Former Sancta Maria College student Monique Cooper has received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
Cooper, a product development engineer at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare in Auckland, is the first AUT graduate and almost certainly the first qualified firefighter to receive a Rhodes Scholarship in New Zealand.
The nearly five years she spent as a volunteer firefighter is an example of the sense of community and social justice central to her studies and working life.
That sense is evident too in such activities as fundraising to build a rehabilitation centre for former child soldiers in Uganda.
Monique, 25, credits her approach to life to the day in the family garage she “watched Tearfund’s adverts about malnourished children, no older than me, on repeat”.
“My gaze panned between the diameter of the child’s upper arms and my own. A rumbling within me started – a sense of inequity. The seed to be an ally was sown in that garage.”
She was also a founding member of Manawa Ahi, an organisation rooted in Te Ao Māori values and focused on local and global social justice.
Monique was awarded a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Mechatronics from AUT in 2020 and continues to study there for a Bachelor of Business in Management and Finance.
As part of the latter, she spent three months at Copenhagen Business School as an AUT Undergraduate Scholarship recipient.
While studying for her Bachelor of Engineering, Monique interned at the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan and in Auckland at the Blind Foundation and Thought-Wired.
“Meeting the team at Thought-Wired, then a hi-tech start-up, using access technology to enable those with severe disabilities to communicate, was a pivotal moment. I was inspired by hearing their purpose – to unlock the potential of the vulnerable and/or give dignity to people with degenerative diseases,” she said.
“There I also found an interest in business models, and I have developed an understanding of social propositions in business. How we can use design thinking, data and business strategy to improve our standard of living is a passion of mine.”
For her fourth-year engineering project, Monique and others worked on a headset to enable users with severe physical disabilities to interact with their environment. She won a Callaghan Innovation Prize for Best Final Year Project – Commercialisation (Electrical and Electronic Engineering).
At Oxford, she wants to study for a Master of Science in Social Data Science and a Master of Business Administration.
Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro praised Monique, one of three “really exceptional young people” who received prestigious Rhodes Scholarships. She says they will make Aotearoa New Zealand proud.
Dame Cindy met Dr Benjamin Alsop-tenHove, Monique Cooper and Zak Devey during their selection interview for the scholarships, which will see them heading to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in October 2022 to join a cohort of more than 100 Rhodes Scholars from around the world.
The Rhodes Scholarships are postgraduate awards to support study at Oxford. Established in 1903, they are the oldest international graduate scholarship programme in the world.
“The three Rhodes Scholars are really exceptional young people,” says Dame Cindy.
“Driven by a desire to make a difference for the better, their strong sense of place and academic excellence, they will bring nuanced understandings of our contribution as a country to Oxford, to an international community of scholars and to leading international work in their fields.”