Nadeen Papali’i

Story by Sonya Bloomfield

Nadeen has harnessed her engineering skills and desire to make a difference to build a bridge towards educational equality in New Zealand.

Growing up in Otara, as a Samoan female, Nadeen’s place in a University of Auckland Engineering degree challenged many stereotypes.  She had been to a careers day at school and what attracted her to engineering was the fact that engineering helped people. She thought, “well I’m a Pacific woman and I want to help people.”  

You can see the passion in her eyes and sweep across her face when she talks about this.  

Early on in her degree there were aspects of her studies that she didn’t enjoy, but she learnt the value of perseverance and determination to achieve her goals and graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) majoring in Chemical and Materials Engineering. 

Another mountain conquered. 

During Nadeen’s studies, her involvement with Engineers Without Borders on water projects in Vanuatu initiated a long term desire to address water quality issues in developing countries. Her decision to take on further study and complete a Masters in Environmental Engineering was a stepping stone in this direction.

While she was studying she heard all these negative things about pacific people on the radio. “I wanted to help but I didn’t know how to sing or act and make an impact at that level. All I knew how to do was school. So I went to the library to do some research and asked if they had any tutoring programs that would enable me to help out.”  
Nadeen loved tutoring, she loved breaking things down for people, it was her strength. 

“When I met Seren at Teach First NZ, she helped me see that I could help my community and pacific people succeed through education. I was finishing my masters, the timing was right, everything was aligning.” 

Nadeen could see the parallels between the Teach First NZ programme, transferring knowledge in the classroom; and her early dreams of working with developing countries transferring technologies. “Instead of trying to implement new technologies into developing countries, I recognized the need for solutions that were sustainable.  I feel like education is a key ingredient to finding sustainable solutions, so the Teach First NZ programme felt like a great fit.”

Engineering has taught Nadeen how to problem solve, how to plan, how to break things down; and she has found those skills to be directly transferable to the classroom. 

From the first session and interview process with Teach First NZ it felt right.  “I have developed and matured so much as a person and my motivations and career aspirations I had before joining the programme have just been enhanced.”
Passionate about raising the level of academic achievement amongst Pasifika students, especially in Mathematics, Nadeen has initiated study workshops in the Otara community. Understanding how central education is in achieving sustainable solutions, she believes the Teach First NZ programme will condition her to impact young people within her community, and eventually with-in developing nations.

Chemical Engineering as a specific vocation hasn’t quite panned out yet but Nadeen’s original dreams of helping developing countries and addressing poverty are still beating in her. “I don’t know when or how I will get back to this [Engineering career] but I keep meeting people and being inspired by people and their achievements. Women who have gone up against the odds and won; and the consistent message is, time. It will come with time and maturing thoughts.”  

Outside of work she relaxes with her family and enjoys keeping fit with her brother.  She is in her final year of the two-year Teach First NZ programme. “Last year was intense trying to manage everything, trying to find a balance. I was trying to drive myself a little too much, but good mentors kept me on track.”

Nadeen is at the beginning of her journey.  A journey that exemplifies what can be achieved by a desire to help others and a dream to make a difference.


Nadeen  Papali’i