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Indigenous Models of Achievement

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people studying at university and going on to have interesting and rewarding careers is growing. Here are some stories about how education has enriched the lives and communities of Indigenous students and graduates.

Prime Minister launches Indigenous Models of Achievement

On 15 May 2014 prime minister Tony Abbott launched the Indigenous Models of Achievement program.

Sharon's story

Education wasn't the grand plan. Sharon, a Ngemba woman who comes from Brewarrina, left school at 16, married and moved around a bit. Then she got an position as Aboriginal education assistant and was offered the opportunity to do teacher training at university. Embarking on a fulltime distance-learning degree with two young children under five – and the support of her husband – was challenging, especially when she had to spend fortnight-long blocks on campus in Sydney. Sharon now has a master's degree, is the Aboriginal education consultant for the Catholic diocese of Armidale and, most importantly, is a role model for her own children and others in the Moree area.

From rugby academy to physiotherapy student

Recruited in Year 9 to the Waratah's Junior Academy, Kyle was working towards his dream of playing rugby for Australia. But then he got injured. He sat down with his PE teacher and discussed all his options for alternative careers within the sporting sector. He found a new future at university where he is studying physiotherapy. The first in his family to study at university, he struggled at first but got a lot of help from the Indigenous support officer along the way. He is currently completing his degree while acting as a mentor to other Indigenous students and working fulltime as assistant physiotherapist for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Becoming a high school science teacher

Growing up, Jhade, who's a Kamilaroi woman, struggled with her Aboriginal identity. But at university she has encountered Indigenous teachers and support, and has really begun to engage with her culture. She is one of about 20 Aboriginal students – 'we're family now' – and is going to be teaching high school science. Science provides such a wide-spread choice of career and it's an area in which Aboriginal people are underrepresented, she says. And 'being rural, being Indigenous, being female – we're such a minority – I want to show you can do it.'

Ivor's story

Ivor is from Raukkan in South Australia. He won the first Indigenous scholarship offered by St Andrew's Cathedral School in Sydney, and indeed was the first Aboriginal student to enrol and graduate from the school, along the way making a few rap videos. Now he's studying medical science at university, with a dream to become part of the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Ivor became inspired to study medicine after he recognised the difficulties that rural communities such as his own faced in accessing health care and treatment.

Veterinary science student

Tamara loves animals and has always wanted to be a vet. She didn't do science at school and didn't have the ATAR she needed to get into vet science. But she was so passionate about working with animals that she went off and studied zoology for a year before applying again. Now she's well into her veterinary science degree and is looking forward to a career treating animals in remote Indigenous communities.

Rachel's career in medicine

Growing up in Orange NSW, Rachel was exposed to the impacts of healthcare on her own family: her brother Matthew requires ongoing special care for his disabilities and as a young girl Rachel had helped care for her grandmother in her final stages of cancer. Rachel's route into medical school was via home schooling and achieving a high grade in SAT – the American equivalent of HSC. Now working as an intern at RPA in Sydney, Rachel is planning to continue her medical studies and become the first Indigenous orthopaedic surgeon.

Alison's story

One of six children brought up in Coffs Harbour by her single mother, Alison wanted to do something creative but didn't want to be on struggle street. There were times when the family dealt with poverty and racism – however, her mother and older sister always reinforced the importance of thinking big, chasing your dreams and believing in yourself. Alison enrolled in a business/law degree. But it didn't feel right and, within the first semester, she switched to design. Now she has a first-class degree and is creative director of the National Aboriginal Design Agency and a leading figure in Indigenous design and technology within Australia.

James's road to uni

At school James was told he wasn't smart enough to go to university. After spending time living on his father's ancestral country of Lake Condah Mission in southwest Victoria – 'it changed my whole outlook,' he says – he moved to the city and got a job working in a gym, where he was exposed to many different types of people and influences. Encouraged by his boss and by friends, he enrolled at uni because he wanted to get more involved. Now he is studying communications and journalism part-time and is working fulltime in the communications team at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern.

Against the odds: becoming a lawyer

Most of the time, Lachlan didn't like school – he didn't feel it was relevant to his interests or reflect his identity as a Wiradjuri man. He struggled when he left school in a series of unsatisfying jobs. Eventually, encouraged by his father, he applied for a place studying law at university. Studying was hard at the beginning – he felt the lack of academic skills – but he got tutoring and built up the skills he needed. Lachlan recommends going on to university: 'It's great for you, and it's also great for your people,' he says. Lachlan graduated from university in 2011 proudly wearing his handmade Willay Badhang (possum skin cloak) as a symbol of his people. Now he has a job he's passionate about, working for Recognise, the organisation campaigning for constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Teaching in the Tiwi Islands

Tamara grew up in the strong Aboriginal community of La Perouse, Sydney, and went straight from school to university. She was aware of the negative stereotyping and gaps in educational outcomes for Indigenous kids and saw that she could help change the future of her community. After a period working as an Aboriginal education coordinator and teacher, Tamara visited the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. Once she'd set foot on the islands, that was it – she stayed. She teaches religious education and is determined to do her part in educating and encouraging Indigenous children.