The Young Indigenous Women's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy held their inaugural camps in Cairns and Townsville in January 2020.

The Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy launched its inaugural camps in January 2020 in Cairns and Townsville, with 52 students travelling from across the Far North Queensland region to participate in a unique opportunity to challenge themselves and bring their STEM dreams to life.

In a usually male-dominated field, CSIRO and the Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy are breaking down stereotypes and leading the way for young Indigenous women to explore a future within STEM. The STEM Academy is designed to give the young women a supporting and culturally safe platform to begin a STEM career, from year 8 through to tertiary education.

Young Indigenous Women’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy camp.

Throughout the camp, the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' ongoing contribution to STEM is showcased by ensuring Indigenous knowledges and traditional STEM methods are embedded into every learning opportunity.

Beginning in Cairns, the young women were welcomed by Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Elder Aunty Henrietta Marrie who shared parts of her fascinating life journey, before learning algebraic equations using cultural dance with Tamia Blackwell – who knew this could be possible? The young women were very inspired by Tamia and were positively engaged with mathematics.

Day 2 saw an early start for the young women on board the Dreamtime Magic Vessel for ecology, climate change and conservation, and innovation of coral reef science presentations by Indigenous Sea Rangers. The young women were excited to snorkel in the afternoon and learn of Indigenous connections to the Great Barrier Reef.

On to Day 3 of camp, with the introduction of learning journals, the young women participated in health, social, emotional and cultural wellbeing, and goal setting workshops. Over the course of the program the journals became a living document and key in the young women's learning and development, prompting them to document and hold themselves accountable to short-term and long-term goals. To finish off the day, guest speaker Charmaine Saunders of Mainie Australia shared stories of how her passion for Aboriginal Art led to an interesting business venture in design and technology, inspiring the young women to understand how their strength in culture and passion for STEM can take them anywhere.

Further into the week, the young women were joined by CSIRO's Torres Webb and Gerry Turpin for a tour at the Australian Tropical Herbarium, curated by Frank Zich. Frank shared recordings and documentation of traditional plant use, before the young women visited Djunbunji Ranger Base at Grey Peaks National Park. Welcomed by Rangers onto Mandingalbay Yidinji Country with a traditional smoking Ceremony, the young women were given a guided tour of the Mayi Bugan Trail, exploring more traditional foods and medicines. The Rangers shared knowledge of Country and their traditional land management practices.

With CSIRO's Mibu Fischer at camp for the week as an in-house STEM professional mentor, she finished off the night with a yarning circle, and spoke about her current work connecting traditional knowledges with marine ecology, and having a passion for encouraging young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to explore education and employment in STEM.

To wrap up an exciting week of Culture and STEM for the Cairns Academy, the young women heard words of wisdom from Yirrganydji Elder Michelle Singleton before performances by Jajenji Aboriginal Dance Troupe and Gerib Sik Torres Strait Island Dance Troupe.

Following the conclusion of the Cairns camp the Academy staff headed south to launch the YIWSA Townsville Camp.To open the week, the young women were welcomed by Aunty Jeanette Wyles and had a relaxing day getting to know each other with fun ice-breaker activities and an Academy Dinner at Fish Inn Rockpool.

Young indigenous women who attended the Townsville Academy camp.

On day 2, a panel consisting of Indigenous female STEM professionals – Aeronautical Engineer, Taylah Griffin; Astronomer and Astrophysicist, Karlie Noon; and Nursing student, Chloe Sobieralski; shared their inspiring stories to give a better understanding of the real-life STEM opportunities the young women have in front of them. This was followed a tour if the Origin Gas Facilities in Townsville, where the young women learned about energy, its production and storage, and the engineering and technology behind the scenes.

Day 3 was a highlight for many of the Academy participants who ventured out to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) where, hosted by Traceylee Forester and team, they toured the facility, observed the 'world's smartest aquarium', wave simulator, and heard from influential Indigenous and non-Indigenous STEM professionals. In the afternoon, Tamia Blackwell hosted her Mathematics Workshop for the Townsville Academy, connecting Traditional dance to writing mathematical equations.

Travelling to wonderful Mungalla Station in Ingham on Day 4, Chris Parry and Aramai Cassady graciously shared the history of Mungalla Station from pre-settlement to present, and their traditional land management practices. The young women toured the station to hear of the scientific research that is happening across the site with CSIRO and tried their hand at boomerang throwing to finish on the day.

Concluding the camp in Townsville, the young women were celebrated with a special ceremony to congratulate their efforts throughout the week. The week ended with guest speaker Bindal Elder, Aunty Jeanette Wyles sharing her story. The Townsville Academy camp brought so many new experiences and learning for these young women.

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