Before he had even started university study, Tiotio Lockington knew he wanted to contribute to renewable energy efforts in his home country of Samoa.
He is now doing just that and is on his way to becoming a graduate engineer at the Electric Power Corporation (EPC) of Samoa, where he works to carry out preventive maintenance works on the company’s renewable energy sources.
As the recipient of a Manaaki New Zealand Scholarship, a scholarship awarded by the New Zealand government to high-achieving international tertiary students, Tiotio chose to study a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waikato.
“As a high school student in Samoa, we were told that the opportunities to study engineering through the scholarship were limited, but that special consideration would be given to a student keen on studying renewable energy and sustainability,” says Tiotio. “Fortunately for me, my areas of interest aligned with that so I was happy to do engineering at Waikato.”
Tiotio says aside from the usual challenges of completing a degree – multiple assignments, readings and competing deadlines - there were also many highlights.
“One of the best ones was the capstone project I worked on with two other engineering students for the Engineering Design Show, which was to develop a mechanical component which could potentially absorb random vibrations, similar to what would occur during earthquakes.
“Our team set a goal at the start of the year, and worked hard to achieve it. We ended up completing a theoretical model to describe the model, and simulated the results, as well as designing and building the testing rig to obtain results similar to what we had in our theoretical analysis. Looking back, it gives you a sense of appreciation as to what you can accomplish when you put the work in.”
While achieving outstanding grades, Tiotio also made lifelong friends with classmates, was part of the STEM Māori and Pasifika club, and valued the passion and knowledge of his lecturers.
He was also exposed to professional engineering work during his work placements, which also helped lead to his current role.
“I completed my first work placement at EPC, where I currently work, and learned a lot about how renewable energy is integrated into Samoa’s electrical grid and the benefits and setbacks of that, and the tools used in the operations of certain utility components.
“My second work placement was a summer research scholarship through the University, working with Dr Amir Tarighaleslami and Dr Martin Atkins to carry out research in fouling mitigation techniques within the Sustainable Energy and Water Systems Research Group, and this gave me great experience applying academic thought to industry.”
While Tiotio enjoyed his studies at Waikato, he says he continues to learn “on the go” in his new role, something he says other engineering graduates should get used to.
“I personally believe I learnt most of the skills I have today during my years at university, but I also believe that that the best teacher is experience. I love that my job is very hands-on, and working with renewable energy sources you start with learning the engineering principles behind their operations, and build your knowledge and experience from that and through feedback from supervisors.
“I feel grateful to be in a role now where I have the opportunity to give back to my country and contribute to pursuing clean energy and emissions reductions from the energy sector.”