Indigenous excellence

Photo of student

By Alison Muir

For the first time in its 49-year history, eight Indigenous science scholars participated in the Professor Harry Messel International Science School which honours excellence and aims to encourage talented Year 11 and 12 students to pursue careers in all areas of science. Since 2005 at least five scholarships have been offered to Indigenous science scholars as part of the ISS to encourage these talented students to go on to tertiary study and to work in science related areas.

Professor Clive Baldock, Head, School of Physics, initiated the increase in places for the 36th gathering of the Professor Harry Messel ISS - Light & Matter (ISS 2011), saying that it is important to ensure talented Indigenous students are acknowledged and encouraged. “We are very enthusiastic in the School of Physics to increase the number of Indigenous students studying science. The eight students who attended the International Science School really appreciated the opportunity they were given.”

The eight Year 11 and 12 students, who came from all over Australia, explored everything from photonics to particle physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry and engineering as part of the ISS2011. They were very excited about being awarded the scholarships and enjoyed spending two weeks on the Sydney campus, learning about the diversity of science while making new friends from different cultures and countries.

Rebekah Raymond (above), an Indigenous science scholar from the 2009 International Science School, and a current science/law undergraduate at the University, acted as an ISS2011 “staffie” (ISS alumni who volunteer to help the current cohort with tertiary level science and act as mentors).

“The ISS changed my life,” says Raymond. “After the ISS2009 I went back to Humpty Doo and focused on doing the best I could to get into Sydney Uni. Now I’m here and it’s great. I tell my brothers and friends back home to work hard so their dreams will come true too.”

Joelene Puntoriero, from Noonamah in the Northern Territory, was especially delighted with her time at the ISS. She was chosen from 150 of the world’s top secondary school science students to receive the coveted Mulpha Leadership Award, inaugurated by Mulpha Australia in 2005.

The award criteria state it should be presented to the ISS scholar who has shown not only a good understanding of science but who has also shown diplomacy across all cultures and an ability to bring people together.

A student at Taminmin College in Humpty Doo, Puntoriero said she was “surprised and delighted” to win the award. She was also happy to spend a media day with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki AM (MBBS ’87). “My friend was listening to Triple J radio in Darwin and she couldn’t believe it when she heard me. She called all our friends to tell them I was on the radio. It was pretty cool.”

Nick Radoll and Jineecka Klenka, both from the ACT, were also impressed with the ISS. “You get to do things you’ve never done before. It’s a great program. I’m thinking about being a doctor but it’s good to see what options are out there,” said Radoll, in an interview with Gadigal Radio host Paulette Whitton.

Klenka agrees, “My family aren’t that interested in science but they encourage me because they know I really love it. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with people who just ‘get’ science.”
The ISS scholars attend from all over Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, the UK and the USA. They take part in a variety of science activities and challenges, all planned to honour excellence in these talented students and help them to realise their scientific potential.

The ISS2011 also featured renowned scientists who donated their time to lecture. These included Dr Karl Kruszelnicki AM, Professor Sir John Pendry, the invisibility pioneer, Professor Allan Clark, Director of the Department of Nuclear Science and Particle Physics at the University of Geneva, Professor Fred Watson AM, astronomer, and ABC science journalist, Robyn Williams AM.
The ISS, funded by the Science Foundation for Physics and run in the School of Physics at the University, is a free science education program that is held biennially in July. The ISS will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2012. For more information on the Science Foundation for Physics visit www.physics.usyd.edu.au/foundation/