Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students dream big at the University of Sydney

30 May 2013

Star of the award-winning ABC TV series Redfern Now, Aaron McGrath, joined more than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from 24 schools as they experienced a day in the life of a University of Sydney student this week.

As part of Reconciliation Week 2013, 200 year seven and eight students met McGrath as he discussed his own experiences as an Aboriginal student and his hopes for life after school - he is currently a year 12 student at Christian Brothers High School, Lewisham.

Now in their sixth year, the Student Experience Days aim to encourage more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to stay at school and consider higher education. Two separate events - one for years 11 and 12 and another for years seven and eight - took place this week.

All areas of interest were catered for the year seven and eight students in a day of hands-on activities, with students able to make their own ice cream using liquid nitrogen, express the emotion of pride through poetry, find out more about the man on the $50 note, and compete to build the tallest tower out of spaghetti.

A further 60 year 11 and 12 students attended seminars on scholarship applications and interview techniques, exam preparation and study skills, peer-to-peer engagement, and alternative entry pathways and support services available at the University of Sydney. They also attended the University's official flag raising ceremony, which included presentations by the University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston and NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Citizenship and Communities the Hon Victor Dominello.

"For the younger students our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Experience Days are about exploring university and what happens here, for the older students the focus is on preparing for the HSC and planning for their own future," says Annette Cairnduff, Director of Social Inclusion at the University of Sydney.

"We hope that the students who have visited us this week will walk away inspired by the opportunities and confident in considering higher education as a real possibility for them. We also hope that we will see many of them back again this January as part of the Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu Summer Program.

"On a personal level, it's been a real inspiration to have a group of such motivated, interested and applied young people on campus this week."

Students at both Experience Days had the opportunity to plant a hand in the Sea of Hands installation, one of the largest art installations in Australia, and toured the University's groundbreaking People Like Us video exhibition, installed in a pop-up shipping container on the University's Eastern Avenue.

Students watched the inspiring stories of 14 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, students and alumni of the University of Sydney as they discuss their thoughts, dreams and hopes for the role of higher education in the futures of their communities.

The exterior of the container is being painted throughout Reconciliation Week and beyond by a mix of established and local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students Experience Day is a partnership between the University's Compass Program, Student Recruitment Unit and The Smith Family.

"Through providing a range of interactive and fun activities with great educational value, students can get a taste for higher education," says Angela Saad, Learning for Life Team Leader at The Smith Family.