Embracing Educational Opportunities - Tess Ryan PhD student at University of Canberra shares her story
Monday 2 February 2015
Current University of Canberra (UC) PhD student Tess Ryan, “a strong Indigenous woman of Biripi country”, talks about her journey through tertiary education and some of the challenges and opportunities this path has opened up for her.
Tess explains that the greatest value of her education has been the way it has increased her self-confidence.
Tess has completed a Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies and Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) and received the 2014 University of Canberra Medal for achieving First Class Honours with the highest grade point average. She has now commenced her PhD focusing on leadership models for Indigenous women.
My Journey into Tertiary Education
After working in stage management, live theatre and child protection for the ACT Government, Tess felt it was time for a change. She was always interested in studying Communications and Media, with the goal of changing media perceptions towards Indigenous people. So she applied to commence her studies as a mature-age student at the University of Canberra.
“My decision to study at university was not an easy one. As a single parent with health issues, it would have been easier to continue work and follow my career path, rather than turn my life upside down and study full-time. But sacrifices had to be made, in order for me to make changes in my life.
My dream is to change the way Indigenous people are represented in the media, and to achieve this I am determined to embrace the educational opportunities offered to me through studying a university degree.” Tess explains.
Tess said she originally chose The University of Canberra (UC) because: “I had heard that they were excellent in paving the way for students to qualify and then enter into the workforce in their chosen field.” She also mentioned she found the Support Centre for Indigenous students – the Ngunnawal Centre – particularly useful as a “hub” to study in and meet with fellow Indigenous students.
Scholarships offering life changing opportunities
During her studies in 2011 ( Bachelor in Communication and Media studies), Tess was offered a “fantastic opportunity” to study in China through the International Scholar Laureate Program, which sends students of high academic calibre overseas to study in a different cultural environment.
Whilst in China she had the opportunity to visit China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian Consulate and a number of non-government organisations. Her trip was supported by a UC Foundation scholarship.
Tess reflects, “The UC Foundation scholarship meant that I was able to take the trip of a lifetime, two weeks studying in China. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget and I returned with knowledge I can draw on in relation to cultural change and social justice.”
“Opportunity and education go hand-in-hand, and thanks to the support I received to go China, I am more driven now than ever before to influence change for the better.”
In her final year of study, Tess was awarded the 2012 University of Canberra-Australian Broadcasting Corporation Scholarship for Indigenous Students in Journalism and Media Arts and Production. This scholarship opportunity represents a commitment by the University of Canberra to encourage more Indigenous students to pursue these areas of study.
After finishing her Bachelor Degree Tess was invited to enrol in the Honours Program. Her thesis focused on the gap between Indigenous grass roots political movements and mainstream politics, and examined topics like constitutional recognition and the “rise and fall” of the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
Tess then decided to continue her studies via a PhD at the Unversity of Canberra.
“I decided to continue studying because education has been such a gift to me, not only in the opportunities it has given but also in the sense of self confidence I have gained,”
Goals and Aspirations
Tess's aspirations extend beyond her educational achievements:
“My future goals are to work in an area of politics and government as an Indigenous representative. It is my wish that I encourage people to see Indigenous representation as something beyond what has been shown to us before, and I feel that I best embody someone who has overcome obstacles and issues relating to culture in order to stand up and succeed.
I am a member of The Golden Key International Honour Society, and currently assist and mentor young, Indigenous students within my university. Being able to embark on this journey will not only increase the value of my education and expand my horizons, but also influence and motivate other Indigenous students to strive in their academic career.
I’m really honoured to see where the educational pathway has taken me, especially when I think back to when I first started and how far I’ve come. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and I’m really proud that I’ve developed so much resilience and kept pushing myself to achieve,” Tess said.