• Indigenous astrophysicist Karlie Noon. (University of Newcastle.)Source: University of Newcastle.
The federal government has announced a $25 million package for an Indigenous Girl’s science academy, aimed at increasing their numbers in science and technology careers.
Amelia Dunn

16 Jul 2018 - 5:27 PM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2018 - 5:27 PM

Gomeroi woman and astrophysicist Karlie Noon was one of the first Indigenous people to obtain degrees in both maths and physics.

But she said her journey to becoming an accomplished scientist was far from easy.

“I dropped out of school in year eight,” she told NITV News.

“I hated school and I came from a family that didn’t know anything about STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths].”

After attending TAFE for a few years, she discovered she had a knack for mathematics and decided to return to high school to complete her year 12 certificate.

Completely self-driven, Ms Noon was able to enrol in a Bachelor of Arts at university to continue her studies. 

It was while studying the subject of philosophy that she was first introduced to physics. Despite remembering it as a “lightbulb moment”, Ms Noon said only being exposed to physics at 19 left her on the back foot.

“As a result of my late exposure I have spent a lot of years playing catch up with my peers,” she said.

A new $20 million package announced last week by the federal government aims to combat this issue and introduce STEM to Indigenous women at a much younger age.

Ms Noon hopes it will inspire a new generation of female scientists.

Dubbed the ‘Indigenous Girls’ STEM Academy’, the funding will support 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls per year through training, camps and mentoring programs nationwide.

It also gives young leaders in the field like Ms Noon an opportunity to pass on their knowledge and experience.

Ms Noon acknowledged just how important mentoring is to developing confidence. 

"Being an Indigenous woman in a field like science, where we're not well represented, can be isolating and  very overwhelming,” she said.

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“Having someone in my corner to guide me when I was unsure of my path gave me the strength to continue my studies and to believe in myself.”

The package is in partnership with the national science agency CSIRO and non-for-profit Indigenous employment organisation CareerTrackers, who will work with the girls and young women on an individual level to make sure their STEM path is tailored correctly.

Trevor Heldt, CSIRO’s Acting Executive Director of People told NITV News he is looking forward to extending the organisation's outreach even further into regional and remote Australia.

“CSIRO has been working in STEM education for 35 years in more than 50 sites across Australia, and now we can take it even further.”

"This academy will help us develop more talent from the Indigenous community which has some representation in science but we want more,” he said.

Mr Heldt said three out of four jobs in the future are going to need some type of STEM capability so it is integral to implement it in every school’s curriculum, especially for young women.

“If you look at science there is an obvious gender gap,” he said.

“If you look even further, there’s a gap of Indigenous women going into the area. So it’s really important that we have that diversity and it is available in the future.”

The package has been a long time in the making, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first mentioning STEM funding during reconciliation week in May 2017.

Ms Noon acknowledged that while she welcomes the announcement, it is well overdue.

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“Getting into science as an Indigenous woman can’t happen with mentoring alone,” she said.

“Without exposure to STEM topics, a STEM pathway is just not possible.”

In order to introduce science into the lives of Indigenous girls at a younger age, the package also includes $5 million dedicated to supporting and training Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are teachers in STEM.

Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion said having female teachers who are passionate about science will improve the experiences of students.

“If a position changes in a young woman’s life, the evidence says they will be influenced by another woman, and most likely, a teacher,” he said.

“So we need more women teachers in STEM as a part of this approach. It’s about influencing teachers to ensure students are taking up STEM.”

The academy will commence in 2019.