Higher education participation rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly lower than for other Australians (Behrendt, Larkin, Griew, & Kelly, 2012). In addition, Indigenous Australian participation rates in engineering and other technology related fields are lower than for other fields such as law, health and education (DEEWR, 2008). This presents a substantial challenge for engineering education to increase participation rates among Indigenous Australians towards those of other Australians. Engineering schools and Industry have responded with an array of outreach, scholarship, and support programs which have taken small steps towards this (BHP Billiton, 2012; EAA, 2013; Rio Tinto, 2013). Yet engineering educators still have ground to cover to increase the numbers of Indigenous students successfully completing their degree (Calma, 2009).
This discussion paper argues the importance of creating a genuine engagement with communities to lay the groundwork for higher participation rates in engineering, and proposes strategies for progressing this. DESIGN/METHOD A framework for articulating Indigenous worldviews underpins this paper. A range of strategies for growing genuine engagement between Aboriginal Community and Engineering Education were identified through personal experience and wider consultation with Illawarra Aboriginal communities. Finally, these strategies have been incorporated into an undergraduate design challenge that is Community driven and culturally, politically and technically challenging.
In attempting to establish engineering as a safe career pathway for Indigenous students, the work to date highlighted the need to develop sustained relationships between Indigenous communities and engineering faculty, and the importance of valuing the contribution alternative perspectives can bring to engineering education and practice. Facilitating this engagement through core curriculum based activities has been a successful first step in creating a sustainable platform for ongoing engagement.
While engineering may still be seen as a largely technical field, the social, or human side of engineering practice could be gainfully employed to increase the appeal of the profession among Indigenous Australians. Building relationships with Indigenous communities through honest and open collaboration may help to pave the way for Indigenous student participation and success in engineering.