Corey Tutt OAM, Deadly Science founder and CEO, shares his vision for STEM in remote schools.
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In five years, the charity DeadlyScience has grown from a one-man-band in the spare room to a sextet with a warehouse, corporate sponsors and adoring fans.
Hundreds of schools and thousands of students have benefited. They’ve received boxes of books and bundles of equipment, from telescopes and test tubes, to lesson plans and Lego.
Motivated, inspired and reconnected to the history of Australia’s first scientists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are learning to make their own sweet STEM music.
Big-hearted Gamilaraay man Corey Tutt was shocked into action in 2018, then aged 25, when he discovered remote community schools were “completely under-resourced in STEM and especially indigenous, First Nations resources”.
“I was just so angry that these schools didn’t have the same opportunities as everyone else,” he says. “And I decided to do something about it.
“It was really difficult, because at the start I just used my own money to buy resources and then I took up a second job … to pay for it all.”
But word got around and “so many schools wanted to be part of DeadlyScience”, so Tutt started a GoFundMe page. That went on to raise a quarter of a million dollars over its lifetime.
The charity attracted donors, grants and sponsors. Tutt put on staff and expanded into new premises.
Recognition followed with the title of NSW Young Australian of the Year in 2020, a Eureka in 2021 (the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion) and an OAM in 2022 (The Medal of the Order of Australia for service to Indigenous STEM education through DeadlyScience – providing science resources to remote schools around Australia and encouraging Indigenous students to pursue careers in STEM).
During National Reconciliation Week in June, Australia Post announced a new partnership with DeadlyScience to deliver the resources to First Nations Communities for free, starting with 18 pallets of LEGO.
A #5000books campaign was launched for the festive season.
Defying his own expectations
Tutt never dreamed that his pet project would become a successful not-for-profit organisation with national reach and global appeal.
But now the 30-year-old newlywed is contemplating starting a family and wondering about when to step back from the helm, so others can lead.
“I’ve realised that I need to make a space where I can hire other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so that they can continue to inspire the youth of tomorrow,” he says.
It would be incredible if the future leaders of DeadlyScience were drawn from the very schools that received STEM resources through the charity’s work, Tutt says.
There’s no doubt Tutt is a role model for young Indigenous people. He typically connects with children through a shared love of animals, especially reptiles. But he’s also collected knowledge of other sciences, soaking up facts from a wide variety of life experiences. This convoluted career path makes his story all the more compelling.
“I come from a rough area, and I was told that I’d better stick to trade or I’d probably end up dead or in jail by 21,” Tutt says.
He left school at 16 to follow his dream of becoming a zookeeper. First he volunteered at Roo Gully Wildlife Sanctuary in Boyup Brook, Western Australia, then he found paid work at Shoalhaven Zoo – closer to home in Nowra, New South Wales.
But then – just as he was about to sign the lease for a rental property with a friend – that friend committed suicide. Tutt was rocked to the core and decided to hit the road again instead, with a new job shearing Alpacas.
Later he worked at the RSPCA, then the Animal Welfare League, where he met his future wife.
He started studying at TAFE and took a traineeship in animal technology at the Garvan Institute. He worked at the University of Sydney as an animal technician and later, a research assistant. He also worked at the Matilda Centre for research in mental health and substance use, where he explored creative ways to combat addiction and improve wellbeing.
When he was asked to give a science talk for a Redfern Waterloo career event, he realised he had an interesting story to tell.Tutt with driver Daniel Ricciardo with the DeadlyScience logo sported on the McLaren cars at the 2022 Australian Grand Prix
“I really wanted to give back to other Aboriginal people and when I thought about my career, I thought there were not many Aboriginal people that I’d met in my industry,” Tutt says.
“And the ones that I did meet, I really looked up to, so I figured that I could actually make a huge difference with my story.”
Tutt believes Australia could do much more to develop “homegrown talent” and make STEM careers accessible to all.
“There’s so many jobs that we could have in our remote communities that are STEM-related, from ecology-based jobs with rangers, to potentially, astronomy tours as well,” he says.
“The best places to visit the stars are in these remote communities. There’s so much that we can be doing to support our young people in remote communities but they’re just not getting (that support) and it’s got to start younger.
