Over 200 students from across Australia will attend an academic and cultural workshop, as the University of Sydney expands its school outreach program to engage regional students and increase participation in STEM subjects.
This week, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students from across the country will reside at the University’s Camperdown campus to take part in a series of academic and cultural events, make friends and experience uni life.
Equipping students with knowledge and skills to connect what they study now and their options for the future, this is the fourth Wingara Mura-Bunga Barrabugu (WMBB) Summer Program hosted by the University.
During the week, students in years 9 and 10 (the Wingara Mura program) and years 11 and 12 (the Bunga Barrabugu program) will explore different subjects, discover options for university and future careers and learn useful skills for their final years at school.
“The results to date are promising,” the University’s Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Garton, said.
“Eleven alumni from the 2014 and 2015 WMBB programs are currently studying with us, and we’ll soon know how many year 12 participants in the 2016 program will join us this year. Many more have indicated a preference to study at other institutions as well."
We’ve demonstrated we can have a real influence when we engage with young people while they’re at school, and this is the impetus for our increased outreach work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students this year.
Cultural activities are also on offer including an Indigenous heritage campus tour, an Aboriginal cultural cruise of Sydney Harbour and a talent show hosted by Australian hip hop artist L-FRESH The LION.
Bachelor of Arts student Georgia Durmush, from Peakhurst in Sydney’s south, says the program influenced her decision to enrol at the University.
“I chose the University of Sydney because it acknowledges Aboriginal people and embraces Aboriginal culture,” she said.
“I attended both a WMBB Summer and Winter Program and discovered the endless support Aboriginal students receive. That’s when I decided Sydney was the uni for me.
“I’d advise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to definitely consider applying, to find out more about options for university, the support that is available and to make friends and networks.
“Further tertiary education is the only way we as Indigenous people are going to move up in society. Education is important because it increases job opportunity and social change.”
This year the University will also launch two school outreach projects encouraging Aboriginal students to follow Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)-related careers, and to help rural and regional Aboriginal students participate in higher education.
A STEM Teacher Enrichment Academy will be established as part of the University’s new STEMeX project, which offers week-long professional development opportunities for teachers in NSW schools with a high number of Aboriginal students. Students will also be supported to participate in a variety of outreach activities hosted by individual faculties and disciplines, including Economics and Business, Engineering and IT, Pharmacy and Natural Science.
A new Regional Hub Expansion project will also see the University collaborate with 16 additional schools across NSW’s Central West, Central Coast, Mid North Coast, South Coast and Far North Coast to provide academic skills and capacity-building workshops for Aboriginal students in Years 10-12. Parent and community information evenings, on-campus activities and teacher professional development sessions will also be offered.
Mary Teague, Head of Widening Participation and Outreach at the University of Sydney, said the initiatives were vital as the University moves to introduce mathematics as a prerequisite in many undergraduate degrees – a field in which many regional students are still significantly under-represented.
“It’s essential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are engaged well before they make subject choices that can impact on their future ATAR and eligibility for University entry.
“Despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments in higher education increasing steadily over the last 10 years, Aboriginal people remain under-represented in STEM-related fields and regional and remote Aboriginal students are markedly under-represented in both higher education and vocational education and training."
Australia needs to rapidly increase the pace of change if we’re to reach parity with other fields of study and with non-Indigenous students, and institutions like the University of Sydney play a pivotal role in helping to make this a reality.
“As the University marks the fifth anniversary of our Wingara Mura–Bunga Barrabugu strategy to build opportunity, capability and rights for Aboriginal people, our new outreach projects will empower school students currently considering their options, as well as their teachers who will continue to support students well into the future.”
From 2017, commencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate students will be offered guaranteed and subsidised accommodation and a structured peer mentoring program.
A summer school program giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers from across Australia an experience of university life is starting to see tangible results.