STEAM trail blazers’ life after high school

Ariana (above left) and Shella (above right) are pictured centre at Space Camp undertaking a flight simulation in Hunstville Alabama, United States in 2018.

STEAM alumna and trailblaizers Ariana George and Shella Dabbach took off to pursue their dreams and complete a Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Science majoring in Food Science and Nutrition at Auckland University respectively. They have just finished their first Semester and here is what they had to say about the STEAM and ESTEAM programmes at Westlake Girls and how it helped them define their school leavers pathway.

Ariana is studying Engineering at the University of Auckland. She is of Te Rarawa and Ngāti Hauā descent, and is determined to encourage more Māori wāhine to follow in her foot steps. She featured recently on the Māori in Engineering podcast on Spotify talking about her schooling experience as a wāhine Māori, what helped her, and how we can get more Māori, Pasifika, and women into STEM/STEAM. Ariana is also supporting our Pupuke Kāhui Ako with the planning and design of  a STEAM Power-Ed Community Event, focusing on breaking down barriers at primary and Intermediate that led to under-representation of Māori, Pasifika, and women in STEAM and STEAM careers.

Ariana George

Looking back, what do you feel were the main highlights and successes of the WGHS STEAM programme at junior level and the ESTEAM programme at senior school?

The project-based learning environment was so helpful for me, it set me up to confidently work within group environments and set expectations with group members. I struggled in the mainstream learning environment in Year 11 due to the individual-based learning environment. As I was a super shy Year 9, having our classes integrated over the two years in STEAM allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, make new friends and form good relationships with my teachers. STEAM introduced me to the world of technology and innovation which ultimately led to my decision to study engineering. 

The STEAM programme gave me a lot of confidence and reassurance in myself. It allowed me a safe space to grow and explore learning while I was super shy and unsure of myself. Both programmes have open up opportunities, I’ve done internships, gone to space camp, started my own tutoring business and more recently started an Engineering and Arts Degree at Auckland University. 

Did STEAM guide your decision-making as a school leaver or at university?

The biggest help for me was the relationships STEAM allowed me to create, some of them due to my newfound self-assurance but a lot of them due to the people STEAM introduced me to such as Alexia Hilbertidou, founder of Girboss. From meeting Alexia, I signed up for an internship programme with Fletcher’s and then got offered a paid internship with Flecter’s. Without these relationships and the confidence the STEAM programme granted me, I never would’ve decided to do Engineering at University. Especially because STEAM taught me what an engineer actually is (hint: it’s not always a man in a hard hat).

What 3 skills did you gain from STEAM that are still relevant and helping you today?

  1. Perseverance 
  2. Innovation
  3. Effective Communication 

What were the main barriers for you at primary/intermediate school in terms of feeling confident about STEM/STEAM? 

Lack of confidence was the biggest thing that held me back in trying out new things. I was also a bit of a quitter when I wasn’t immediately good at something. However, I loved reading about science, animals, and pretty much everything else. I absorbed information and loved learning at that age so I think I would’ve really enjoyed a STEAM programme if it had been around when I was in primary/intermediate. When I was younger, we only really had extension/gate programmes which I didn’t get into. 

What would be your main message to Year 8 students about the STEAM programme?

The soft skills that the STEAM programme will teach you, like communication, time management, networking, and teamwork will make you a highly-sought after person in any career. And I know it seems like a very long time away but these skills will also help you build more confidence and build strong relationships with other students. Year 9 can make you feel like you’re a small fish in a huge ocean and the STEAM programme made it feel a bit smaller and less scary. 







Ariana with the Kaupapa Māori Floor at Waipārūrū Hall, University of Auckland, on her birthday.

Shella Dabbach

It was through high-school (pictured left) that I experienced a deep passion for the environment after learning so much in school about our own carbon footprint and the easy simple changes every human-being can make to reduce this! My passion grew and manifested itself into every corner of my life, including adopting a plant-based diet to further support our environment. 

Now at the University of Auckland, I’m studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in Food Science and Nutrition. This degree really intrigues me as I interlink STEAM values with our Earth and human habits.

Looking back, what do you feel were the main highlights and successes of the WGHS STEAM programme at junior level and the ESTEAM programme at senior school?

Friendships. Strong connections. An ability to create and question. These are integral foundation stones to our education system. As human-beings today, the strongest communities are those that thrive together and benefit from each-other. We learn better when we can teach each other. 

Thus, STEAM/ESTEAM had successfully built wāhine that were able to look beyond themselves and question the world and everything around them. In STEAM, major highlights included having guest speakers come in, a passion-project to dive into exploring current issues today, and a strong network of like-minded Wahine who were prepared to change the world destroying society’s old-traditional beliefs towards women in STEAM and the broken education system.

 What were the main barriers for you in primary/intermediate school in terms of feeling confident about STEM/STEAM? 

Approval! It was definitely the need to approve of society’s expectations. BOOM! SMASH! Then realising, I don’t have to follow the guidelines of what a girl is expected to look like, be like, or act like, and thus I learned to grow confident in my own skin and empower myself such as fellow students are encouraged to do so in STEAM. I am the creator of my own destiny and my own self-identity and if I want to be a woman in STEAM then I can be a woman in STEAM despite societal stigmas.