“If we’re not implanting that idea [of STEM careers] in primary school, then it’s very, very, very, very hard to explain to a teenager, especially one that’s about to leave school, how you can do science, because they’ve already preconceived what they want to do. And it’s often too late.
“And I think that if we can do it from a young age and show that science is successful, then we can actually get young people into jobs and we wouldn’t have some of the problems that we’re having now.”
Bringing science to the most remote communities
In the Big Rivers region of the Northern Territory, south of Kakadu and 15-hours drive from Darwin, students at Robinson River School are model Deadly Scientists. They’ve even starred in short videos to promote the launch of Tutt’s first illustrated children’s book, The First Scientists.
The relationship between the school and the charity was established well before principal Chris Errington arrived on the scene three years ago, but he has embraced it to such an extent that he was named 2021 Deadly Science Educator.
Every school has a limited budget, so additional support from organisations such as DeadlyScience is always welcome.
“For me as an educator, seeing some of the things DeadlyScience does in schools and the way they support and collaborate with others is pretty inspirational,” Errington says.
“Corey’s enthusiasm is infectious, and that enthusiasm is fuel for ideas as to how we can make science fun in schools.”
The “small, very remote school” of 51 students has benefited from loads of resources including LEGO, bottle rockets, microscopes, chemistry sets, models of volcanoes and animals. And of course, many books.
Errington says science feeds into the curriculum in so many ways. Drawing up charts and data links into numeracy. Writing procedures and descriptions: literacy.
“And we can look at history with Australia’s first scientists, or maybe geography, with the weather systems and the wildlife around the world,” he says.
“Science really is the key to everything and DeadlyScience makes all of that learning possible.”
Each school is encouraged to develop and pursue their own interests with the support of DeadlyScience.
At Malak Primary School in Darwin, it’s all about Lego and virtual reality.
Assistant principal Mina McCarthy said opening a Lego room was a dream come true.
“As Lego is expensive and we have a very tight budget, we had been slowly building our Lego supply and had [built up] enough for small groups at recess or lunch, but not for whole class bookings,” she says.
“We now have the Deadly Lego Room established as a nod to DeadlyScience. It is open at recess and lunch and ready for classroom bookings.
“Children have space for projects that are under construction and can be left each session so they can continue building with friends the next time they are in. They can also put finished items out on display for a week before the Lego is disassembled and returned to general use.”
McCarthy says Lego “supports curiosity, language development, resilience, persistence, cooperation, imagination, STEM skills and of course fun”.
“For some of our children, LEGO is a luxury that they might not access at home. It has been so awesome to be able to offer learning through LEGO without focusing on limiting access to the number of bricks a student can play with at a time.”
The fire in the belly that drove Tutt to establish DeadlyScience still burns.
Anger about the lack of resources in remote schools has spread, with the realisation that kids in juvenile justice centres are missing out on STEM too.
“There’s a perception that they all like football and sport and art and that’s the be-all and end-all of their capabilities,” Tutt says.
“[Society] actually ignores these kids and that’s really sad. That’s the thing that makes my blood boil the most, is that we say to some demographics in our society, actually no, STEM is not for you, science is not for you, because of your skin colour, your gender, your sexual preference or identity.”
DeadlyScience is changing that, together with supporters across Australia.
What is DeadlyScience?
- DeadlyLearners sessions give young students a chance to learn key ideas, meet STEM professionals, ask questions and share knowledge.
- DeadlyGrants of $5000 are available for the purchase of STEM learning resources in successful schools, thanks to the GHD Foundation.
- DeadlyLabs creates science kits and teacher resources in collaboration with communities, thanks to Merck.
- DeadlyWeather provides weather stations and STEM learning resources to schools and communities all over Australia, thanks to the Toyota Community Trust.
- Awards for community teachers and students to encourage them in their STEM/STEAM journey
Originally published by Cosmos as Gifting STEM resources to remote schools
Clare Peddie joined Cosmos in 2022 after 15 years as Science and Environment Writer at The Advertiser in Adelaide. She previously worked at CSIRO Land and Water, UniSA, and the Cooperative Research Centre for Vaccine Technology. A passionate science communicator with an extensive and ever-expanding network of contacts, she thrives on exploring new ideas with talented people. Follow @ClarePeddie