Record number of Indigenous PhD students graduate from UNSW

Four Indigenous students are graduating from UNSW with PhDs, with three receiving their doctorates during ceremonies on the Kensington campus this month. 

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Nura Gili Director Prof Martin Nakata with PhD recipients Sue Green and Cameron Fitzpatrick-Ramirez

Four Indigenous students are graduating from UNSW with PhDs, with three receiving their doctorates during ceremonies on the Kensington campus this month.

It’s a record number of doctorates awarded to Indigenous students in one year.

Dr Megan Williams has graduated from UNSW Medicine, Dr Sue Green from UNSW Arts & Social Sciences, and Cameron Fitzpatrick-Ramirez was the first Indigenous student to graduate with a PhD from the UNSW Business School.

Megan Williams

Megan Williams

A fourth Indigenous PhD student, Shane Ingrey, will graduate with a PhD in biomedicine at the end of the year. This comes on the back of Narrunga man Simon Graham graduating with his PhD in Medicine last year.

“This is unheard of anywhere in the country,” says the Director of UNSW’s Indigenous Programs Unit, Nura Gili, Professor Martin Nakata, who was the first Torres Strait Islander to complete a PhD. “We are thrilled that we have such great students graduating in the one year.”

59 Indigenous students graduated from UNSW in 2014, building on the result in 2013, in which 41 Indigenous students became alumni.

“This is a particularly encouraging result as the students come from diverse disciplines,” says Professor Nakata. “Some 43% of our Indigenous enrolments are now in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, as well as Medicine.”

As part of the celebrations, Sue Green wore a possum skin cloak on top of her graduation gown. In Wiradyuri tradition, the cloak is worn at major life events. 

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PhD recipient Sue Green with possum skin cloak.

“What I looked at is how Aboriginal people were welfarised in the process of colonisation,” says Associate Professor Green from the School of Social Sciences. “Welfare is used to control people and force people to change. It blames people for the situation they are in and sets up dependency. There are similarities now with the Northern Territory intervention and with ‘closing the gap’.”

She is now working to turn the thesis into a book for UNSW Press, having also won an Arts & Social Sciences’ Dean’s Research Award.

Dr Megan Williams, who is also a Wiradyuri woman through her father’s family, looked at the role of Aboriginal elders and service providers providing support for people in their transition from prison to community and the prevention of reincarceration.

“I’d worked for a long time in community services and with Elders and saw the powerful work that went on that was unrecognised by funding bodies,” says Dr Williams, who studied with Muru Marri and the Justice Health Program at the Kirby Institute at UNSW, and was supported by the Lowitja Institute. “I wanted a systematic approach which would interpret Aboriginal support  in relation to current policies and legislation.”

On the same day Williams graduated, Muru Marri was officially handed a Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Award for Excellence.

In his PhD thesis, Cameron Fitzpatrick-Ramirez looked at workplace design and use through the UNSW Business School.

“The majority of our working hours is spent in an environment that is not suited to us,” says Fitzpatrick-Ramirez, who is a Dunghutti man, now working to design workspaces at Lend Lease.

“Without the help of Nura Gili, this would have been a very difficult journey. The network and support was invaluable.”