Born in Fiji, Jalesi Nakarawa moved to New Zealand at a young age and remembers distinctly the financial struggles his family went through as they settled into their new life.
While studying at Hamilton Boys High School, he took mostly science and maths subjects but would have dropped them for PE in Year 12, if not for a Samoan maths teacher who really pushed him to stay the course and set him on a path to studying engineering at the University of Auckland.
“I didn’t really know about engineering as a career, my parents didn’t either.”
Jalesi found out about TupuToa during the second year of his university studies and secured an internship with CPB Contractors.
“It was a great experience. I learnt a lot on that job.”
The following year, Jalesi secured another TupuToa internship, this time with AECOM working on the Auckland City Rail Link (CRL) project.
“It was such a good opportunity – a huge project which is completely changing the face of the city. I got to work with engineers from around the world.”
He also participated in the University’s Dean’s leadership programme and become a mentor for first year engineering students.
Now in his fourth and final year of university studies, Jalesi has been offered a graduate role with AECOM.
Being one of the few Pacific Islanders in a room of a hundred or so people hasn’t been easy – both at university and while on internships.
“While there aren’t that many Māori and Pacific people in engineering firms, I learnt over time that no one really cared where I was from. The focus is on getting the job done.”
“I was also very lucky in that my host companies were so welcoming of me.”
Jalesi says his cultural values have been an asset on the job.
“Most of the labourers on job sites are Māori and Pacific, being able to relate to labourers and tradies has been valuable.”
TupuToa workshops and the role models and speakers he has met as a result have inspired Jalesi to be proud of his culture and to strive to greater heights.
“I’ve learnt a lot from the programmes TupuToa offers about how to engage in the corporate world without losing a sense of my cultural identity. The team at TupuToa can relate to our needs and struggles and support us accordingly.”
The middle child of eight, Jalesi was the first in his family to finish high school. His younger siblings are still at school and he hopes they will be inspired by his journey to keep aiming higher.
In terms of his own future, Jalesi hopes to work in Australia, and then go back to Fiji to give back and make a difference.