A First Nations voice in Engineering the future

“I have a philosophy on life everyone has their own special strength. Find what you’re really good at and invest in it.” Mikaela Jade, CEO of InDigital.

Indigenous Education

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Last week, Indigenous high school students travelled from all over Australia to the ANU campus on Ngambri and Ngunnawal lands to attend the National Indigenous Engineering Autumn School.

Co-hosted by the ANU Tjabal Centre and the ANU Bandalang Studio, the Autumn School opened with a yarn with Mikaela Jade(Mik), Indigenous engineer and CEO of Indigital, whose storytelling wove understanding and navigating power structures, elders calling their kin home to protect country, learning about engineering by understanding her totem and her insights into the depth of Indigenous knowledge systems and why they’re so important to all of us.

There are always two sides to every story

Mik emphasised the importance of storytelling. She spoke to the students about the invaluable lessons that can be learned in understanding each other and how this can be useful in conflict resolution, problem solving and innovation. Mik also shared her insights into learning from nature to become a better engineer. The cobra-long slimy worms that took down the Spanish Armada, inspired tunnelling engineering techniques and machinery in the 19th century and kill harmful bacteria, also hold personal significance as her totem.
Autumn School Students with the ANU Solar Car team

Mik shared with students how the cultural responsibility to understand her totem is a powerful systems solution to caring for Country.

A voice in engineering the future

Mik also passionately advocated for First Nations students to make their voice heard as they step into the future as leaders, innovators and engineers. Drawing from her own experiences, Mik recalled frustration at the lack of suitable avatars to represent First Nations women when playing video games. This inspired her Masters research project at the ANU School of Cybernetics, which centered on the representation of First Nations people in holographic content. Mik encouraged students to recognise what their strengths are as individuals and to invest their time building on their passions from a position of empowerment.

Engineering at ANU

In other sessions, students had the opportunity to learn about engineering at ANU taught from a systems engineering approach. They engaged in insightful sessions on the importance of decarbonising energy, the mathematics behind waves, explored water filtration systems with Engineer Without Borders and had an engaging tour of the photovoltaic lab learning about the science and engineering behind solar energy technology.
Autumn School Students with the ANU Solar Car team in the Photovoltaics lab

Students also spent time with the ANU Solar Racing team and learned how the ANU Engineering students build their solar cars to race in the biennial Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Amidst the backdrop of mostly fine weather (with temperatures rarely dipping below 5 degrees), the Autumn School was a great success with the highlight of beautiful star gazing on Mt Stromlo.

Autumn School Students with the ANU Solar Car team in the Photovoltaics lab
A huge thank you to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for their support and to the amazing team at the Tjabal Centre for their supporting the students throughout their stay on the Ngunnawal and Ngambri ANU campus. A massive thank you to all our incredible academics and students for sharing their knowledge with such enthusiasm and style. We look forward to the next one!

Learn more about The Bandalang Studio at the ANU School of Engineering and how it is honoring Indigenous Knowlege Systems in innovation, design, research and teaching.

You are on Aboriginal land.

The Australian National University acknowledges, celebrates and pays our respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people of the Canberra region and to all First Nations Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and work, and whose cultures are among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

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