National Reconciliation Week (NRW) brought the University community together to celebrate and encourage the successes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It was a chance to acknowledge the importance of education in bridging the gap.
Staff and student mentors from the University work year-long towards reconciliation through school outreach programs, such as social inclusion program, Compass and the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), a mentoring program that took root at Sydney Uni a decade ago. They encourage young indigenous people at school to realise their academic potential through higher education.
Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategies and Services) says Reconciliation Week is an important opportunity to both celebrate our achievements and look towards the future.
“As an institution, we’re immensely proud of how far we’ve come in terms of improving access to education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students – and their experience once here,” says Professor Houston. “As we celebrate National Reconciliation Week 2016, we also recommit to progress – at the University and in society,” he says.
Liam Coe is studying a Bachelor of Architecture and Environments and has mentored for both Compass and AIME. He says the opportunity to engage with indigenous youth was most important to him.
“Getting to know the new intake of Cadigal students has been a highlight in terms of uni life. I wish to raise their expectations and lower their anxieties about higher education.” says Liam.
“For me, getting a degree is going to show everyone out there that didn’t think I could do it that I can and it’s going to tell my younger siblings: ‘you can finish school, you can get a degree and you can get a good job, because you can do a lot better than what everyone thinks,’” he says.
On Wednesday, the University welcomed more than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students to the Camperdown campus for Experience Uni day, hosted by Compass. Compass guides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students throughout high school by running a number of events tailored for different year groups. Staff members and student mentors led hands-on activities to help the students identify their interests and start planning for their future.
“Compass aims to support the academic and personal preparation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for higher education,” says Mary Teague, Head Widening Participation. “This includes opportunities for students to experience university life, engage in fun, educational activities in a supportive and inclusive environment at our on-campus events and week-long residential summer and winter programs, Wingara Mura-Bunga Barrabugu.”
These high school students often end up at the University of Sydney and eager to give back to Compass. Eight of the student mentors at the Experience Uni event were alumni of the Wingara Mura-Bunga Barrabugu program.
“Student mentors provide an opportunity for students to have direct contact with students in leadership roles,” says Ms Teague. “They’re enthusiastic about the benefits of higher education and are eager to share their learning and experiences with others.”
An army of 300 University of Sydney students complement Compass’ initiatives by volunteering with AIME. The initiative was founded by Jack Manning Bancroft in 2006 as an undergraduate student, with support from the University of Sydney Union to work with local HSC students in Redfern.
Ten years later and AIME now assists around 4,500 students across Australia, and is achieving truly transformative results. The program has increased the matriculation and university admission of Indigenous high school students by connecting them with university student mentors. In 2015, 93.7 percent of AIME’s students finished Year 12, a tremendous success that exceeds both the national non-Indigenous average (86.5 percent) and a vast improvement on the national Indigenous average (59.5 percent).
TJ Leonard graduated high school last year with help from AIME volunteer mentors from Sydney Uni. She is now studying at Western Sydney University and giving back to the program as a mentor herself. “From being a mentee, I just want to give back to AIME and show kids that it’s cool to finish school and to do whatever you want with your life after school,” says TJ.
"I’m the first in my family to finish school and go to university. I want to encourage my younger cousins and family to finish school and do whatever they want, like university a trade or something,” she says.
Liam Coe also encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students to pursue higher education. “If you can finish Year 12 and get yourself to university, you should definitely take that opportunity – you should grasp it with two hands and not let it go,” says Liam. “It’s one of the best things that’s happened to me.”
The University continues to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students once they’ve finished high school, from admission into the University to graduation. We provide alternative entry, pastoral care, mentoring and tutoring, financial support and culturally safe spaces. These support services help our talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to continue to excel and feel welcome at University.
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