By Nathan Mifsud
Recent school leaver Sharni Cox was thrilled to win the 2016 Indigenous STEM Student Award, together with high school student Greta Stephensen. Sharni’s string of achievements started with an unusual Aladdin performance: all the characters, including Abu and the Genie, were robots who danced together on stage. Sharni and her team breathed life into paper-mâché, metal, plastic and wood contraptions using technology like LEGO Mindstorms NXT and Bluetooth. The unique performance won them a title at the 2013 International RoboCup in the Netherlands.
In 2015, Sharni got involved in further science projects on the Asian Science Camp and during the Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS) program. ASSETS “helped me a lot, culturally,” says Sharni. “Being a white Aboriginal, I’ve experienced a fair amount of racism.” Nowadays, Sharni has a “second family” in the close-knit staff and Indigenous students at the Riawunna Centre. Based at the University of Tasmania, this centre provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students a place to study together with access to support and tutoring.
Sharni is keen to expose young people to the amazing diversity of STEM. “When I visited my old primary school and asked what science is, nearly all the students said ‘mixing chemicals’. They go into high school thinking that’s all it is,” says Sharni, who hopes to create supplementary teaching materials for Australian primary schools to engage kids with scientific concepts in fun, interactive ways.
Sharni’s aspirations are still evolving as she begins a dual degree in Business and Science at the University of Tasmania. By majoring in Geology, she is reigniting her childhood interest in crystals and rocks. She also has her eye on an emerging discipline where she can apply her computer science know-how: Remote Sensing. In this field, scientists use sensors in air and space to analyse changes on the Earth’s surface, like land use and deforestation.
Sharni’s path to science and engineering
>> Won three titles at the International RoboCup 2013 competition
>> Awarded a Year 11/12 grant for Indigenous students and multiple university scholarships by the Riawunna Centre in the University of Tasmania
>> Starting a dual Business/Science degree at the University of Tasmania
Opportunities for Indigenous students to get involved
Keep an eye out for the 2017 Indigenous STEM awards – applications open later this year! The Indigenous STEM Awards are managed by CSIRO and funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation.
In addition, nominations for the inaugural Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Awards are open until 29 April. Awards will be presented on 29 September. For more information about the award categories and how to be involved, click here.
Check out how to build robots like Sharni’s using LEGO Mindstorms NXT!
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