Community project brings joy at Christmas

Every Thursday for nine weeks, students from St Bernard’s College’s (SBC) Pasifika STEMMD  (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, Manufacturing and Design) class worked with Victoria’s School of Design alumnus and SBC old boy Lionel Taito-Matamua to design and 3D-print Christmas ornaments for Hutt Hospital’s children’s ward.


On 15 December, the ornaments were presented to the hospital as white blanks—in Christmas shapes such as stars, angels and snowmen—ready for children to decorate and hang on the Christmas tree that Lionel set up in the playroom.


“It’s always tough to have a child in hospital, but Christmas can be especially hard,” says Lionel, a father of one himself. “We wanted to give the kids a fun activity to do that would put a smile on their faces and temporarily take their minds off the fact they’re in hospital.”


The project was one of several that Lionel delivered this year into a number of Wellington secondary schools—plus a rural school in Gisborne—as part of his outreach programme Creative Pathways.


“Our aim is to use creativity to create pathways to higher education and better career opportunities for Māori, Pasifika and female students, who are currently under-represented in high-paying fields such as science, design and technology,” Lionel explains.
“The idea is to incorporate 3D printing into a school’s STEMMD curriculum to help bring those subjects to life, and introduce the concepts of design. It’s now widely recognised that the STEMMD subjects are important for a huge range of different careers and for life in general.”


Porirua College already had an idea in mind for Lionel’s workshop—the subject was ‘working with physics’ and the class was studying forces in motion—kinetic energy, balance etc.


“The students were asked to design their own spinning top, taking into consideration the science behind it taught by their teacher, and had to sketch and model a number of different options on a computer before printing their final result,” says Lionel. “They had to consider issues like ‘where is the weight best placed?’ and ‘what form works best for a longer spin?’ which really got them thinking.”


The 3D printer that the College had purchased the year before has now gone from ‘gathering dust’ to working flat-out. “It just hasn’t stopped,” says Lionel—who has already been invited back next year.


While Creative Pathways is currently aimed at year nine and ten students, Lionel says some schools are already asking for his help to plan design projects for Levels 1 to 3 of the NCEA curriculum.


The programme started as a pilot project in 2015, when Lionel taught year nine science students at Taita College how to use 3D modelling software and 3D printers, and asked them to think about how they could use the technology to recycle plastics. The idea came after the New Zealand-born Samoan witnessed the sheer volume of plastic waste in Samoa while visiting for his grandmother’s funeral.


“With no recycling stations in Samoa, I started thinking about how 3D printing, design and the re-use of waste materials could be combined to enable Pacific communities to form businesses that use 3D printers to recycle plastics into useful products,” says the innovator, who used the idea as the basis of his Master of Design Innovation thesis. “But I wanted to try it closer to home first before taking it to Samoa.”


Viclink’s Emily Grinter subsequently secured funding from the Ministry of Youth and Development which was used to get the Taita College pilot underway, and purchase four printers over the past two years.


“Getting any kind of programme like this going is always a team effort,” says Lionel. “Viclink’s support, together with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s NZProduct Accelerator, and the tireless enthusiasm of people like Professor Simon Fraser and Jeongbin Ok from the School of Design, have been invaluable in getting Creative Pathways off the ground, and hopefully into Samoa in the future,” says Lionel. “It’s also enabled us to give two Industrial Design students the opportunity to become mentors, giving them skills and experience that will be really attractive to future employers.”


He’s excited about the year ahead, with 2017 dates already locked in with the schools he’s worked with this year, and new schools asking if they can take part. “Word seems to be getting around!” he laughs. “It’s great to think I can create a job out of doing something I love; taking kids through the design process, and seeing their faces light up when they get something tangible back at the end is  so satisfying, not to mention the thought that it might just change their career directions for the better. I’m a lucky guy.”


For more information on Creative Pathways, contact Lionel Taito-Matamua at lioneltaito@gmail.com