From Newcastle to Oxford: supporting the international scholars of tomorrow
Monday 28 September 2015
A growing group of students from the University of Newcastle (UON) are showing how universities, paired with TAI’s programs, can provide powerful support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students striving for academic success.
The Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour occurs in October and November each year, taking Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander university students and graduates to visit leading universities in the UK and US. It provides opportunities for students to gain insight into the realities of undertaking postgraduate study at these leading institutions, and involves meetings with key academics and administrators at each university, as well as current students in the areas of the participants’ interests. Applicants are chosen primarily on the basis of academic achievement (to be eligible, applicants must have a distinction average or higher), and also on the basis of their potential to become leaders in their field of study and in their communities.
From 2011 to 2015, a total of 80 students and graduates have been selected to attend the Study Tour, and 28 of these have already been accepted to Oxford or Cambridge, creating a community of high achieving Indigenous students.
The University of Newcastle (UON) has been represented by at least one student on the Study Tour every year since its inception in 2011.
Of course, there are many factors which contribute to their success (apart from themselves!): family, community, and the support which they receive from their universities, and in particular the Indigenous higher education units.
Wollotuka Institute – first Australian WINHEC accreditation
The Wollotuka Institute at UON has shown how universities can support their talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in achieving academic success.
"The University's enrolments of Indigenous students are almost double the sector average. Our students study across all of the professions from medicine to law, and engineering to psychology, and UON also offers the most comprehensive range of Indigenous studies programs in the country."
- Professor Caroline McMillen, Vice-Chancellor
Wollatuka recently received Australia's first World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) accreditation, recognised for its strong outcomes within Australian Indigenous Higher Education. This accreditation ensures Wollotuka can work with Indigenous leaders across the world to highlight the importance of Higher Education while enhancing and protecting Indigenous beliefs.
For more than 30 years, Wollotuka has played an important role in representing and supporting UON’s Indigenous students. The Institute, which consolidates all Indigenous activities of the University under one strategic and operational body, is committed to the advancement and leadership of Indigenous education at a local, national and global level, drawing strength from culture, communities and past journeys.
Wollotuka’s all-Indigenous staff, with outstanding educational and personal qualifications, is overseen by an all-Indigenous board to support the aspirations of Indigenous students, while recognising cultural differences and valuing the diversity of cultural backgrounds.
The 7 UON Study Tour Scholars to date have interest in a wide range of disciplines including Science, Health, Policy, Anthropology and Construction Management. Four have already been accepted into postgraduate programs in the UK and US and awarded Charlie Perkins and Roberta Sykes Scholarships to support their studies. They are UON alumni Jessica Buck, Aunty Kerrie Doyle, Kathleen Jackson and Nathan West.
- Recently finished MSc in Neuroscience, about to commence DPhil in Oncology at Oxford
- Charlie Perkins Scholar/ 2012 Aurora Indigenous Study Tour Scholar
For Jessica Buck, a descendant of the Kamilaroi people, the choice of Australian university was clear from the outset.
"As an Aboriginal woman, I chose to study at the University of Newcastle because of its strong record of leadership in supporting Indigenous students. Almost half the Indigenous doctors in Australia graduate from the University of Newcastle."
However, like some of her fellow scholars, it was when she attended the Study Tour in 2012 that she started to consider international opportunities.
“Before going on this trip, I never would have thought about studying overseas … much less at one of these prestigious universities. I was aware that I had good marks, but not that one of these universities would want me. I would definitely never have thought that a scholarship to one of these prestigious universities would be achievable for me, but now I know that it is! This trip has opened up a new world of possibilities for me.…”
Aunty Kerrie Doyle
- Graduated with MSc in Evidence Based Social Intervention from Oxford
- Roberta Sykes Scholar/ 2011 Aurora Indigenous Study Tour Scholar
Aunty Kerrie Doyle, a Winninninni woman who grew up in Darkinjung country, became a general nurse and worked for Gosford District Hospital on the Central Coast of New South Wales. At 33, Aunty Kerrie enrolled at UON and became the University's first Indigenous psychology graduate. Attaining her undergraduate degree solidified Aunty Kerrie’s interest in academia and she went on to participate in the first Aurora International Study Tour, received a Roberta Sykes Scholarship in 2012, and became the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman to obtain a postgraduate degree from Oxford University, an accolade which now sits nestled amongst an impressive (and lengthy) list of academic qualifications. She is currently Associate Professor in Indigenous Health at RMIT.
- Currently studying PhD in African and African American Studies at Harvard
- Roberta Sykes Scholar/ 2012 Aurora Indigenous Study Tour Scholar
Kathleen Jackson, a Wiradjuri woman from Gulgong in New South Wales, once thought that Harvard was only the stuff of myth and movies. But thanks to the Roberta Sykes Harvard Club Scholarship, it became the place where she was accepted to undertake a doctoral program in African and African American Studies in 2013.
"Harvard became a realistic opportunity for me following the annual Aurora Scholars Study Tour," Kathleen explains.
"My dream became obtainable. They became real people, and Harvard stopped being the wonderful and mythical university from the movies and became a place full of passionate researchers and academics, and people like me."
For Kathleen, the Wollotuka Institute and the University of Newcastle played a vital role in turning this dream into reality.
"Without the Wollotuka Institute I would not have been able to find my dream. They put me back in touch with my Aboriginal culture and heritage. I was reminded how important it was to be a Wiradjuri woman and this gave me tremendous determination”
- Due to complete MPhil in Social Anthropology and go on to commence DPhil in Anthropology at Cambridge
- 2014-2015 Roberta Sykes Scholar/ 2013 Aurora Indigenous Study Tour Scholar
For Nathan West, a descendant of the Biripi people, tertiary education was not initially on his agenda.
“During my senior years of high school, I vividly recall the personal feeling that a tertiary education was not something which would be within my reach, not particularly due to a lack of academic performance or drive, but more based around a sense of misplaced entitlement and bewilderment regarding what was available to me.
"Tertiary study was something I had dismissed until I attended a University of Newcastle Open Day. From then, I wanted to make tertiary study a part of my future"
Fast forward several years and Nathan has gone on to receive a Bachelor of Construction Management (Building) from the University of Newcastle, graduating with First Class Honours in 2009 and is about to complete an MPhil in Social Anthropology from Cambridge.
“This (Study Tour) changed my outlook on my capabilities and what I can achieve. I had never expected to be selected for this trip and could not imagine what it would be like to be at universities such as these. … I think it’s safe to say that the Tour has opened many doors of opportunity for me”.
Other UON Alumni selected to attend the Aurora Indigenous International Study Tour include:
- Karen Daniels: 2014 Aurora Indigenous International Study Tour Scholar
- Rhiannon Allan: 2014 Aurora Indigenous International Study Tour Scholar
- David Meharg: 2015 Aurora Indigenous International Study Tour Scholar