From shy girl to stereotype buster, 23-year-old Adrianne Mendes acknowledges the role of strong women and education as a gamechanger in her life.
Coming from a family of five children, Adrianne and her twin sister were the first to complete high school and go to university.
“My mum had us when she was quite young, so she never really had an education and she was determined that our future would be different.”
Studying a Bachelor of Science in Maths and Chemistry at the University of Auckland, Adrianne was in the minority with very few Māori studying STEM subjects.
“I was very shy in high school and it wasn’t until I was at University that I found the confidence to open up and express myself. And if it wasn’t for the Māori and Pacific students, I wouldn’t have taken up as many opportunities as I did.
“The thought of giving back was more rewarding then my fear of being in the spotlight.”
While at university, Adrianne was involved in mentoring and tutoring science related subjects for the UniBound program – a transition programme aimed at supporting Māori and Pacific students into tertiary education. She was also a sports leader for the Science Faculty and a sports officer for the Māori Association Ngā Tauira Māori, aiming to promote an increase in Māori health and wellbeing.
And together with her sister who is studying engineering, Adrianne didn’t only inspire those in her own whanau to further their education. As part of Ngā Tauira Māori, Adrianne, with fellow association members, also travelled to different regions throughout New Zealand, speaking at schools to encourage more Māori and Pacific students, and more girls, to take up STEM.
“It was great to be able to show the possibilities that exist – that we can do further study, that we can get into jobs that are different from our parents, that we can make something of ourselves.
“Seeing at university, some of those girls we spoke to when they were in high school, makes it all so rewarding.”
Through TupuToa, Adrianne secured an internship with Air New Zealand, where she works in the Networks, Planning and Strategy team. She gets involved with long-term planning including doing business case analysis for potential new flights. She has also presented to senior executives, something she was nervous about but has succeeded in doing thanks to an inclusive and supportive culture at Air New Zealand.
While different cultures can be an advantage in the workplace because “you bring creative ideas and a different perspective”, Adrianne feels the corporate environment needs to change to adapt to different cultural needs.
“For example, not just having a powhiri or singing a waiata, but bringing a support person into an interview, or having someone in your interview that you can relate to. We are humble people and find it hard to talk about our achievements which makes it hard when you have to sell yourself in an interview.”
Adrianne credits her TupuToa Navigator for providing much needed reassurance to be able to succeed in a corporate environment, “because even in many big companies, there aren’t that many brown faces.”
She encourages young people to “put yourself out there and take hold of opportunities”.
“I am really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and the people who have made it possible. Thanks to a good education and this internship, the possibilities are endless.”