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By  Jessica Hildyard 17 August 2023 3 min read

Key points

  • The Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy empowers the next generation to excel in science, technology, maths and science (STEM) subjects.
  • Students like Dana and Gemma are building skills, confidence and curiosity to contribute to the future of STEM.
  • These young women are breaking through barriers to power future industries and inspire generations to come.

Dana didn't think science, maths, engineering, and technology (STEM) were for her.

But at the urging of her teacher, Marisa Hammer, the now 14-year-old signed up for the Year 8 South Australian intake of our Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy.

“Before I was part of the Academy, I didn’t enjoy going to school and I didn’t like the idea of STEM subjects at all. They were just something I had to do," Dana said.

Dana gets hands-on at a recent Academy field trip to an Australian Space Agency exhibition exploring life on Mars and beyond.

Recent statistics show Australia's STEM-skilled workforce is 15 per cent women and steadily increasing. As well as personal perseverance by these individuals, part of the growth in these figures can be attributed to access to education or career programs.

However, only 0.5 per cent of Australia’s Indigenous population has a university STEM qualification, compared to 5.2 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. This highlights the importance of programs such as our Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy.

“Once I got involved in the Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy, I started experiencing STEM in a different way and really started to like the idea of studying STEM subjects more. Until then I didn’t realise how many different things it links to," Dana said.

Dana will soon join students from across South Australia for an overnight STEM Camp. Students will explore culture and STEM activities with their Academic Coordinators, Jessica Stimson, Charlie Griffiths and Chelsie Davies.

The camp will also gather other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STEM professionals to share their experiences and create pathways for mentoring and work experience for the participants.

Dana’s Academy participation will finish at the end of her higher education journey. This could be Year 10, Year 12, or at the completion of an undergraduate degree.

Part of this experience, coordinated along with CareerTrackers, includes connecting Academy students with industry for work experience and paid placements.

Dana currently aspires to be an artist. But at 14, her future is wide open because she selected STEM subjects.

“I now enjoy going to school, I can’t wait for the next opportunity the Academy gives me," she said.

Gemma’s STEM experience

Gemma with Baxter, a koala being treated at Taronga Zoo. He was getting an IV to try a new medication.

Gemma is a proud young Wiradjuri woman and a member of the Central West NSW & ACT Academy cohort. She is in Year 10 at a local high school. She recently completed a work experience placement at the veterinary hospital at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

"I got to see what it was like to work with a variety of animals from wallabies to seals. I got to look at treatment rooms, operating theatres and technology used when treating animals up close," Gemma said.

During her placement, she observed x-rays, procedures such as euthanasia and inserting catheters, and general health checks. She also dealt with some basic care and cleaning, feeding animals and cleaning both cages and treatment rooms with the proper equipment.

“I had an amazing time with so many different animals and it has inspired me to pursue a career in veterinary medicine," she said.

Dana and Gemma’s future workplaces may look different. But the confidence, skillsets and curiosity nurtured through the Academy experience mean they are equipped to adapt and contribute meaningfully to their industries of choice.

Five years of impact

One of the unique aspects of the Australian curriculum and integrated programs like the Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy is the opportunity to integrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and culture with modern scientific principles.

These knowledges may unlock innovation to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, food security and sustainable environments.

The Academy, now in its fifth year of delivery with CareerTrackers, is the only one of its kind in the world. It aims to empower the next generation of young Indigenous women to excel in STEM interests and jobs of the future.

The program is not only transforming the lives of these young women. Its impact extends into the broader community. As these students graduate and enter the workforce, they bring with them unique perspectives and approaches to problem-solving. They are shaping future industries.

By fostering knowledge, skills, and a strong sense of cultural identity, the Academy is laying the foundation for a more equitable and prosperous future in all industries.

As these young women continue to challenge stereotypes and break barriers, they are not only powering future industries, they are inspiring generations to come. Their experiences are testament to the transformative power of education and the importance of diverse voices in shaping the future.

They are role models for others, so girls like Dana can see themselves in STEM.

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