UON Graduates Indigenous Trailblazer
Karlie Noon, a Kamilaroi woman from Tamworth, will be the first Indigenous graduate in New South Wales to obtain a double degree in science and mathematics at the University of Newcastle’s (UON) graduation ceremony later this week.
As the first in her family to attend university, Ms Noon’s own education journey was quite disrupted, but an interest and natural ability in mathematics was always part of the equation.
“I didn’t like school very much and missed most of primary school and a bit of high school. A lovely Indigenous elder would tutor me once a week in maths. She was the only person I knew who had gone to university, and maths was the only thing I was really good at in terms of school, so I decided to finish high school and just wanted to keep studying afterwards,” Ms Noon said.
Initially enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts, Ms Noon found herself researching topics that sparked her interest in physics, inspiring her to change degrees.
“It was really challenging coming into a first year maths degree with no background but I was so determined to do it. The Wollotuka Institute really were my support network here for anything I needed, and the Faculty of Science also supported me so much, not just in getting good grades, but also holding high expectations for me. That has really pushed me towards doing something that I want to do,” Ms Noon said.
A tattoo of the solar system on her left arm symbolizes her passion for space, and a chance meeting with cultural astronomer, Dr Duane Hamacher from Monash University, has also helped her along her pathway towards undertaking postgraduate study in Indigenous astronomy.
“I had experienced Indigenous astronomy from a cultural perspective, but studying it in a Western paradigm wasn’t something I knew existed. There are a lot of similarities between Indigenous knowledge and physics, which I plan to explore further in either a Masters or Honours program next year,” she said.
Keen to continue breaking barriers and forging new firsts as an Indigenous female in the field of science and maths, Ms Noon has her sights set firmly on obtaining her PhD.
“I will definitely go on to do my PhD. It is the epitome of academia and at the moment there are no Indigenous people with a PhD in Physics. It’s really important to me to have Indigenous knowledge recognised and to encourage more Indigenous representation in mainstream positions,” she said.
Currently working for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Ms Noon is using her experience and skills to affect this change and share her story.
“I’m working for an Indigenous science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) Education Program that is heavily aligned to my goals. I love talking with young people and helping them to access education,” she said.
At the young age of 26, Ms Noon is humble about her achievements to date and is proud to be a role model for her family and community.
“It’s hard to describe the impact finishing university has had back home. It has helped shift perceptions and raised the expectations for the people around me. My sister has since enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing at UON after entering through the Indigenous enabling program Yapug and my cousin is also talking to me about going to university and studying science,” she explained.
The University of Newcastle is committed to Indigenous education and this year reached a milestone of 1000 Indigenous enrolments, making up 3.5% of the University’s population and the largest number of Indigenous students at any Australian university.