Only a small percent of Indigenous people who start a higher education course go through to graduate. Caitlin Ganter spoke to Indigenous graduate Casey Bird about pushing through his doubts to achieve great things. Casey Bird sets high expectations for himself.
Having recently graduated from a Bachelor of Psychology at ACU, Casey became part of an exclusive group – one of only three per cent of Indigenous students who complete their tertiary education.
Casey decided to undertake tertiary study while he was working with juvenile offenders, enjoying the role so much he wanted to expand his opportunities in this area. “I was working with juveniles for the Queensland Government, facilitating restorative justice processes between juvenile offenders and the victims. I started to have ideas about broadening the work that I did, and because I particularly enjoyed working with people I felt a psychologydegree would give me the ability to expand my work options.”
Casey chose to study at ACU, and took on a full-time study load while also working full-time.
“I was definitely really nervous to start study again… it had been about 10 years since I had finished high school, and I didn’t really apply myself to learning back then. “Overcoming the fear of whether or not I would be able to do it was the hardest part. Although that was a challenge, I’ve learnt from it – I know now if you put your mind to something and commit then you can achieve. It’s just a matter of having the support and overcoming that fear.”
Casey accessed support at ACU through Weemala, the Indigenous unit on the Brisbane Campus. “Weemala really helped me. I didn’t know anything about uni, but Weemala helped me to feel connected. They also gave me the information to access various resources which I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I had people there to help me every step of the way, I just needed to access it.”
Casey excelled in his studies and made the Dean’s List three years in a row. However, uni life wasn’t without its challenges.
“If I commit to something, I generally commit to it whole heartedly. But looking back, I was really anxious about if I would be able to do it. I was 30 at the time, so I made sure I set myself some goals regarding things I thought I would need to do to succeed. For example, I made sure I gave up weekends to do my work and made study a priority.
“Once I realised I could do it, I just kept at it and loved it. The process of learning was great. I certainly didn’t commit myself in high school to the level I did in university and it was really rewarding being able to achieve something that I didn’t think I could. “I was surprised with how well I was doing with study. After the first year, I was shocked to find out I’d made the Dean’s List. From then it was like a competition with myself – I decided I wanted to try and get on the Dean’s List next year, and the year after that. In the end, I made the List every year of my degree.”
Casey is now using his degree to continue helping people, focusing on youths. “I’ve worked with young people for a long time and it’s something I’m passionate about. My focus is Indigenous kids, so I’m now working as a Resource Officer for Youth and Family Support Services; a section of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.
“Essentially I’m a case worker for an early intervention support service that works with young people who have been identified as at risk. I work with them and their families to try and overcome some of the difficulties that they deal with. “
The most challenging part of this role is the fact that a lot of the families come from difficult circumstances, so it can be tough to make a connection with them.
“But this can also be one of the most rewarding things, as I think it’s important to work with marginalised people because everyone deserves an opportunity for a happy life. I didn’t get to where I am alone, I had a lot of support, and so I want to help people do the same. It’s important to me and it makes my job worthwhile.”
University was transformative for Casey and he is very positive about the future. “Professionally, my focus is helping people – it gives me the energy and drive to get up every morning and go to work. “I feel like the world’s my oyster, if you set your mind to it you can do it and I didn’t know that before I finished a degree.
“My advice for people is you’ve just go to give it a go. There are so many opportunities and if you go for it there are always people who are there to help you. You just have to overcome that initial fear that is self-inflicted. If it’s meaningful to you then treat it that way and you’d be surprised what you get out of it at the end.”
To find out more about support for Indigenous students at ACU, visit acu.edu.au/ci