New funding to help young indigenous Australians gain data science skills

2 Dec 2019

A team of Australian Fulbright alumni led by Associate Professor Jess Mar at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) has been awarded funding to help Indigenous high school students build data science skills.

The funding was awarded by the U.S. Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF), a program hosted by the U.S. Department of State, will enable the researchers to develop a series of highly interactive data science workshops tailored for Indigenous Australian High School students living in remote areas.

“Our project aims to help close the gap in digital literacy for Indigenous Australians,” said Associate Professor Mar, a research Group Leader at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

She is joined by Professor Louise Ryan, a distinguished professor of statistics at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and by Associate Professor Christopher Lawrence, who is Head of the Centre for Indigenous Technology Research and Development at UTS and is a Noongar person originally from Perth.

“We live in a world that is unanimously focused on big data, and data science is now emerging as a bold new industry that stands to capture much of our next generation’s workforce,” Associate Professor Mar said.

“So there is a pressing need to promote curiosity for adopting data science in our next generation of Indigenous Australians to ensure that they are not left behind in a world of future job opportunities and careers that involve and depend on big data.”

It also means young Indigenous Australians will have the skills to contribute to the rapidly evolving field data science, she said.

“This provides empowerment towards having a voice, representation, and a platform in a world of big data.”

The culturally appropriate resources will be co-designed through meaningful and sustained engagement between community Elders, high‐school educators, and the aforementioned university academics.

As Australian Fulbright Scholars Associate Professor Mar, Associate Professor Lawrence and Professor Ryan all undertook their Fulbright exchanges at Harvard University in the US. Now, teaming up as alumni, their AEIF funded project was one of 64 successful projects out of 1400 entries from 52 countries.  

The AEIF award amounts to more than US$18,000 that is being contributed from the US Dept of State, and the project will also benefit from $30,000 of financial support from AIBN and Queensland University of Technology.

“This is the first time an Australian team has been awarded funding in the history of the competition, so it’s exciting for UQ and Australia,” said Associate Professor Mar.

"The AIBN has an outstanding track record for translating research and cutting-edge technologies into useful outputs for society," she said.  

Improving the accessibility of data science for young Indigenous Australians through this project will be another important way the Institute can continue to make a difference.