More than 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Year 9 students from seven Illawarra In2Uni high schools demonstrated their ability to lead using traditional Indigenous methods during the inaugural two-day Leading Through Culture Program pilot, held at Wollongong campus in June.
A collaboration between UOW and the Department of Education, the Program aims to position Aboriginal and Torres Strait students as leaders, enabling them to investigate and enquire about ways to develop their sense of leadership within their school and broader community. It also aims to create a relationship between the students and UOW, to help them understand that the university is a culturally diverse space, which values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, people and knowledges.
An Indigenous perspective
The Program’s activities were designed using the philosophies of the 8 Ways Aboriginal Pedagogy. It outlines how Aboriginal perspectives are found in processes of narrative-driven learning, visualised learning, hands-on/reflective techniques, use of symbols/metaphors, land-based learning, indirect/synergistic logic, modelled/scaffolded genre mastery, and connectedness to community.
Throughout the two days, students participated in activities that were embedded with cultural knowledge. This included a walk on-country ascending Mount Keira where an Aboriginal cultural leader spoke about the First Nation’s significance of the area. Other activities included traditional dance and art workshops delivered by local Aboriginal Elders and community members.
Seven Aboriginal and Torres Strait UOW student In2Uni mentors guided and mentored the high school students through each stage of the Program, sharing their education and leadership journeys to help enable the student’s aspirations about their own post-school and leadership options.
“My favourite part of the Leading Through Culture days was interacting with the students and getting them to step out of their comfort zones with certain activities, i.e. the cultural dance workshops. For me, this personally a very rewarding experience as I know that I would have benefited from having a similar program when I was younger to encourage identity development.” - Azrun Paulson, Aboriginal In2Uni mentor.
Students also participated in workshops, delivered by UOW’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences and the Faculty of Business. Faculty staff delivered interactive sessions relating to culture and leadership.
Developing future leaders
One of the Program’s main objectives was to help develop practical leadership capabilities in students, and introduce the concepts of SMART Goals and Design Thinking to help them create their own collaborative Leadership Action Project, which they will go on to deliver in their local school communities.
UOW’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Engagement and Project Coordinator, Caitlin Stuart, says it highlights the importance of integrating Indigenous culture in the classroom, while facilitating a valuable community connection with UOW.
“This program is powerful as student participants are immersed in Aboriginal cultural activities that they are typically not exposed to within their school environments, such as Aboriginal art, traditional dance and walks on Country.
“It connects students to Aboriginal In2Uni Mentors, community members, Elders and UOW staff, and enhances student’s connections to the University.
“I was so moved to see the students connect to their culture and ignite their passions throughout this two-day program. I am so excited to watch the students continue to thrive as they collaborate on their cultural leadership projects at school,” Caitlin says.
Supporting cultural projects
The students are currently in the process of developing projects in their schools, such as Aboriginal art murals, bush tucker gardens, and traditional Indigenous games tournaments, with the continuing support of UOW In2Uni mentors and staff, and the Department of Education.
Following a successful pilot, the Program will expand in 2020, with invitations extended to additional In2Uni partner schools across the region. Extending the delivery of the program will also be investigated, including the potential delivery of some in-school workshops prior to students coming on campus.