ACU workLIFE - Working and Learning Together Changes Lives

Published: Monday 29th February 2016

ACU staff member and Education student Claire Todeschini with Cambodian schoolchildren

Bachelor of Education student and staff member Claire Todeschini says ACU’s supportive environment has broadened her opportunities, and encourages women to reach for their potential in their studies and career.

Currently in her third year of studies, Claire has been working as a Community Engagement Assistant with ACU’s Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE) in Melbourne since mid-last year.  Claire's role sees her getting out amongst the local community with IACE programs which help vulnerable people to access educational opportunities. These include the Clemente program, which helps adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to work towards an entry pathway to studying at University.

“I am overwhelmed by the positive impact these programs make and I can see how when we work and learn together, it can change lives. It has been a big eye-opener for me, dealing with people from all sorts of backgrounds, facing many different life challenges,” Claire said.

Claire also works on a Homework Club program, which connects ACU Education students with primary school children from refugee backgrounds, for one-on-one tutoring.

“I love seeing that we, as pre-service teachers, really can make a difference and support the children in their education.Through creative teaching we can lead them to love learning and aspire to see University as an option in their future” she said.

Making a difference abroad

As part of her role, Claire has just returned from leading a group of 16 students on a three-week volunteering excursion in Cambodia with ACU’s Live Give Learn program. On this trip, ACU Education students taught English to primary school children and their teachers living in the poorest parts of Battambang.

“The government only pays for half days of education in Cambodia. This means children whose families can’t afford private school or a private tutor will often be kept at home for the rest of the day,” Claire said.

In addition, access to education can be particularly limited for Cambodian girls, who are more likely to be kept at home to help with chores, or not sent to school due to the cost.

“We worked in the Children’s Action for Development centres, which are free, and heavily rely on volunteers.This opens up an opportunity for girls to be educated and so the children’s attendance is equal in gender.’ Claire said.

She says working with limited resources, dealing with the Cambodian heat and teaching classes with a wide spread of ages and English abilities was both challenging and very rewarding.

“They didn’t have any electricity - so no lights or fans. No running water, pit toilet, basic buildings, chairs cramped in all over the room.  When you have to jump in the deep end and work things out yourself, that’s when you really learn how to do something.  The children just loved it, but the volunteers were very appreciative of what they had experienced and it changed their life as well.”

A broader outlook on work

Claire says her practical experience gained through ACU has broadened her approach to teaching and deepened her understanding of the University’s mission to serve the ‘common good’.

“I have more of an understanding of other cultures and other religions and other types of people. I’ve learned you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and you just don’t know what people are going through until you actually talk to them.”

Claire says her IACE manager, Mary Campbell, has been very supportive as a professional mentor during her transition to working life at ACU, and accommodating around her study timetable.

“As a student, you’re often juggling paid work with study as well as the work placement requirements of your course. I know students who work at other places and they really struggle to get the time off work when they have to go on placement,” Claire said.

Ahead of International Women’s Day this year, ACU has launched the Gender Equality Strategy 2015-2020, which will further embed flexible working arrangements across the University.  Claire says ACU’s management of flexible working arrangements is very good and easy to access: “I’ve been in other working environments that have been less supportive. At ACU, all the information about working flexibly was handed down to me.”

In thinking about the future direction of her career, Claire is considering the possibilities both in Australia and overseas: “Being at ACU made doing an overseas trip more accessible, because this trip also counted towards some of my course hours and was conducted outside study times. I have definitely caught the travel bug - and my experiences with IACE have really helped me grow as a person as I am more socially aware and think I have an important part to play in contributing to society.”

Celebrating ACU’s Women

On International Women’s Day (Tuesday, 8 March) ACU is celebrating the success of notable ACU Alumni who are making a difference in their chosen field. ACU staff members are invited to attend an International Women’s Day event on their campus to hear their inspiring stories.  For more information and to register, visit the IWD website.