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InPsych 2017 | Vol 39

Education and research

Collaborative practices and partnerships to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

Griffith University has one of the largest cohorts of Indigenous students, with 815 enrolments to date. The Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) and Bachelor of Psychological Science programs attract a high number of students from around the country each year. Of the 295 students enrolled in health-related degrees, 70 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students are enrolled in psychology programs.

School of Applied Psychology (SoAP) initiatives

Aligned closely with Griffith University’s commitment to Indigenous education, the SoAP’s commitment to recruiting, engaging and retaining Indigenous students makes it a leader in psychology education in Australia. More specifically, the pathways into psychology programs through the GUMURRII Student Support Unit (SSU) direct entry scheme, the government funded tutoring scheme and peer-mentoring programs are just some of the mechanisms that are addressing recruitment, engagement and retention. Dr Michelle Hood, Deputy Head of School (Learning & Teaching) attributes this success and the high number of Indigenous psychology students to their partnerships with ever-expanding support services within the university, and with external industry and community stakeholders.

First Peoples Health Unit (FPHU)

The aim of the FPHU is to provide high-level strategic and coordinated leadership across Griffith University’s Health Group. The unit is committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student success to produce a highly skilled and educated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and allied health workforce, and to attract and retain excellent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, an important strategy for designing a future to which young Indigenous health professionals can aspire. The FPHU aims to be a national leader in the preparation of health and allied health graduates, ensuring they have an awareness of and respect for the values and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“The School of Applied Psychology is proud to work closely with the FPHU, the GUMURRII SSU and the Indigenous Research Unit, as well as the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA). This allows students to see the commitment of the school, in addition to providing opportunities for the students. Our students are able to build their academic and research capacity further, through exciting initiatives such as the Kungullanji Summer Research Project” – Dr Hood.

This partnership has contributed to the enhanced enrolments (32 students were enrolled in psychology programs in 2010), and completion rates for Griffith University psychology graduates, and continues to support the transition and success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists into the workforce after graduation.

Kungullanji Summer Research Project

SoAP staff supervise Indigenous psychology students participating in the Kungullanji Indigenous Summer Research Program. Past successful research projects include Do ISTDP pressures for feeling result in anxiety? and Investigating measures of silent stressors and their effect on health and wellbeing. Founded by Jennifer-Leigh Campbell, the program challenges undergraduate students to think about applying what they are learning in their coursework to a particular research problem or scenario. Students can elect to explore their own topic, a research project proposed by their supervisor, or a community research project. Jennifer attributes the high numbers of psychology students applying for this program each summer to their desire to get exposure to research prior to applying for Honours. The Kungullanji program is a great opportunity to build confidence, research skills, professional networks, and career readiness. The program not only encourages students to consider postgraduate study, but also is an engagement strategy that endorses students working closely with academics within the SoAP.

Other great initiatives available to all psychology students include the Aurora International Study tour, in addition to sponsorship to attend conferences such as the National Indigenous Allied Health Australia Conference and the APS Congress.

Engagement with the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA)

Given the large numbers of Indigenous students studying psychology at Griffith University, the Chair of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA), Tania Dalton and the Executive Support Officer, Tanja Hirvonen, recently visited the Gold Coast campus to meet and network with staff and students. AIPA is strongly committed to improving the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through various strategies. By leading change through the delivery of equitable, accessible, sustainable, timely, and culturally competent psychological care, AIPA promotes the respect, dignity, and inherent cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Another goal is to establish opportunities for Indigenous psychology students to collaborate and partner nationally through the student network. The AIPA delegates who visited Griffith University emphasised the importance of bringing these visions and mission to fruition. The visit was one student engagement strategy that was well received by both staff and students. Students were able to network, hear the stories and personal journeys of those who have already travelled the path to becoming a psychologist, in addition to connecting with other Indigenous psychology students.

“It is important for students to join AIPA so that they can make contacts nationally. These connections help all of us support each other through the degree, and to further support you in the work that you will inevitably carry out. With the connections you develop you will also have further information about areas you will go on to work and specialise in” – Tanja Hirvonen.

