Inspiring Indigenous teenagers to succeed

Tyler Smith, Gold Coast Coordinator of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience program

Indigenous high school students on the Gold Coast gained valuable insight into career paths as diverse as law, the military and hospitalityduring an Australian Indigenous Mentor Experience (AIME) event at Griffith University.

More than 60 students were given the opportunity to question a panel of five special guests about the challenges and highlights of their chosen careers.

The panel included Australian Navy submariner Sergeant Annie Dufficy, Australian Army Administrative Clerk Corporal Kiiren Marr, Gold Coast solicitor Jason Buckland, food and beverage director Adam Bastow andmodel Chelsey Nichols, who is also a Law and Arts student.

The Pathways to Success session on the AIME curriculum encourages and inspires local Indigenous high school students to achieve greatness.

Mr Bastow, who oversees popular Gold Coast restaurants Etzu Izakaya and Commune Cafe, urged the students to enter the hospitality industry, even if only for a short stint.

“It teaches you a lot and you become very tolerant,” said Mr Bastow, who is also a food writer whose works have been published by Lonely Planet, Barfly Magazine and Ocean Road.

Tyler Smith, AIME’s Program Coordinator on the Gold Coast and a former AIME mentor, said the program is a door-opener for Indigenous students, many of whom struggle with aspiration.

“We also engage with community elders who help them connect with their Indigenous heritage which goes a long way to giving them a sense of belonging,” he said.

Working through obstacles

“The biggest take-away for the kids is becoming strong and confident in who they are. This is achieved by allowing them to meet fellowIndigenous high schoolers from around the Gold Coast and work through common obstacles.

“There is a popular misconception that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are not as talented as other Australian youth.

“AIME allows these students to practice singing, dancing, reading, writing,public speaking and other skills to boost their cultural practices and academic skills.”

Nerang High School student Charlee Edmunds, who plans to forge a career as an emergency room doctor, said the AIME program offered her more than career advice.

“It has helped me cope with Year 11, which is pretty hard,” she said. “Today, for example, we learnt about resilience – about each other’s resilience and how we use it in daily life. For me it’s more about personal development, but it also helps us with deciding on a career path.”

Indigenous high school students from the Gold Coast learn more about their career options.
Indigenous high school students from the Gold Coast learn more about their career options at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus.

Nerang High classmate Hayley Leitimen, who is planning a career in biomedical engineering, agreed.

“AIME is firstly a place where we can express ourselves, and by interacting with our mentors it also inspires us for our future,” she said.

The AIME program is bolstered through a network of mentors comprising volunteer university students who engage with the high school students on a range of issues.

“These mentors sharewisdom and stories of how they’ve dealt with obstaclesthe mentees may be facing in their lives,” said Mr Smith.

Positive pathways

The Program Coordinator also case manages the Year 12 students for six months after graduation to ensure they have positive pathways.

“As one of the first mentors at the first school that AIME worked with back in 2006, it is remarkable to see the tangible results of the program. AIME empowers and inspires Indigenous high school students to be the best that they can be,” said Mr Smith.

“The sessions which are held at Griffith University, coupled with university student mentors, act as incredibly effective mechanisms to expose the mentees to higher education, something that many kids have never considered.”

AIME has been running at Griffith University since January 2015 helpingIndigenous students from Ipswich, Brisbane and the Gold Coast high schools. AIME also connects students with opportunities available after they finish Year 12, including further education and employment.

Nationally, the program has given Indigenous students the skills, opportunities, belief and confidence to finish school at the same rate as their non-Indigenous peers, with AIME mentees achieving their best results ever in 2015.

Year 12 attainment hit 93.7 per cent, exceeding the national non-Indigenous average of 86.5 per cent and the national Indigenous average of 35.2 per cent.