National Indigenous STEM award winners announced

A school that teaches robotics in a local Aboriginal language and a primary school student who discovered an undescribed species of spider are among the winners of a national Indigenous science awards.

The awards delivered by the CSIRO recognise the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, teachers and scientists, with a view to inspiring more student participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Hidden away near the desert in the mid-west of WA with just over 70 students, Wiluna Remote Community School claimed the STEM School Award for working with the local community and Martu rangers to use traditional knowledge for teaching science. 

In the Goldfields-Esperance at Leonora District High School, WA, teacher Fifi Harris won the STEM Champion Award, and student-turned-spider-discoverer Boyden George won the Student Science Award.

Cancer researcher and Gunditjmara woman Dr Misty Jenkins took out the STEM Professional Career Achievement Award.

As well as being the first Indigenous Australian to attend Oxford and Cambridge Universities as a postdoctoral fellow, Dr Jenkins has worked with Nobel Laureates and is a passionate advocate for building the STEM literacy of indigenous students.

“It is important to have role models because you can’t be what you can’t see,” Dr Jenkins said.

“By being visible, you are showing students that STEM is a viable career and that you can discover things that have never been discovered before.

“I see a lack of Indigenous voices at the table across the industry and I want to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved.

“It is essential to have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural lens applied to Western Science, just like it is important to have others with diverse backgrounds and genders in senior positions in our workplaces.

“This breadth and depth of diversity is what is going to drive innovation.”

Early Career Professional Award Winner Dean Foley is a Kamilaroi man and founder of Barayamal, an indigenous owned and managed charity that assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs through coding programs for young people, mentoring and workshops.

CSIRO Indigenous STEM education project director Therese Postma said it was important to celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in STEM as well as teachers and schools working in this space.

“All of our award winners inspire Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students,” Ms Postma said.

“Wiluna Remote Community School is an outstanding example of an entire community coming together to teach students two-way science in Indigenous contexts.

Sponsor BHP Billiton Foundation CEO James Ensor said celebrating the educational and career achievements was critical to seeing more participation in STEM.

“The BHP Billiton Foundation is committed to improving educational opportunities and outcomes in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for under-represented groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Mr Ensor said.

“Studying STEM topics fosters innovative thinking and problem solving abilities that will help to address sustainable development challenges.”

Each of the winners will have a presentation in their home communities throughout April.

For more information visit the Indigenous STEM Awards.

Winners List

STEM Professional Career Achievement Award – Dr Misty Jenkins (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne)

STEM Professional Early Career Award – Dean Foley (Barayamal, Brisbane)

Tertiary/Undergraduate Student Award – Shailyn Isaac, University of Western Australia

Secondary Student Award – Kayla Pattel (Tullawong State High School, Caboolture) and Jessica Storrar (Gungahlin College, Canberra)

School Award – Wiluna Remote Community School (Western Australia)

Teacher Award – Camila Zuniga-Greve (Heatley State School, Townsville)

STEM Champion Award – Fifi Harris (Leonora District High School, Leonora)

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Science Award – Boyden George (Leonora District High School, Leonora) and Willow Wells (Thuringowa State High School, Townsville)

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Maths Award – Angela Barely (Innisfail State College, Innisfail) and Russell Sands (Innisfail State College, Innisfail)

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