A tour of top universities including Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and Harvard and Stanford in the US, are top of agenda for Griffith indigenous student Jamie Penny.

The second year Bachelor of Public Health student is on his way overseas next month following selection for the 2015 Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour.

Aiming to encourage high achieving indigenous students to become post-graduates at these institutions, the initiative provides opportunities to gain insight into the realities of undertaking this kind of study. It involves meetings with key academics and current students at each uni, in the area of the participants’ interest.

Jamie, 42 and from Beaudesert, says it’s a fantastic opportunity and one which he could not have imagined just a few years ago.

“I tried being a student once before at Griffith back in the early 90s when I studied engineering, but unfortunately I bombed out due to a series of long running mental health issues which spelt a lot of anguish for me,” he says. “I went into a series of jobs ranging from labouring and handyman to Australia Post mailman, but I was never fulfilled.

“Added to this, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which contributed to me having some issues of memory loss. I was a bit of a wreck to be honest.

“I always wanted to have a career within some area of indigenous health but I was really worried about my ability to study and retain information. Luckily I worked with a really great psychiatrist who gave me good strategies to overcome some of my memory issues.”

Eventually in 2012, Jamie became a disability and community support worker and now works at Jymbilung House, an indigenous-run respite centre.

An upward track

“It was around this time, that things started going on an upward track and I met my fabulous partner Bindi. Later that same year, I came across the Bachelor of Public Health at Griffith. The interdisciplinary approach of the degree really appealed to me, as well as the flexibility of being able to study full time around a part time job. Bindi said we would manage and gave me the confidence to apply, so that’s what I did.

“It’s been stressful at times, but definitely worth it. My psychiatrist has been an amazing help and we’ve managed to start bringing my old memories back. I even managed to get an academic achievement award in my first year of study for getting a GPA of over 6.

“Then in the second year, my partner gave birth to our gorgeous first child Samuel. Life has been on a roll since really, with my study majoring in Health Promotion and Nutrition. The degree at its core though is about social justice which I absolutely love.”

Jamie says he is overwhelmed to be participating in the Aurora Study Tour, the criteria for which is predominantly academic performance. “This is such a fabulous opportunity, I am so thankful to have got on the tour and proud to be representing indigenous people.

“It’s important that students such as myself work to build capacity for health and education for indigenous people.”