This year marks the first time when Indigenous enthusiasts of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) will have their very own awards celebration, promoted by Australia’s leading science agency.
The CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Education program has launched Indigenous STEM Awards to recognise, congratulate, and celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and scientists.
“Our overarching goal is to improve participation and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(s) in STEM fields by providing supported access to culturally relevant STEM practices,” explains Therese Postma, project director of Indigenous STEM Education and Outreach at CSIRO, a program funded by BHP Billiton Foundation.
“By recognising and profiling an outstanding STEM professional, we are providing an Indigenous STEM role model that will inspire younger Australians, and make them believe that this is something that is doable for them too.”
With seven awards in three categories, in its pilot year the program is only seeking nominations from students, schools and teachers currently participating in CSIRO’s program. The goal is to identify people who have played an important role in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to develop interests, and pursue careers, in STEM fields.
Next year however, nominations will be open nationally to students, schools, and community members demonstrating good practice in encouraging Indigenous students to access STEM education. In addition, they are calling for nominations nationally from high-achieving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STEM professionals.
The importance of role models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students was highlighted by astronomer Karlie Noon, a 26-year old Kamilaroi woman who began working as a cultural mentor for the Indigenous STEM ASSETS program, and is now part of the Indigenous STEM awards program.
Coming from a family where no one had finished school or attended university, Karlie’s work as a scientist has expanded the aspirations of many around her: “My sister who left school in year 9 has started a nursing degree. My cousin in year 10 has told me she wants to go to uni and do science, and that science is her favourite subject.”
She believes receiving an Indigenous STEM award would be an incredible honour for anyone, as not only would they become a role model for Indigenous communities, but also for all of Australia.
Karlie also hopes the awards increase public awareness of the scientific foundations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(s) have been investigating and gathering knowledge for millennia; highlighting and rewarding our continued achievement in this field is important for continuing our legacy as investigators,” she says.
Award winners will become Indigenous STEM project ambassadors in 2017, whose profiles will help highlight their work and, according to Ms Postma, raise the expectations of what Indigenous students can achieve at school, among teachers, students and their families. She hopes that these students will also go on to participate in mainstream award programs such as CSIRO’s Crest Awards in the future.
Nominations are currently open and close on Sunday 16 October 2016. Winners will be announced in early December 2016.