Building a passion for design and sustainability

A desire to give something back to her community has motivated Victoria University of Wellington student Zoe So’otaga to study towards a Bachelor of Building Science at the University’s Faculty of Architecture and Design.



Her passion stems from wanting to make a difference to the lives of Pasifika people.


“I’m half Samoan, a quarter Tokelauan and a quarter European, and grew up in a Pacific Island community in Wellington,” she says.


“Housing is a big issue for Pasifika and Māori families—it’s often a struggle to find something that suits the family-oriented culture. The houses are often too small, or they don’t have any insulation and children get sick from the cold and damp.”


Zoe says discovering that Victoria University offered a qualification in Building Science was a lightbulb moment.


“I wanted a career where I could help people. I had always loved science at school, and I’m also quite creative, and Building Science is a way to bring those things together,” she says.


“I also realised it would be a way for me to learn about building healthy, sustainable housing for Pacific Island and Māori families, which is something I feel really strongly about.”


Zoe found some of the technical aspects of her course challenging at first, but through a university mentoring programme she was able to master what she needed to achieve great results.


“About 70 percent of my course involves using computer-aided design software, which I found really hard,” she says.


“But through Te Rōpū Āwhina, a support network for Māori and Pasifika students within the Faculties of Science, Engineering and Architecture and Design, I received some really valuable mentoring from older students who had been through it before.”


Zoe says one of the biggest things she’s learned since coming to the University is how to work independently.


“The lecturers and tutors will give you all the information you need, but it’s up to you to make sure you learn that content and really understand it,” she says.


“That kind of independent learning can be quite scary at first, but it’s really empowering knowing that if you put in the effort you make the most of your ability.”


The lecturers and tutors at the Faculty of Architecture and Design make Victoria University the best place in the country to study Building Science, says Zoe.


“They are really inspiring—they come from all over the world and all have different backgrounds, so bring a range of perspectives to what you learn. It’s awesome having all these creative and diverse minds to feed off.”


One of Zoe’s favourite courses so far has been in sustainable studies.


“That was the moment I knew I was studying the perfect degree,” she says. “It was inspirational—it has made me very aware of my impact on the world, in both big and small ways. I’ve become really passionate about recycling and am also much more conscious about the amount of electricity I use, too.”


Zoe says studying science is great, and she actively encourages other Māori and Pasifika students to give it a try.


“It’s a great feeling to know about the world and how it works, and to know I’m going to be able to make a difference to the lives of others in the future.”


For more information about Victoria University go to: