Tracey Edwards and Lavinia Rossiter with Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce
For most, studying is about improving your future. But for a few, studying is about improving the future for your community. Caitlin Ganter spoke with two students whose dedication led to a prestigious scholarship.
Tracy Edwards and Lavinia Rossiter have a few things in common – they are both mothers, both studying and working full time, and both determined to make a difference in their community.
They were also recently recognised with an exclusive teaching scholarship, awarding them each $25,000 per year for up to four years, because of their dedication to their community.
Twenty-five year old Lavinia, studying a Bachelor of Primary Education (Indigenous), did not have it easy as a child. But her struggles with issues such as depression have given her a unique empathy and drive to help others.
“When I take myself to university, I am bringing my people with me – education and identity are not separate for me,” she said. “My family relies on me quite a bit for emotional support and I take it on myself to motivate them. I care for my own four-year-old, as well as children in my extended family and community. A lot of children look to me, and this translates into more pressure to succeed and to be a good role model.”
Awarded annually to one student from each state, the Governor-General’s Indigenous Student Teacher Scholarship aims to assist and support Indigenous university students to obtain a teaching degree, and in return, these future teachers will act as role models for
Indigenous students and contribute to increasing educational expectations, supporting community involvement, and raising awareness of other educators.
“My primary school years were not the best,” said Lavinia. “I received very little encouragement and things were hard. When I was in high school, I was suffering depression and when I finally left, I felt like my high school years were a failure.”
But things started to turn around for Lavinia when at 19 years old she started a job as a teachers’ assistant. “I fell in love with working with children and I knew I had the ability to do more than I was, so I enrolled in university,” she said.
“I came across to ACU and immediately loved the classes, the people and the environment… the Indigenous unit provided the sense of community that I needed.” But for Lavinia, becoming a teacher is not just about her success.
“I can understand the hardships certain students are going through as they are not much different to what I went through 10 years ago. I want to show them they are not alone, and prove they can stop these problems overtaking their life.
“Winning this scholarship was a transforming experience for me… it was amazing to have my ability recognised. It will help me create a profile for myself and show others in my community there are people who can help.”
Tracy and Lavinia both take part in ACU’s Indigenous residential program, which allows Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander students to study in their communities, and come to campus for one week each semester.
Tracy, a second-year Associate Degree Indigenous Education/Bachelor of Education (Indigenous) student, began her studies on campus together with her daughter, until they both decided to join the residential program to find out more about their heritage and cultural identity.
“I have wanted to become a teacher since I was a child, however it was only as I got older that I truly developed a passion for it and by then I thought I was too old to achieve my lifelong dream,” said Tracy.
“I thought I had left it too late, boy was I wrong. With the love and support of my family and friends I was finally brave enough to give it a shot.
“To me, a teacher is not only an educator that passes on the required knowledge, but they also get involved with their students by passing on their passion. They endeavour to make their students feel good about themselves by helping them to realise their potential… I want to be able to boost the self-esteem and self-awareness of these young adults.
“When I applied for the scholarship I didn’t really know how I would go, but then I got the call saying I was successful. At first I was shocked – I couldn’t actually believe I was selected… it is a wonderful opportunity for me to achieve my dreams with grace and dignity while also giving me a sense of personal pride and achievement.
“There is no denying study is a challenge, I have a full time study load, a full time job and a full time family, but I believe anything worth doing comes with its own set of issues, so I take each as they come and give it my absolute best all the time.
“I once read that as teachers we are given a sacred trust, and I truly believe it is the best benefit of the job. I am ready to accept the challenge of becoming a teacher with my arms, mind and heart wide open.”
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