At this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards, the Academic Support Award was given to a team in Faculty of Health that’s working to create better outcomes for both Indigenous diabetes students and the patients they will go on to care for. Professor David Sibbritt, Dr Shannon Lin, Grace Ward, Danielle Manton, Susan Davidson, Dr Marlene Payk, Amy Zheng, Dr Giuliana Murfet, Dr Ashley Ng and Chris Rossiter were all recognised for their outstanding contributions to Indigenous health outcomes through learning and teaching. We caught up with Senior Lecturers Dr Shannon Lin and Danielle Manton to chat about their innovative approach.

Congratulations on winning the Academic Support Award. Tell us a little about the project… 

The project came about from our team’s deep commitment to promoting social justice and addressing the significant health disparities faced by Indigenous communities, particularly in the area of diabetes education and management. Our primary goal was to remove barriers and enhance support for Indigenous students to pursue specialised training as Credentialled Diabetes Educators (CDEs). We recognised the urgent need for more Indigenous CDEs to provide culturally appropriate care and improve health outcomes within their communities.

How did your students respond?

The response from our Indigenous students has been overwhelmingly positive. We have witnessed a significant increase in their confidence, engagement, and academic achievement. Their anecdotal feedback to the team highlights the profound impact of the inclusive learning environment, culturally safe teaching practices, and the dedicated support provided by our Indigenous academic staff – Auntie Grace Ward and Ms. Dani Manton. Many students have expressed a new sense of belonging and motivation to successfully complete the study, ultimately contributing to the well-being of their communities or mobs as diabetes educators.

One graduate said the academic was the best university teacher they have ever had, and another acknowledged her support, stating, “she totally changed my perception about universities, and I really enjoy studying at the University now”. There are many other testimonials from the recent graduates who attribute their professional success and career advancement to the exceptional support received throughout their studies at UTS. Specifically, our 2022 graduate is the first Indigenous Credentialled Diabetes Educator with the exercise physiologist background in Australia. He mentioned in the SFS that he was feeling “included and empowered” and now actively advocates for the course to encourage other Indigenous health professionals to enrol.

What surprised you about this process?

The most surprising aspect of this process has been the extent to which our initiatives have been embraced and supported by various stakeholders, including industry partners, Indigenous organisations, and community members. The collaborative efforts and shared commitment to empowering Indigenous students have been truly inspiring.

For example, the extensive collaborative work to develop and revise the Indigenous Graduate Attribute with the wider committees and academics within UTS has demonstrated the commitment to embed Indigenous perspectives and cultural contexts throughout the curriculum. Also, the strategic support from the faculty and University to fund the position for Aunty Grace Ward to enable cultural safe and appropriate support to all our Indigenous students.

We have also been humbled by the resilience and self-determination displayed by our Indigenous students, who have overcome numerous challenges to pursue to their the tertiary study in the university. A couple of our graduates had never studied at university and have become the first university graduate in their family.

What are some of the themes/practices you drew on to help students build their skills in Indigenous health?

The Indigenous Graduate Attribute (IGA) framework has played a crucial role in shaping our approach. We have embedded the IGA throughout the curriculum, ensuring that Indigenous perspectives, histories, and cultural contexts were interwoven into the course content.

Additionally, we drew upon principles of cultural safety, respect, and inclusivity, fostering an environment where Indigenous students felt valued and supported. Practices such as yarning circles, guest lectures by Indigenous healthcare professionals, and co-designing course materials with Indigenous stakeholders were integral to our approach. Our IGA has been recognised as an exemplar for other courses, so building on this success the team plans to further strengthen partnerships with Indigenous organisations and communities to ensure the course remains responsive to evolving needs in the communities and industry.

We aim to expand the scholarship program and explore opportunities for Indigenous students to engage in practical learning experiences within their communities such as our newly developed outreach industry-collaborated workshops with Rural Doctor Network, PHNs, AMSs and AH&MRC, with a specific emphasis on Indigenous students in remote and rural areas in addressing their practice isolation.

Do you have any advice for academics who might wish to implement a similar approach for their subject? 

Our advice to academics wishing to implement a similar approach are to prioritise authentic consultation and collaboration with Indigenous communities and stakeholders. Seek guidance and input to ensure that your teaching and learning practices are culturally appropriate, safe and responsive to the needs of Indigenous students. Additionally, enhancing the cultural awareness of non-Indigenous academics is a deep commitment to provide culturally safe support to Indigenous students. Providing holistic support, not only on academic, but also financial, wellbeing and cultural support, is crucial for student success.

What are your plans for this project going forward? 

Going forward, we plan to further strengthen our partnerships with Indigenous organisations and communities, ensuring that our course remains responsive to evolving needs and incorporates the latest insights and best practices in Indigenous health. We will continue to refine our teaching and assessment strategies, incorporating emerging diabetes technologies and innovations while maintaining a strong focus on cultural safety and inclusion.

Additionally, we aim to expand our scholarship program and explore new opportunities for Indigenous students to engage in practical learning experiences within their communities such as intern programs.

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