Sean Rasmussen

Ngāti Porou /Samoa

Bachelor of Engineering with Honours

Sean Rasmussen with a guitar he designed and made for a course project.
Sean Rasmussen with a guitar he designed and made for a course project.

Those weighing up a career in engineering often face two pathway choices – a hands on apprenticeship or an academic degree. But a Massey University student is proving you can have both.

Sean Rasmussen went straight from Gisborne Boys’ High School to the NZ Welding School and then onto an apprenticeship and into work as a fabricator both here and in Australia. But on his return to New Zealand the opportunity to work at Massey University as the technical services manager opened up, and the opportunity to also study for a degree.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with being on the tools, but I just wanted a change and I’ve always been someone who is a continuous learner so this is just perfect for me. Even when I was doing my apprenticeship, doing night school and stuff, I always thought I would take a back road and someday end up with an engineering degree. I didn’t know it would be in mechatronics though.”

Sean is studying part time for his Bachelor of Engineering with Honours majoring in mechatronics while working at Massey’s School of Food and Advanced Technology on the Massey’s Auckland campus. “It’s good because when I do the project papers myself I can see where improvements can be made in the technical aspects and also give feedback from a student perspective.”

He says the future opportunities engineering offers are boundless especially working with hi-tech robots and artificial intelligence. “There’s that vibe that robots and artificial intelligence are taking peoples jobs and that’s true to an extent, but they’re also creating new jobs and a whole new type of workforce which is just going to transform what people do in the future.”

Sean also enjoys the challenge of ergonomic design and the chance to see it put to good use and help people. “We do a lot of projects with people, such as with those with cerebral palsy, to make their lives a bit easier. I do enjoy that side of it and coming up with simple ideas and solutions. A former student and staff member is now involved with Engineers Without Borders so being a bit like ‘MacGyver’ turning local materials into something that will help people’s daily lives in poor communities.”

Another exciting project came with a call from his cousin to go to Samoa to build the ceremonial cauldron for the recent Pacific Games. “We had two and half weeks before the Games opened and they hadn’t started and didn’t know how to build it – so it was an interesting challenge”. But Sean says it was amazing to see it light up at the opening ceremony and have everyone erupt. “The locals were so appreciative to have a Samoan build it in Samoa – that hadn’t been done before so it was a very special feeling.”

Of Samoan and Māori descent, Sean is puzzled why so few Māori and Pasifika pursue engineering careers. “I know so many people who are really intuitive and they can make something out of nothing but I think it’s the academic side which scares people off – people see the maths and the physics and go – oh I can’t be bothered with that.” He says that’s one area where Massey has been a great help to him. “I had to come back to academia 10 years after leaving high school which meant having to go back into this quite complex maths and physics, but Massey helped me through it and gave me the one on one support I needed.”

He says people shouldn’t get hung up on the idea of academia. “You can be the arty guy – the practical guy and the academic guy – it’s just where you apply yourself really. I’m lucky to be able to balance those things.”

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