Interview by Yaliilan Windl
Wirringka Student Services engages with and provides support to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students studying at the UniSA offering students a friendly, comfortable and supportive place to study. Wirringka student centres are accessible at all UniSA campuses, metro and regional, with Aboriginal Student Engagement Officers ready to assist in answering any questions you may have or help you at any point in your student life, whether you are preparing to study, or are a current student or alumni.
Ellen is an Aboriginal Student Engagement Officer (ASEO) based at City West Campus. In this interview we get a little insight into the role of an ASEO.
What is the first and last thing that you do when arriving and leaving the office each day?
The first thing I do when arriving at the office each day is put on some music in my office. I like to work to background noise so it creates a nice ambiance to work in. The last thing I usually do (other than pack up) is check that I’ve responded to any outstanding and urgent jobs from that day.
What motivates you to be an Aboriginal Student Engagement Officer?
When I studied my first semester at university, I was lucky to be in an Aboriginal history topic that was created and taught by strong and empowering Aboriginal women (and men). I came out on the other side of this topic feeling empowered in my sense of identity (both personal and cultural) because now my experiences and opinions on things were not just anecdotal, but I had the facts and knowledge to support what I knew. The sense of power and importance that this gave me to confidently navigate new pathways was invaluable. I believe that education is a really important tool for empowering all Aboriginal people. Education provides pathways to move Aboriginal people to positions that make decisions about
the policies and regulations that impact our people. I am motivated in my role because every Aboriginal person I support, who grows their own sense of identity, gains confidence and a powerful sense of knowledge and will return this to our community – to our children, our brothers and sisters and to our Elders.
What do you love the most about your job?
My absolute favourite part of my job is the interaction and relationships I get to build with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. I love listening to people’s stories, so hearing about where students have come from, what they’re studying, where they want to take their careers and what obstacles they’ve had to overcome (or are overcoming) is so inspiring. I feel very grateful when people share a small part of their life with me and especially when I get to be a supportive part of it.
What would a typical workday for you would look like?
A typical workday for me looks like; coming into the office and opening my emails. I check my to-do list to see if there’s outstanding work from the day before, otherwise work through my emails to identify jobs in order of priority.
What are the duties/ functions/responsibilities of your job?
To summarise, my job is to support the retention, success and completion
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the University. From the perspective of my role, this support can take place in many ways whether its pastoral care, assistance with housing or finances, academic support and much, much more. For a lot of our students, they’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles to even access education. All of those factors I mentioned can have an impact on a student’s ability to focus on their studies and do well, so I try to assist in removing or alleviating as many of these barriers as possible. Most aspects of my role are in relation to the needs of Aboriginal students. I also get to be involved in some of the projects in the University aimed at improving the university’s cultural relevance for Aboriginal students.
What are you most proud of as an Aboriginal Student Engagement Officer?
Every single time a student graduates, or gets their first high grade, or completes their first year of study, or gains some other amazing opportunity despite the many obstacles they may have had to overcome to achieve that accomplishment, I feel very proud of this. It shows the strength and resilience in our community through academic success and it makes me really proud of our mob 🙂
What have you learnt about yourself, being in this role?
I like to believe that I’ve always been a people person, passionate about hearing people’s unique experiences, adversities and successes. This role has taught me that this aspect of me is a really important component to my work. For me to find value in my work I need to be working with people, supporting and helping them achieve their aspirations.
What attracted you to UniSA?
I have now worked at the three major universities in South Australia and came to find that they were all unique in the type of cultural diversity that existed amongst staff and students. I had known of people who spoke of their positive experiences at UniSA so I started to investigate. I found that UniSA had made great commitments to the inclusion of Aboriginal content, voices and knowledges which was a very attractive quality. I know that words on a page don’t mean much, but I’ve only found that the culture of UniSA is one that strives to be culturally safe and inclusive of Aboriginal people and knowledges. This is supported by policies and strategies which are able to be referred to if there was ever an example of people whose values didn’t align.
You are studying currently, what are you studying and what do you think you have in common with fellow students?
I am currently about halfway through my Bachelor of Psychological Science
and Sociology. My personal journey with my studies has not been conventional, consistent, linear or by any means perfect. Due to working full time, my study load has varied since I begun and I think it’s really important that people know that this flexibility is available.
What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
I was really fortunate to have sort of grown up in the Aboriginal academic community in Adelaide as a child with both of my parents studying and working at universities. This upbringing gave me the exposure to some people who pointed out opportunities to me, but I didn’t really come into contact with universities until I finally decided
to study in 2017. Through my study, I gained a 6 month casual receptionist role at another university, which led me to work at another university and then finally here. Having a working knowledge of university systems is really advantageous in gaining employment in one.
Mandaang guwu (thank you) Ellen for the time you have given for this interview. For being a phenomenal, giving an inspiring ASEO and yinaa.