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CSIRO: Pioneering academic, Dr Chris Matthews’ Indigenous maths education work to be recognised

22 Mar 2017

Queensland academic, Dr Chris Matthews, will receive the inaugural Indigenous STEM Professional Award at an event in Brisbane tomorrow evening. The award, presented by CSIRO and the BHP Billiton Foundation, recognises Dr Matthews’ innovative work to engage Indigenous students in science and mathematics.

Dr Matthews, a Noonuccal man, is passionate about connecting culture and mathematics, having developed a method of teaching maths to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through dance and story. He teaches students to bring maths to life by crafting stories in which characters take actions that add, subtract or divide.

As Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance and a lecturer at Griffith University, Dr Matthews also organises camps and conferences des igned to promote Indigenous participation in STEM and to support mathematics outcomes for Indigenous students.

Dr Matthews highlights the importance of engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in mathematics to ensure they are prepared for life beyond school. “Maths is one of those subjects that is a gatekeeper to jobs, it gives access to other opportunities in life, and it’s important for every student,” said Dr Matthews.

Dr Matthews plans to use his $20,000 prize to organise the first ever meeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mathematicians in Australia with the aim of influencing the policy landscape.

“This award is a great opportunity for me to talk to a lot more people about STEM and engaging Indigenous students in mathematics,” said Dr Matthews.

“Maths has always been a multicultural discipline and academia recognises that all cultures had different forms of maths, so there’s a great opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make their contribution to mathematics.

“I am really proud that the two Aboriginal scientists who nominated me for the award saw me as worth having it for the work I’ve done.”

CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Education Project Manager Therese Postma said Dr Matthews was a role model for aspiring Indigenous STEM professionals and students.

"Dr Matthews is an inspiring role model for all Indigenous students in Australia. His work to encourage participation in STEM is helping to build a pipeline of Indigenous STEM professionals that will innovate our future,” Ms Postma said.

Mr James Ensor, President of the BHP Billiton Foundation said celebrating STEM education achievements, like Dr Matthews’, is crucial.

"In a world of innovation, fostering STEM education is essential and the awards are critical as they celebrate the achievement of students, teachers, schools and professionals and encourage further participation in STEM," said Mr Ensor.

The Indigenous STEM Awards are part of the $28 million Indigenous STEM Education Project, funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation and delivered by CSIRO. For more information on the Indigenous STEM Awards visit www.csiro.au/Indigenous-awards.

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