Yuin indigenous artist Natalie Bateman was happy to play her part in delivering University of Wollongong's (UOW) award-winning Koori Aspirations Program.
But what gave Ms Bateman the greatest pleasure was the fact so many indigenous students enjoyed "opening up, interacting with each other and talking about their futures".
The Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia (SPERA) awarded the Koori Aspirations Program the prestigious Australian Rural Education Award (AREA), during the recent National Conference for Regional, Rural and Remote Education.
UOW's Outreach and Widening Participation Team and Woolyungah Indigenous Centre (WIC) ran the mentoring and artwork program designed to enable the post-school aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students in regional areas.
The program featured a number of workshops targeted specifically at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from Liverpool to Bega, aiming to create a culturally inclusive environment to foster the personal growth of the participants.
Content was co-designed by UOW Outreach staff from Bega, Batemans Bay, SWS and Wollongong and involved a partnership with Ms Bateman, who created a series of five artworks to support discussion in the workshops.
Each workshop concluded with a reflective yarning circle for students to discuss the themes, artwork and their ideas.
Workshops were separated into two age groups in order to target the varying needs of the students.
The years 7 to 10 workshops focused on the inclusion of cultural education elements to foster a positive cultural identity and lead to improved self-esteem.
Artworks by Ms Bateman formed the foundation of the workshops and were the basis of themes discussed by the students.
The year's 11 to 12 webinar, designed in collaboration with WIC, focused on building capacity of senior students to pursue higher education pathways and other post-school options.
The webinar series provided advice on pathway options after school including TAFE, services for Indigenous students such as the UOW Indigenous Admissions Program, and financial assistance, such as Indigenous student scholarships.
Some 339 indigenous students from Albion Park, Bega, Bowral, Corpus Christi, Corrimal, Hoxton Park, John Edmondson, Lake Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Warilla high schools took part in the program.
UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Theo Farrell commended the team for their work and for their well-deserved recognition.
"Congratulations to the Outreach team for their work on the Koori Aspirations Program. Receiving the Australian Rural Education Award is a wonderful achievement and highlights the important work the university is doing in connecting with Indigenous high school students in the community," Professor Farrell said.
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.