Future Direction Network scholarship winner on track for a bright future

9 April 2013

It was on a January night when she was 14 years old that Lauren Pearce picked up a pen on whim and wrote a short story about a perfectionist pianist. Ever since, she has dreamed of being a professional writer and academic. Being shortlisted for the John Marsden Prize for young writers in 2012 was a promising start.

Yet in the midst of her HSC last year, the gifted wordsmith was forced to overcome more than exam nerves alone. Facing a chronic illness and with her mother diagnosed with cancer, Pearce shouldered academic responsibilities and the need to support her family on top of the already stressful exams.

Now, as a recipient of the inaugural Future Direction Network (FDN) scholarships, the first-year Arts student's aspirations are on track to become a reality.

Pearce joined co-recipients Pita Siganisucu (University of Western Sydney) and Joseph Babana (University of New South Wales) at a special scholarship ceremony last week at the Canterbury Leagues Club, with the prizes presented by the Premier of NSW, the Hon. Barry O'Farrell.

The FDN scholarships provide recipients with $18,000 over 3 years to support their studies, with students also paired with a mentor for guidance throughout their degree. Founded by fellow University of Sydney student and former Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs player, Corey Payne, the FDN was established as a way to encourage students from South-West Sydney to pursue higher education.

"It's just completely taken a load off my mind, the idea of having the money there," Pearce said of the scholarship. "Just being able to work less paid hours and not having to worry about where the money for textbooks is going to come from, that's really helpful and it's made the university experience nothing but enjoyable."

Looking back, Pearce said her journey to university and the pressures of her "rollercoaster" HSC year were eased with the help of the University of Sydney's new Early Offer Year 12 Scheme (E12). Launched in 2012, this scheme assists students who have faced financial hardship during their time at school, helping them to excel through an early conditional offer and special ATAR cut-offs to the University of Sydney. E12 students also receive financial support and help with the application and orientation process, as well as ongoing guidance into the first year of their degree.

After a recommendation by her principal at Macquarie Fields High School, Pearce successfully gained a place as an E12 student to become the first member of her family to attend university.

"I found out just before my mother went into hospital that I had received the E12 scholarship," said Pearce. "Even though I did end up getting a higher ATAR anyway, it was good to know that if things got too hard I had a bit of an easier route into university and things would be alright in the end."

Pro Dean Academic of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Associate Professor Jennifer Barrett, said the E12 scheme recognises that ATAR, while an important marker, is "not the only indicator of potential success at University."

"One of the interesting things we're seeing is a link between our Widening Participation program, working with schools, and the E12 intake for this year," she said.

"Some of the students coming in through the E12 program are arriving from schools that have not previously been represented at the University of Sydney before. All of the dots are starting to connect, and it has been a great program for the faculty."

She also pointed to the expansion of the E12 program for the 2014 intake, to include candidates for the Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) degrees in addition to the Bachelor of Arts, as evidence of the scheme's ongoing success.

Though just a few weeks into her degree, Pearce said her studies in English, History and Philosophy have already been an "incredible" experience.

"I love both my English subjects as I feel they really relate to my writing and I can see myself using almost everything that I'm learning," she explained. "My history subjects are everything I had hoped for, and in my philosophy unit, I'm finding myself asking questions, which I wouldn't have done before.

"I chose to study at the University of Sydney primarily because I'd heard about the fantastic Arts program that we have here. I'm also looking to do postgraduate work within the field and I thought what better place to start than Australia's biggest university and Australia's largest Arts Faculty."

Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961; 0405 208 616

Email: 09193e031c4a1e5e34291f224436372111331801003756392c