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Getting Indigenous kids into STEM

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Indigenous man in a black suit and white shirt standing in front of a backdrop featuring various logos including IDX Indigenous Digital Excellence, Telstra Foundation and National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.
Wayne Denning: winner of the 2017 IDX Award in the category of Learnings and Education (Photo courtesy of IDX Awards – National Centre of Indigenous Excellence)
27 Oct 2017

Advances in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have changed the world. They have led to the invention of labour saving devices, improvements in health, how we communicate and travel and helps tackle challenges of transportation and the environment.

Wayne Denning from Queensland knows the importance of learning STEM subjects from an early age. So Wayne, the winner of the National Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Award in the category of Learnings and Education, created the STEM I AM program.

STEM I AM promotes the study of STEM subjects amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and youth, creating the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators.

‘I got thinking about how we could encourage and importantly, empower Indigenous kids to get into the STEM space,’ Wayne said.

‘First of all they had to know that there are opportunities out there to learn STEM – hence the idea to promote all the different STEM programs around the country.’

Focusing on students in years 5 to 12, the program supports a range of initiatives including coding and robotics workshops. It involves establishing community-led coding clubs and student participation in state and national coding and robotics competitions.

It also supports professional development training for teachers and scholarships in ICT at universities.

Wayne also wants to spread a message about the connection between STEM and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In 2016, Wayne was a keynote speaker at the National Engineering Summit hosted by Melbourne University.

‘I was shocked to learn how few Indigenous engineer graduates there are nationally.  How can it be, when innovation is in our DNA - think David Unaipon,’ Wayne said.

STEM.I.Am draws much of its inspiration from Aboriginal inventor, engineer, author and activist, David Unaipon, the face of our $50 note.

The program is still in its infancy and its impact is therefore hard to measure.

‘We need to be realistic – this is a slow burn,’ Wayne said.

‘We must design sustainable, self-perpetuating programs to create real impact versus short term solutions which make everyone feel good but don’t achieve much in the long run.’

Wayne’s determination to ‘spread the word’ means he is very much a ‘hands on’ education entrepreneur.

‘Like any outreach initiative, it always has more meaning if we can achieve hands on involvement and where possible that’s our preference – me included,’ Wayne said.

‘You can often find me working the BBQ – I’m a master at catering; aka, the sausage sizzle!’

Find out more

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet supports the Learnings and Education category through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

This is the first year of the IDX awards, which are designed to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people demonstrating digital excellence. The awards also promote and support new opportunities and ventures.

They are an opportunity to showcase the IDX happening in remote, rural and urban communities and help all Australians recognise the benefit of investing in Indigenous digital participation.

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