A picture can tell a thousand words, but this one only needs 78: The ASSETS Program has helped us form many emotional relationships that although only started a few days ago, life bonds have been formed with many great friends that we will never forget. These people will forever be our brothers, sisters and mentors that we gladly and lovingly accept as our family. We wish the best for all of you and we hope to see you again, whilst we’re making a change for ourselves and our country. Thank you.
This heart-warming testimonial comes from one of a group of 28 talented young Indigenous students that were selected to take part in our Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS) camp in Adelaide last month.
The ten day camp was like many other science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) programs that take place around Australia, but with one big difference – ASSETS has a fundamental and intrinsic focus on Indigenous culture and history.
The program saw the year 10 and 11 students – who were selected based on their high performance and interest in STEM subjects – take part in a range of cultural activities. They visited Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, had a cultural tour of the Warriparinga wetlands, and visited the Camp Coorong museum. The group also practiced traditional basket weaving with Ngarrindjeri elder Auntie Ellen, and shared nights around the fire pit – including cooking and eating kangaroo tail.
Kurt Boundy, from Oberon in the central west of New South Wales, said for some of the students it was a chance to reconnect with their ancestry.
“I grew up not knowing a lot about my background, but coming here it’s opened up a lot of opportunities,” Kurt said.
And just as importantly, it allowed the students and their mentors to foster strong bonds with like-minded friends from all over Australia.
“It’s made me think of back home and how I’ve lost connection with my culture – and it’s good to connect [with] other students,” said Chloe Sobieralski, from Townsville.
As well as focusing on cultural heritage, the program encouraged students to study maths and science in senior years and consider a career in the sector. They visited local universities to learn about topics ranging from traditional and modern uses of native plants to passive energy design in building architecture. Students then used these sessions as background and inspiration for their experimental inquiry presentations, which were presented to the rest of the group.
While the program was only available to 30 students in 2014, there are plans to expand the program to three residential summer schools a year from 2015. The three summer schools will be held in locations around Australia, supported by a range of academic and cultural providers from universities, research, industry, government and business.
Studies have shown that Indigenous students are significantly under-represented across all fields in higher education, but with a more pronounced disparity in STEM subjects. Through programs like ASSETS, students, teachers, mentors and Indigenous organisations can link cultural pride with academic success – and foster a new generation of high-achieving individuals.
But we will leave the final words to another of the students – Sharni Cox, of Tasmania.
“We have the ability to change our future,” said Sharni. “We can control what we do. We don’t have to listen to what other people tell us. I’m in charge of me.”
The ASSETS program is part of a new partnership between BHP Billiton Foundation and CSIRO totaling $28.8 million over five-years and designed to improve the participation and achievement of Indigenous students in STEM subjects and professions.