Tanja had some invaluable advice for students studying psychology:

“Connect with others, seek support when needed and join the professional bodies to provide you with additional support. Practice professional self-care on a daily basis so that you can maintain the capacity for the longevity of the degree and by extension, the work that you will carry out.”

Cultural capability

It is not just the number of students within psychology programs at Griffith University that is impressive, recognition must also be given to the SoAP’s commitment to ensuring that the Griffith graduate attribute ‘Culturally capable when working with First Australians’ is achievable for all psychology graduates. Professor Shirley Morrissey, Director of the Clinical Psychology Programs, believes that embedding cultural awareness is a critical first step to ensuring psychology graduates will understand that developing culturally sensitive approaches is essential, but that in itself, this does not necessarily lead to being culturally capable. Cultural capabilities require much more than cultural awareness. To ensure that students are culturally capable, the SoAP commenced work with the FPHU to audit, map and embed First Peoples curricula within the psychology program at Griffith University.

“Through Griffith’s endorsement of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Curriculum Framework (Department of Health, 2015), Griffith University is strategically placed to commence embedding elements of cultural capabilities into the psychology programs to ensure students graduating from Griffith undertake the necessary curricula to deepen their learning and equip them to be culturally capable when working with our people. By implementing the Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Programs’ (AIPEP), curriculum framework (Dudgeon et al., 2016) and working in partnership with the School of Psychological Science and AIPA we can continue working towards producing a culturally capable psychology workforce now and into the future” – Professor Roianne West, founding Director of the FPHU.

Indigenous students should be at the centre of the discussions surrounding cultural capability. The inclusion of Indigenous students in research programs, sponsorship to attend conferences and participation in curricula design, builds the capacity of all students. The involvement and voice of students has been a key focus of the FPHU and the work that they do.

Measuring outcomes of the SoAP and FPHU initiatives

In response to the need to assess the impact of the new Indigenous health curriculum and in line with the Griffith University graduate attribute ‘Culturally capable when working with First Australians’, Professor West and her team have recently developed a Cultural Capability Measurement Tool (CCMT). The CCMT aims to quantify and evaluate the impact that First Peoples health curricula has in enhancing the cultural capability of students (West et al, 2017). Currently, the tool is being validated with a cohort of allied health students (Manuscript submitted for publication, 2017), and is being used to evaluate psychology students’ current cultural capability. This will supplement a later project which will aim to embed Indigenous curricula within the program, using the Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Program (AIPEP) curriculum framework (Dudgeon et al., 2016). Following this, students’ cultural capability will be measured again to assess the effectiveness and impact Indigenous curricula has on enhancing students’ cultural capability.

Improving the social and emotional wellbeing and health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities is the responsibility of us all. Griffith University, through key partnerships, is committed to the necessary training and education for psychology students to increase cultural awareness and competence, as well as increasing opportunities for developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology graduates.

The first author can be contacted at d.rowland@griffith.edu.au


  • Department of Health. (2015). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health curriculum framework. Canberra: Department of Health.
  • Dudgeon, P., Darlaston-Jones, D., Phillips, G., Newnham, K., Brideson, T., Cranney, J.,…. & Page, S. (2016). Australian Indigenous Psychology Education Project Curriculum Framework. Perth, WA: University of Western Australia.
  • West, R., Mills, K., Rowland, D., & Creedy, D. (2017). Validation of the Cultural Capability Measurement Tool with undergraduate health students.  Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • West, R., Wrigley, S., Mills, K., Taylor, K., Rowland, D., & Creedy, D. K. (2017). Development of a First Peoples-led cultural capability measurement tool: A pilot study with midwifery students. Women and Birth30(3), 236-244.


  1. Associate Lecturer, FPHU – Griffith University, Student representative APS Indigenous Psychology Advisory Group, APS Gold Coast Branch Committee, student member of AIPA
  2. Professor of First Peoples Health and Founding Director of the FPHU - Griffith University
  3. Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of School (Learning and Teaching), School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University
  4. Mental Health Academic, Flinders University and the Centre for Remote Health, Executive Support Officer AIPA
  5. Director of Clinical Psychology, School of Applied Psychology, Griffith University

Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on December 2017. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.