It’s a ‘Longreach’ way to the top but Keely’s ready to roll

17 August 2020

How does a young Indigenous student from a tiny school 13 hours’ drive from a capital city see the big picture of study and career possibilities in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – it’s all about connections.

Just ask UQ Biotechnology student Keely Perry, a proud Wiradjuri woman who grew up in Longreach and who is now in her second year of degree studies.

UQ Biotechnology student Keely Perry helps lead an Origin Energy SolarBuddy workshop as part of a Leadership Development Institute event in Melbourne, earlier this year.

A few years ago, Keely was captain of her high school and showed academic promise but she had only experienced work as a bakery supervisor and her social network was limited by geography.

That’s when her older sister spoke highly of her experience as a law student engaged with CareerTrackers, an organisation which creates internship opportunities for hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students each year.

Keely was able to become a Westpac Learning Consultant Intern in the break between school and University.

She has since done two stints as an intern with Origin Energy and is regularly involved as both a mentee and mentor with the Young Indigenous Women in STEM Academy (a partnership between CareerTrackers and the CSIRO).

The link between Keely’s focus on molecular and plant biology and Origin Energy’s focus on the power grid may not seem immediately clear. However, Origin’s interests now encompass plant-based renewable energy and biofuels, including biogenic production of gas, giving Keely the chance to explore avenues for postgraduate research.

“This fits with my passion of helping to improve Australia’s future in biological and technological research and manufacturing; as well as ways of bolstering the agricultural sector,” she says.

“Getting involved with organisations such as CareerTrackers, along with others like the National Youth Science Forum in Canberra, can be a real game-changer for students from an Indigenous or rural background in terms of making the connections to opportunities.

“One of my experiences with Origin was helping to guide high school girls through educational tours of power plants and LPG facilities.”

Through CareerTrackers, Keely was chosen to address a Leadership Development Institute (LDI) event in Melbourne earlier this year. Her theme was ‘energy poverty’.

“Thanks to experiences I had with Origin Energy I was able to help guide the STEM participants in assembling and testing solar lights from the SolarBuddy program which are suitable for use in communities without access to reliable energy … we were able to present the lights to a representative from Papua New Guinea.”

Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement), stated that “Indigenous students wanted us at UQ to support CareerTrackers, and it’s great seeing increasing numbers of students, like Keely, take up exciting opportunities like she has to gain a broader range of experiences and to assist in transition into the workforce after graduation".

The CareerTrackers vision is to bridge the gap for Indigenous Australians and support the emerging generation to have economic empowerment and equal representation at all levels of industry and community. CareerTrackers interns are working with companies of all sizes across a range of fields including Westpac, Lendlease, Qantas, Telstra, Herbert Smith Freehills, Nous Group, Social Ventures Australia and Sydney Theatre Company.