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Uni dreams fast becoming a reality for Aboriginal students

11 January 2016

A summer school program giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teenagers from across Australia an experience of university life is starting to see tangible results.

Around 220 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students from as far afield as Alice Springs, the Pilbara and the Torres Strait Islands will travel to the University of Sydney this week for the Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu (WMBB) Summer Program, from 11-15 January.

This year marks the 50th anniversary since Charles Perkins AO became the first Aboriginal man to graduate from an Australian university, the University of Sydney, in 1966. This week, WMBB students will seek to follow in his footsteps as they join interactive workshops spanning the University's many disciplines, including health, natural sciences, creative arts, humanities and social sciences, and business.

Students in years 9 and 10 (in the Wingara Mura program) and years 11 and 12 (in the Bunga Barrabugu program) will also have the chance to learn more about planning for higher education with sessions on subject selections, career choices, goal setting, and scholarship applications.

Numbers on the rise

"More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students than ever before are setting their sights on further study at the University of Sydney," said the University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston.

"Since the program launched in 2014, six former WMBB participants have joined us as students in 2015, with 15 WMBB alumni from last year's summer school also applying to the University in 2016.

"The program proves that distance is no obstacle to a passion for learning, and shows the importance of reaching out to students from the early high school years to encourage them to aim for the Higher School Certificate and beyond."

It's encouraging to see these students build on their skills year-to-year, thinking ahead and making concrete steps towards achieving their dreams.
Professor Shane Houston

In the past two years, the University of Sydney has also seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of preferences lodged to the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students seeking to join the University.

Highlights of the 2016 program include:

  • Shadowing a doctor on their hospital rounds at the Sydney Adventist Hospital, with students gloving and gowning up for CPR training
  • Learning about online businesses with a visit to The Iconic's warehouse in Alexandria
  • Mixing audio tracks with iPads alongside Aboriginal academic Clint Bracknell (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
  • Visiting Barangaroo and Sydney Festival’s installation 'The Ephemeral City' by French artist Olivier Grossetête, followed by yarning circles and a tour of the site with Aboriginal elders.  

Opening doors to higher education

Second year Bachelor of Nursing (Advanced Studies) student Jackson Dowling will share his own journey to university as a volunteer leader at the WMBB summer school, having participated in the program himself over several years as a high school student in Coffs Harbour.

"I chose to join the WMBB program because of my parents. I've come from humble beginnings and I understand how hard my parents work to put clothes on my back and food on the table," said Jackson.

"Like many Indigenous males my father was illiterate. I have seen him commit himself to learning. This encouraged me to make the most of every learning opportunity. 

"Before the program, I had no idea about where to find information - what courses were of offer, what would happen if my ATAR wasn’t high enough, who was in charge of recruitment, or what my living options might be. The WMBB summer program gave me insights and the accessibly I needed to transition into uni."

Highlights from the first day of the Wingara Mura-Bunga Barrabugu (WMBB) Summer Program 2016. 

Emily Cook

Media and PR Adviser
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