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$50,000 grant will help more Rotorua kids fuel their passion for robotics and engineering

Tompkins Wake is continuing its support of Te Aka Mauri, Rotorua Library and Children’s Health Hub, with a $50,000 grant over the next three years.

In 2019, senior leaders at Tompkins Wake were presented with an opportunity: to sponsor Te Aka Mauri in its quest to bring Rotorua’s young people into the world of technology and robotic engineering. The proposed work was grassroots in nature and creative in its intended output. CEO Jon Calder recalls the sponsorship decision.

“We were impressed with the scope of the vision – welcoming young kids into the hands-on world of robotics and engineering. It was innovative. We could see why kids would jump onboard and we wanted to invest $30,000 to enable Te Aka Mauri to make it happen. The work was important.”

Over the three years of sponsorship, the dedicated team at Te Aka Mauri have combined laptops and coding with soldering irons and circular saws to open a world of tech possibilities. Jessica Cathro, Te Aka Mauri’s Digital Technology Educator, describes the responsive interest among Rotorua’s youth.

“For many kids, coding and software is foreign. They don’t think they can do it, plus, it looks boring – people hunched over computers for hours.

“With the support of Tompkins Wake, we’ve been able to show the exciting side of coding and engineering, to help young students see that these are the building blocks for making underwater robots and self-driving cars and anything else. Once the kids saw what could be done, they threw themselves into it!

“We’ve also focused on getting girls involved. Girls typically leave engineering and coding to the boys, but our experience shows that all a girl needs is a vision for what’s possible and the opportunity to join in. In some national tech programmes, like Evolocity, girls make up 10% of participants. In Rotorua, 30% are girls and 30% are Māori. We think that’s a good sign.”

Other good signs are the numbers of Rotorua kids signing up. The NZAquabots is a good example. As the name suggests, NZAquaBots is a robotics programme where youth teams build remotely-operated underwater vehicles, then compete in New Zealand-themed challenges.

In the last few years, Rotorua has had the largest regional participation – 198 students making 66 teams. More than that, the Aquabot kids from Rotorua have taken top honours on the national stage.

Jessica can see the clear link between their success and the sponsorship of Tompkins Wake.

“All of these innovation projects are equipment-dependent. You can’t code without computers, and you can’t build robots and electric cars without heavy-duty tools and materials. That’s where most of the money has been spent – on laptops and tools, like soldering irons, hacksaws, vices, drills, circular saws, grinders. Venue hire also comes into it.

“Without Tompkins Wake, these kids couldn’t afford to fund their way in, and Te Aka Mauri doesn’t have the resources to sponsor them. But look what we’ve done with $30,000 – almost 1,500 kids have learned to love programming and have brought their coding concepts to life!”

Student feedback matches Jessica’s assessment. From the 2021 Evolocity electric car programme, 73% of Rotorua participants were new to the event, and 9 out of 10 wanted to be involved again. Those are significant numbers. Significant enough for Tompkins Wake to increase its sponsorship from $30,000 to $50,000 over the next three years.

“When we reviewed what Te Aka Mauri had accomplished in such a short period, we were proud to have played a supporting role,” says Jon Calder. “Providing our rangitahi with the opportunity to learn, create and innovate is massively exciting, and Tompkins Wake wants to help Jessica and her team do even more. That’s why we’re putting another $20,000 into their budget. We believe in what Te Aka Mauri is doing, and we want to keep being a part of it.”

Tompkins Wake’s history in Rotorua dates back to 1898 when its legacy law firm Davys Burton was founded. The firm’s grant to Te Aka Mauri comes as the firm celebrates its 100th birthday.

“It’s just one way we can give back to the people of Rotorua who have supported Tompkins Wake and its predecessor over the last century.

“We are incredibly grateful and privileged to work for so many clients in the wider Rotorua district who turn to and trust Tompkins Wake with matters most important to them.”