In 2018, an inspirational mentor, Icao Tiseli, began working at MATES for both the junior and senior programmes. Icao has won awards in the field of architecture while also passing on her knowledge and experiences to the MATES mentees as their mentor. Since her time at MATES, Icao has gone on to work at an architecture company JASMAX. We caught up with Icao to hear about her journey and experience.

Icao Tiseli, Photo / Object Space


Tell us a bit about yourself

Mālo e Lelei my name is Icao Tiseli. I was born in Tonga and immigrated with my family to New Zealand in search of opportunities and access that my parents wanted to provide for us. I have been a Senior and Junior MATES tutor for 3 years of my university experience.


Now that you have graduated and are working full time, why are you keen to reconnect with MATES through work?  

When I was a MATES tutor, I had always wanted to come back soon when I am in the industry and give back to MATES. The students, their initiatives, and their works were deeply rewarding for me. In fact it helped me in a lot of ways and helped to remind me what it was all for.


Was there a special and/or unforgettable moment during your time with MATES?

One of the most impactful things I have experienced was seeing my students reach university with the degree that they wanted to be in. My mentee became my fellow peer.


Did the MATES programme make a difference for you? If yes, how?

The biggest impact was knowing that MATES helps students through different stages of their education. That impacted me in seeing that in order to see our rangatahi as our future, we have to support them at every stage of their growth. MATES believes in the ecology of growth and positions itself in a very community-centric way. It is a familiar system that a lot of our Pasifika people have grown up with.


Based on your experience, do you have any advice for young mentees and mentors?

MATES Mentoring and Tutoring is about meaningful listening. The mentees help to guide mentors into the key areas they need assistance in, but some problems and obstacles are not entirely up to the mentors to solve. Some solutions require the mentors to unlock the expertise and skills that others can help to support them. It’s truly meaningful work. It’s about absorbing the service of mentoring and tutoring and challenging yourself with what they reveal.


Do you have anything to share with mentees who are interested in architecture and design?

Architecture and the world of design are big and beautiful. It is a difficult world that does not yet have all our Pasifika people represented in it. It is a career that comes from a culture of privilege.

You will be faced with challenges right from the start. But just know that there are people out there you can ask for help. Architecture can be in the domestic up to the high commercial. Find out what makes you like it, and remind yourself that your perspective and worldview are important. Architecture and the world of design need us.