completely different standpoint than the norm.

During my studies I had a lot of good support from my family, my mates, and the University. I was mentored in my first year through Tuakana and CATS (the Chancellors Award for Top Scholars). Mentoring helped a lot just to know that there was someone else there to help out and to encourage me to approach lecturers for help which is something I used to struggle with.

I still made time to hang out with my mates, play sports, keep up with social stuff, and keep active – which is what I’ve always told the younger guys who I’ve mentored. You’ve got to keep up that balance – you can’t just hit the books all day.

This year, after six and a half years of study, I’ve taken a break, working part time at the Engineering faculty – but not quite a break because I’ve also been studying for my Law professionals. I hope to be admitted to the bar next year. At the moment I don’t plan to practice Law but I will definitely make use of the degree and the skills I have learned.

I was stoked to hear that I was shortlisted for an interview for the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for Leadership, and even more so when I found out that I received it. The scholarship pays fees towards a Masters or PhD at the University of Auckland, and postgraduate study has always been a goal of mine.

I always assumed that I would just go straight into a PhD. I have an uncle with a PhD in Psychology. He has been pushing me to do postgraduate-level studies since I was a kid, I guess he thought I could handle it. I am keen to continue in Engineering but I’m also open to gaining a qualification in Business. I’m in two minds at the moment.

My family was one of the first to settle in Central Auckland from Samoa in the 1950s and we used to go back every year when I was a child. On a personal level I would like to set up some sort of aid work in Samoa – when I am older and a bit more experienced. I don’t know exactly what yet, but I will figure that out along the way.

A lot of my involvement with the Pacific community has been through promoting the importance of education at high school and university level. I’ve been part of South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students (SPIES). We travel to schools around New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and use our students as role models to promote tertiary education in general, and as a subset of that encouraging more Māori and Pacific youth to take up Engineering. There’s a common misconception about what Engineering is - they usually think we are mechanics and that we fix cars. We try to dispel that myth and give them a broader view of engineering. We tell them: “We are problem-solvers” and that Engineering helps you develop a way of thinking which enables you to find appropriate solutions that can meet various needs, including those of the community.” We show examples of different types of engineering and try to open their minds to the opportunities that are out there for them.…

There’s a shortage of engineers, and more specifically we need more Māori and Pacific engineers, and so we try to show that engineering is a real option and can be a great career for them. These kids see us as someone they can relate to, someone who has come from a similar background. In terms of my future I want to continue encouraging others in this way to have goals and strive for success.

It is something my father taught me, and something I ask myself “Why not strive for the best that you can do?”