Nat Cromb: STEM program aims to benefit Indigenous communities

In BlogX, Education by Jack Latimore

the author Nat Cromb

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Natalie Cromb is a Gamilaraay woman from Burra Bee Dee Aboriginal Reserve outside Coonabarabran in Warrumbungle country.

For years there has been a disparity between Indigenous and non-indigenous students at high school and tertiary education in the area of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM. This is despite obvious synergies between Indigenous culture and science. After all, science is now routinely proving things we have known since time immemorial. But for a large majority of Indigenous students, STEM remains an area that is viewed as being out of reach.

The Deadly Science Getaway program is trying to open up the world of science to young Indigenous women from remote communities in Cape York, including Wujal Wujal, Coen, Kowanyama, Aurukun, Lockart River, Pompuraaw, Mapoon and Bamaga. The objective was to demonstrate the synergies to young Indigenous women who would otherwise consider a STEM career to difficult, or not really appreciate the depth of areas within the STEM space that could be pursued if interested.

Deadly Science Getaway was launched to provide this perspective to young Indigenous women, particularly those who found themselves attending high schools away from their communities. Many of these students attend boarding schools which have the propensity to make these children view education as an obligation rather than an opportunity. This is what the elders of the communities and school programs want to avoid. Deadly Science Getaway is one way that the students are supported and re-engaged.

Deadly Science Getaways provides, “pathways for Indigenous women to pursue careers that inspire them such as a ranger, marine biologist, natural resource manager, doctor, nurse or leading enrichment programs for Indigenous kids. Photo: Supplied.

Deadly Science Getaways provides, “pathways for Indigenous women to pursue careers that inspire them such as a ranger, marine biologist, natural resource manager, doctor, nurse or leading enrichment programs for Indigenous kids. Photo: Supplied.

Deadly Science Getaway was almost lost to us following a loss of funding but was taken over by PHD Candidate, Blanche D’Anastasi and James Cook University in 2015 in partnership with Transition Support Services QLD. It now provides annual Deadly Science Getaways to incredible locations to give Indigenous women a taste of what STEM has to offer.

D’Anastasi says that Deadly Science Getaways provides, “pathways for Indigenous women to pursue careers that inspire them such as a ranger, marine biologist, natural resource manager, doctor, nurse or leading enrichment programs for Indigenous kids.

We achieve this through field science and authentic conversations in stunning, wild places, surrounded by passionate scientists and Indigenous Leaders.

We see our women go on to create change through the conversations they have with their communities and other young indigenous women and the careers they choose.”

Although still in its infancy, the program has had 11 Getaways to different locations where the participants were able to learn about rainforest eco-systems, the composition and sustainability of coral reefs, different marine life and how they exist and survive but D’Anastasi says it is not about giving ‘instructed’ lessons. She says that these women all have a breadth of knowledge and these programs are an opportunity to show the girls how their own knowledge systems can be applied in a STEM context and then taken back to their communities. D’Anastasi says 90% of the program’s participants want their further education to benefit their community.

“I’m so inspired by these incredible young women and although the work is difficult in securing funding to keep the program going, I feel so empowered and inspired by these young women,” says D’Anastasi. She says she recalls a moment in which a participant, who was labelled as a quiet kid by her educators, came alive on a Getaway and was so engaged she expressed a keen interest to pursue higher education in science.

D’Anastasi says the Deadly Science Getaways model is simple and authentic and based primarily around authentic conversations in wild places and this creates a platform for dreaming. She is proud the program was recently used in Western Australia but notes that it has potential for a national roll out. However, funding is always the limitation for programs of this nature.

D’Anastasi hopes that with more funding and time, this program will be expanded and create greater opportunities, awareness and conversations about STEM and about how it can be used to assist the communities of Indigenous participants.

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