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Thursday 23 September 2021 4:16pm

ANews 0921 Malia at the Wellington rail yards
Malia at the Wellington rail yards

Helping KiwiRail work towards its sustainability goals is the key focus of recent Otago graduate Malia Vehikite.

Born in Christchurch to Tongan parents, Malia looked to follow her father's footsteps into a career in engineering. However, after a year at the University of Canterbury she decided that her interests lay elsewhere.

With strong results in mathematics and physics she enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Energy Studies at Otago, which she followed with honours in Energy Management as part of a Bachelor of Applied Science.

Malia was glad that she had a younger sister at Otago when she arrived, to help her settle into life in Dunedin.

“One of the reasons I enjoyed Otago so much is that everyone is flatting together in the same area and everyone is really supportive of each other. We had a great time, but we certainly worked very hard too.”

Her supervisor for her honour's year, Associate Professor Zhifa Sun, was a “standout” during her time at the University and Associate Professor Michael Jack was also a “key influence” in her career choice.

Malia says as she got further into her studies, sustainability, renewable energy and climate change became key interests. Her current role at KiwiRail gives her a chance to apply the skills she learnt at Otago.

“It wasn't until I got into my role that I realised how important it was that energy can go hand-in-hand with carbon, and carbon is key to the environmental pillar of sustainability.”

ANews 0921 Malia graduating BSc in Energy Studies (2016)
Malia graduating BSc in Energy Studies (2016)

After finishing her studies, Malia did a summer internship with the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in Wellington. This involved three months of work with the Department of Conservation, but once this was finished she was glad to be offered a KiwiRail Energy Graduate role.

“Although the work with DOC was very meaningful, it didn't align with my studies. The new KiwiRail role was co-funded in partnership with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (ECCA) and was a much better fit.”

Her initial role was working in the carbon and energy space within KiwiRail, from which she progressed into her current Sustainability Advisor role.

“Really my main focus has been supporting the organisation in trying to identify areas across the business where there are opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint and/or increase energy efficiency. This ranged from supporting the installation of LED upgrades in facility buildings to making sure new assets (such as the new locomotives) include sustainability, carbon and energy efficiency in the procurement processes.

“We're trying to embed sustainability within the organisation. Currently it's mainly focused around our 2030 and 2050 carbon reduction targets and trying to identity what initiatives we have in place to make that happen.”

Despite spending the last few years in Wellington Malia says that she is very proud of her time at Otago and always trumpets its many virtues to anyone considering tertiary study.

“I absolutely loved my time at Otago uni and I loved the Energy Management programme. I hope that the programme continues to grow along with the continued focus on climate change and sustainability in New Zealand and overseas.”

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