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By Monika Andersen 22 February 2023 2 min read

©  Robyn Jean

The Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy recently had a special opportunity to work with the United States Embassy to create an event for NASA’s Deputy Administrator and retired Astronaut, Pamela Melroy. The Academy helps the young women to connect with their local community and STEM professionals.

The event took place at Curtin University's yarning circle on the lands of the Whadjuk Noongar people. The Academy invited Elder Kerry-Ann Winmar to perform a Welcome to Country, surrounded by game-changers and leaders in the aeronautical and space industry.

Sharing culture and knowledge

Seated amongst the eucalypts and banksia, Academy participants Ainsleigh and Indiana from Western Australia (WA) facilitated the event. Another participant Ciennah shared with Pamela Melroy that Indigenous peoples have been using STEM for thousands of years.

Participant Makayla then explained the cultural significance of a yarning circle. A yarning circle is a gathering of people to share knowledge. It gives respect to the voice of every person in the circle.

The young women also got to hear from and connect with two inspiring STEM professionals. Taylah Griffin and Renee Wootton shared stories about their journeys in the aerospace industry.

Indiana said she has always aspired to be a pilot.

"I come from a rural area where medical and other community services can be limited. Particularly in the Indigenous communities, pilots have been instrumental in getting medical aid and food to communities during floods and throughout the pandemic," she said.

"Having the opportunity to meet a female NASA astronaut has shown me that women can make a difference in the aviation industry. It has inspired me to keep studying and believing in myself, so I can achieve my dream of becoming a pilot.”

©  Robyn Jean

Meeting Astro Pam

The group asked Pamela questions about her STEM journey. This included discussions about the challenges Pamela faced being a female astronaut. Pamela spoke about her three missions as an astronaut and building the International Space Station. She spent more than 38 days in space!

Pamela's stories awed all in attendance, being only one of two females to ever command a space shuttle. It was inspiring for the group to learn how her many achievements rose from a childhood passion of flying and had the full support of her parents. Now as Deputy Administrator, Pamela assists, acts for and represents the Administrator in the governance of NASA.

"I'm sure there are astronauts among you. You'll do many things to change the world, but it would be great to see one of you on the moon," Pamela said.

Creating opportunities

The Academy strives to create a diverse range of STEM opportunities for the young women in the program. It encourages them to aim for the stars and to know that nothing is out of reach. Meeting other like-minded students, Indigenous female STEM professionals and hearing from women like Pamela Melroy make this program so inspiring. Most importantly, these three STEM professionals demonstrated the endless possibilities available if they follow their passions.

©  Robyn Jean

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