Bringing health and wellness to Indigenous mothers and babies is Associate Professor Kym Rae’s day to day job, but she has also been recognised for helping change the face of the STEM workforce.
Kym, who leads Mater Research’s Indigenous Health Group, was named the inaugural winner of the Inspiring Diversity in STEM category at the prestigious 2022 Women in Technology Awards held in Brisbane.
The awards are one of the biggest and longest-running recognition programs for women in STEM in Australia and this year’s competition attracted a record 500 nominations across 14 categories.
Kym and her team are currently partnering with Carbal Aboriginal Medical Services, in Toowoomba and Warwick, to co-design research and technology projects that meet the public health needs and priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
During her career, she has designed and delivered more than 100,000 hours of health education using arts and cultural activities in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.
Kym lived in regional New South Wales for more than 25 years and in a community where many identified as Aboriginal. Her own daughter was born pre-term and suffered cerebral palsy, so she has firsthand knowledge of the risks and challenges of pregnancy and infant health for families in remote areas.
“Aboriginal women are twice as likely to have premature babies and far more likely than most to find themselves in the city, far from home, trying to care for tiny babies and juggle the medical system,” Kym said.
“The social determinants of health, and the extra challenges they face, made me incredibly passionate to improve outcomes for these women.”
Kym has a personal understanding of challenges, living with a physical disability for most of her academic research career, and often using a wheelchair while actively waving the flag as a rare role model for scientists with disability.
Although she can no longer manage the physical constraints of working in a laboratory, she continues to work tirelessly in the field to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and challenge stereotypes around disability.
WiT Chair Iyari Cevallos said as the organisation celebrated and reflected on 25 years of WiT, it was also important to focus on the future.
"I believe we have the ability and responsibility to dream big, to visualise achievements for the women still to come, to continue to increase our energy and momentum in leading and motivating current and future generations of women,” she said.
"We've created an opportunity to rally around our outstanding talent, unlock their potential, promote each other and ourselves – impacting our community in a way that creates positivity beyond the event itself."
Mater Researcher Dr Julie Cichero’s outstanding leadership and achievements were also recognised at the Awards, being highly commended in the Community Impact category.
Julie has worked as a researcher, post graduate educator and industry consultant bringing medicine and science together for better outcomes for people with chewing and swallowing problems (dysphagia).
She has played a key role in developing common standardised terminology for foods and drinks that reduce choking risk in people with conditions such as stroke, dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy.
Women in Technology (WiT) is one of Australia’s most respected and active technology industry associations that has been unlocking the potential of women across all fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through advocacy and networking, professional development, mentoring and collaboration opportunities in a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment.