In June 2016 the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences launched its inaugural Koori STEM Camp. The program gave Aboriginal Year 9 and 10 students from the Illawarra the opportunity to identify with their Aboriginal cultural heritage and its connection to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
Supported by local community members, participants stayed at Mount Keira Scout Camp. They were welcomed with a Smoking Ceremony by local elders who guided them on a bush walk, identifying bush medicines, foods, and building materials.
During the 4 day program, Group leaders comprised of EIS aboriginal students and AIME mentors stayed on site with the participants. The program explored activities including the physics of boomerangs and its connection to Wind Turbine blades, and the scientific principles behind traditional fishing smoke bombs and its connections to UOW research in water purification, desalination, and materials engineering.
Participants also engaged in activities facilitated by UOW STEM Ambassadors. In doing so they developed skills in 3D Printing, soldering, and robotics through connections tied into local dreaming stories.
Site visits were also made to Innovation Campuses’ Sustainable Buildings Research Center. Here participants learnt how the Center was designed to give more than it takes in attempts to restore the balance between the Built Environment and the Natural Environment. This was contrasted against the sustainable practices at Sandon Point Aboriginal Embassy through a site visit where participants practised local binding techniques whilst learning about traditional practices.
The Camp was established to develop a stronger sense of Identity, Connection, Pride and Empowerment for participating students. In the closing ceremony students were asked to present on their experience with one participant remarking:
“I learnt my ancestors were the first engineers, and for me to make a contribution towards helping the environment today I need to be in the system adding my cultural knowledge and understanding, not standing on the outside watching.”
Yr 10 Koori STEM Camp Participant, June 2016
The Koori STEM Camp program aims to encourage student connections beyond their usual cohorts and nourish ongoing Illawarra Aboriginal community relationships. Simultaneously it aims to develop participants as STEM ambassadors and strengthen a local connection to the University of Wollongong.