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Indigenous STEM stars chosen for NASA internship

[supplied by Teju Hari Krishna]


Five Indigenous Australian university students will next week head to the United States for a once in a lifetime internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, after being chosen for the first ever cohort of Monash University’s National Indigenous Space Academy (NISA), supported by the Australian Space Agency.


The global first program, based at Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT), is welcoming five First Nations students from universities across Australia; the pioneering NISA cohort was announced today by NISA lead and proud Wadjak/Ballardong Noongar man Professor Christopher Lawrence in the presence of the Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo and United States Consul General Kathleen Lively. 


Five First Nations students will be partnered with a scientist or engineer mentor at NASA’s JPL in California for a 10-week internship. They will complete projects outlined by their mentors while also contributing to current NASA JPL missions. 


The five students are: 

  • Ngarrindjeri man, Linden Beaumont, Monash University 

  • Kamilaroi woman, Cedar Lett, Griffith University 

  • Palawa man, Edward (Ted) Vanderfeen, Western Sydney University 

  • Limilngan and Mudburra man, Lincoln Bourke, University of Sydney 

  • Gundungurra woman, Tully Mahr, University of Melbourne 


Professor Lawrence, who is Associate Dean (Indigenous) at Monash University’s Faculty of IT, said he was excited for the students to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. 


“These amazing young Indigenous STEM students will be working on ongoing NASA projects, including ocean exploration vehicles and characterising the microorganisms within the International Space Station,” Professor Lawrence said. 


“It is incredible that we are able to empower our Indigenous youth to learn from the best in the world so we can nurture Australian capabilities in space research, and ultimately it would be great to see NISA produce the world’s first Aboriginal astronaut” 


Before flying out to the United States, the students will this week attend Monash’s Faculty of IT ‘Space Boot Camp’ internship preparation program to familiarise themselves with aerodynamics, robotics, rovers, astrophysics, planetary science, engineering, computer and earth sciences as well as past and current space exploration missions at NASA.


Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo said developing a diverse STEM workforce is a priority of the Agency and the Australian Government.


“These students are going to be exposed to cutting-edge space missions and will develop knowledge and skills they can bring home to our space and tech community,” Mr Palermo said. 


“As we continue to grow our space sector here at home, we have an opportunity to do that in a uniquely Australian way by embracing thousands of years of First Nations knowledge in making sense of the land, by looking to the sky.”


Faculty of IT Dean Professor Ann Nicholson said the Faculty is proud to host such an important initiative. 


“NISA is a testament to our sustained commitment to include more Indigenous voices at all levels of research, education and industry partnerships,” Professor Nicholson said. 


Part of the NISA cohort, computer science student from the Faculty of IT at Monash University, Linden Beaumont said he is looking forward to applying his coding skills to space-related projects. 


“I’m happy to have been given this unique chance to expand my knowledge and find new ways to apply my skills while hopefully creating lifelong connections in a completely fascinating industry,” Mr Beaumont said. 


Looking ahead, NISA is eager to work with partners across the Australian and global space sectors to increase the scale of the program and support Indigenous-led space startups and entrepreneurships.


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