The BHP Billiton Foundation and CSIRO would like to acknowledge the vibrant history of ASSETS in strengthening connections with the Indigenous communities of Australia.
Since it was first established in 1992, ASSETS has promoted academic excellence and learning opportunities for thousands of students who have participated in summer science and technology camps and leadership programs.
ASSETS, the Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science, was first set up in 1992 by the University of South Australia. It was the brainchild of Professor Colin Bourke, the then Dean of the faculty of Aboriginal and Islander studies at the University of South Australia, and his wife, Associate Professor Eleanor Bourke. Another pioneer of the program was Dr Alan Barnes, also from the University of South Australia, who worked tirelessly to establish ASSETS.
Program participants from that early period have gone on to become PhD researchers, the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement in South Australia, science teachers and Aboriginal education leaders.
Due to lack of funding, the program ceased to operate in the early 2000s, but it was resurrected in 2008 with the help of Jim Davies, Principal of the Australian Science and Mathematics School (ASMS). The school devoted significant resources towards relaunching and running ASSETS until CSIRO took over responsibility for implementing the program in 2014. The 2014 Summer School was a transition year where CSIRO worked with existing staff and learned about the program model before expanding the program in future years.
Between the years 2008 to 2013, several other organisations helped keep ASSETS running. In 2008, SiMERR, the Centre for Science, Information and Communication Technology, and Mathematics Education in Rural and Regional Australia, assisted the program. In 2011, the Royal Institute of Australia helped keep the program going. The following year, the Principals Australia Institute assisted with the ASSETS program.
During these years, Ian Maynard and Rob Ball managed the day-to-day operations of ASSETS. Their work was overseen by a steering committee of organisations that included the Australian Science and Mathematics School, CSIRO, the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, Senior Officers National Network for Indigenous Education, Flinders University, the University of South Australia, Principals Australia Institute and the Royal Institution of Australia. The Wiltja Residential program played an essential role in providing cultural guidance, care and accommodation.
As a consequence of the fundraising program carried out by Ian Maynard and Rob Ball, a number of foundations made generous donations that kept the program afloat. These include SANTOS, which donated $100,000 over five years, the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, the Thyne Reid Foundation and the St Georges Foundation, as well as a range of educational organisations across Australia.
The results during this time were impressive with high rates of Year 12 completion and students going on to tertiary study. Participants benefited from the cultural and leadership aspects of the program as well. Some ASSETS graduates travelled abroad on scholarships and acted as goodwill ambassadors for Australia and its Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples.
While the program has evolved over the years, the core values remain. These include leadership, learning, academic excellence and a connection with the heritage, culture and values of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples.