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Caption: Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program volunteer facilitator and Indigenous Engineers Group Chair, Grant Maher, showing a participant how to fly a drone during a workshop in Coen, Far North Queensland.     

A new place-based Outreach program – designed by Indigenous people for Indigenous young people – was recently piloted in a small community in Far North Queensland in collaboration with Engineers Australia’s Indigenous Engineers Group and Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation, with the goal to inspire and support the next generation of Indigenous Engineers. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 3.2 per cent of the Australian population but only 0.5 per cent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) university graduates in Australia – despite research showing that Indigenous people are just as interested in science as their peers. A newly launched Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program seeks to change this. 

This Youth Outreach initiative, led by Engineers Australia’s Indigenous Engineers Group (IEG) and supported by EWB Australia, kicked off earlier this year in June with support from our community partner, Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation (YAC). The first pilot for this program was delivered to a group of 25 school-aged First Nations students in Coen, a small community situated in central Cape York in Far North Queensland. 

The two-day workshops and broader Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program was the culmination of findings and design work from the Yarrawarra Forum held in October 2022, as well as research gathered from the Reimagining Pathways precursor project during 2020-21. The Yarrawarra Forum saw 27 delegates from around Australia convene on Gadigal Country to collaborate on the design of an Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program. Delegates included Indigenous engineers, students, elders and educators – who together share a lived-experience as Indigenous engineers, or experience as educators of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The aim of the Forum was to kick-start the design of a new approach to engage Indigenous Youth in engineering pathways. What resulted was a unanimous, clear vision for an Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program. 

Pilot workshops in Coen

Caption: Facilitators, Grant and Sativa, helping participants draw their drone designs.

After consultation with the Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation, the project team with guidance from all-Indigenous Steering Committee developed and finalised workshop activities specific to the context and community participating in the program. 

The first day of workshops focused on flight, with links drawn between boomerang design and modern aerodynamic technology such as planes and drones. Younger students were tasked with designing their own drones whilst older students learnt how to use block coding so they could fly a drone to land on a specific spot. Lama Lama rangers from Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation shared information with the participants about how they use modern drone technology and its application to their traditional knowledge and work on Country, such as monitoring the turtle population during breeding season.

Facilitators, Grant and Sativa, testing the students’ canoes at the river while students watched on.

The second day of workshops was themed around water and its importance and use on Country. Younger students engaged in water filtration and canoe building activities using materials found on Country, wrapping up the day by testing the buoyancy of their inventions at the local river. Meanwhile, older students were tasked with an engineering project of supplying water to a new town and the challenges it would involve. They were asked to wear an engineering hat of their choice that best suited their interests – be it electrical, mechanical or civil, and encouraged to think in those terms in their pursuit of solutions to the problem.  

At the end of the workshops, students were awarded with awards like ‘MVP’ and ‘Best Listener’, while EWB and IEG received positive feedback from students, reporting an overall increased interest in studying engineering. Finally, a yarning Q&A with the volunteer facilitators was held, where they shared how they came to be engineers, the kind of engineering they do, and past projects they’ve worked on.  

First of its kind: Indigenous-Led Youth Outreach program delivered on Country

Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program volunteer facilitators from left to right: Isaac Barton, Sativa O’Connor, Grant Maher and Josh MacLeod.

From the program’s inception at the Yarrawarra Forum, to its design and development over the past year and its ultimate facilitation in Coen, Indigenous engineers have steered this project by ensuring its relevance to First Nations-specific challenges and perspectives. 

And the young participants of the workshops were not the only ones reaping the benefits of shared knowledge. Volunteer facilitators were afforded the opportunity to spend the day prior to the workshops on Lama Lama Country with Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation, building relationships and a connection with Country. One facilitator reflected that delivering the experience had “re-sparked their passion for youth outreach programs”. 

What’s next?

Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program facilitators with Lama Lama staff and rangers in Coen, Far North Queensland.

After the successful delivery of the inaugural Indigenous-led Youth Outreach program, the team is looking to run a second pilot later this year in another community in Australia, likely in the Kimberley region of WA. To continue to deliver this valuable work and support future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in STEM, these programs require generous sponsorship and funding. 

If you share our commitment to equitable access to technology and increased First Nations representation in engineering, please contact us to find out more and consider if your organisation may be able to sponsor this program at partnerships@ewb.org.au.  

If you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander engineer or working in the STEM sector and are interested in volunteering your time to facilitate these workshops in the future, please complete this expression of interest form.  

A second Yarrawarra Forum is being planned for later in the year or early 2024, to evaluate and review the pilot programs against original goals by Indigenous delegates, including volunteers and pilot community representatives, to ensure the program is truly Indigenous-led before a 2024 launch and set up for success.

We would like to acknowledge the generous support of our program partner, Aurecon, who supported the design and delivery of this first Indigenous-led Outreach pilot as well as the 2022 Yarrawarra Forum, as well as ongoing support from Engineers Australia. We’d also like to thank Bindy and David Koadlow who funded the Reimaginating Pathways precursor project which paved the way for this program. We would also like to acknowledge the Lama Lama Traditional Owners who supported our time on Country and thank the Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation and their staff who supported the co-design process for workshop activities. We are also grateful to the support of our other corporate partners who supported their staff to volunteer their time to deliver this program and who support EWB Australia’s youth outreach programs more broadly. 

We would also like to extend a big thank you to our program facilitators; Josh MacLeod (EWB STEM Pathways Lead), Grant Maher (Chair of the Indigenous Engineers Group & Director of Jabin Group), Sativa O’Connor (Arup Technical Drafter) and Isaac Barton (co-founder of Blak Label Music). We are also excited to share that since volunteering on the program, Isaac has recently started a new job at EWB Australia working on our First Nations focused Youth Outreach Programs.