Indigenous mural - Lismore

From TAFE to Sydney Medical School

16 December 2009
Dasha Newington went from manager at McDonald's, to Sydney Medical School student, and in the process won the 2009 NSW Department of Education and Training's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year Award.
Aboriginal and Australian Flag near the Quadrangle


"Obviously it's a great feeling to win any award," Dasha said, "but what I'm more excited about is the positive effect my winning this award will have on my community.

"The most fundamental and important thing I have gained through education is the confidence to question the negative attitudes in society that I grew up in, and to not let them determine my own sense of self worth."

I had never studied at university before and most of my peers had ... They were from a completely different world. But it's worked out really well.
Dasha Newington, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year

When she completed the HSC in 2001 Dasha hadn't been encouraged to pursue tertiary education and was disinterested. Instead, she left Canberra for Brisbane for a better life, working at McDonald's for several years and becoming a manager.

She hadn't thought she was smart enough to go to university but began studying social science through TAFE in its distance learning arm.

Dasha graduated from TAFE NSW in 2008 with a diploma in Aboriginal Studies. It was here that she was able to learn more about her Indigenous ancestry, which had been a little-talked-about part of her upbringing.

"I wasn't brought up to celebrate Aboriginality," she says. "It was a bit of a taboo subject. It was a bit uncomfortable. I would have loved to have grown up to be encouraged to be who I was."

At the end of her diploma Dasha was inspired to continue studying and to add subjects to convert her diploma into an undergraduate degree, and then to prepare to sit the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) to gain entry to the Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney.

She was successful and in 2009 began her first year.

"I was a bit nervous when I first started at university because I didn't know anybody else who had spent time at TAFE.

"I had never studied at university before and most of my peers had studied for three or four years at university. They had had a very different life to me. They were from a completely different world. But it's worked out really well."

Dasha hopes to use her experience to inspire other young students to engage with education and to improve their career options. She is the student representative of the Aboriginal Doctors Association and is also working in a program run by the Department of Education and Training for gifted and talented Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander students.

In this program she mentors third grade primary school students.

"Indigenous people deserve the chance to achieve their educational and life goals, and to fulfil their potential individually, and as communities," Dasha says.

"I believe that, as an Aboriginal person, simply having a presence in medical school and in the medical workforce, will alter perceptions around Aboriginal peoples' participation in society in a positive way.

"I hope that by seeing me in the future as an Aboriginal doctor, and by seeing Aboriginal lawyers, Aboriginal people in leadership and management, Aboriginal opera singers that Aboriginal kids can grow up believing that whatever it is they want to be when they grow up, that it is indeed very possible."

The University of Sydney graduated two Indigenous medical students in 2009.

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