02/10/2019 - 15:08

UWA program gets students thinking

02/10/2019 - 15:08

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The University of Western Australia’s 10-year-old Aspire program has worked hard to open the minds of thousands of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to the possibilities offered by tertiary studies.

Bronwen Veale says Aspire UWA’s business partners tell students that with a university education, they don’t have to stick with one job for life. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The University of Western Australia’s 10-year-old Aspire program has worked hard to open the minds of thousands of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to the possibilities offered by tertiary studies.

Through an array of events and classroom activities, Aspire UWA has promoted the idea a university education is not about achieving a specific career goal, but being able to pursue a range of professional and academic opportunities.

Aspire UWA initially partnered with 24 schools in 2009 to engage with students in the Perth metropolitan region.

Today, the program has more than tripled in size to encompass 73 schools across the Pilbara, Mid West, Kimberley and Peel regions.

Engaging with approximately 15,000 students every year, Aspire UWA tailors activities to individual year groups, offering disadvantaged students resources on and pathways into the university.

Bronwen Veale, coordinator of Aspire UWA’s school partnerships in the Peel region, told Business News activities were targeted to age ranges with different focuses and curriculums, “so that teachers in the classroom can see connections that students make and follow up after we’ve left”.

Ms Veale said UWA’s efforts started with pre-school and primary school students, involving them in basic activities that motivated them to set goals for later in life.

One example Ms Veale cited was the use of a board game that linked scenarios and questions designed to make children reflect on how simple decisions like remembering to bring school supplies every day could have an effect on future studies.

“Through playing it in a game scenario, they’re able to reflect on their experiences and things they can do actively now to get them through their studies,” she said.

For senior students, Ms Veale said activities were directed at helping them make plans for their future, inviting them to networking and panel events, as well as helping with university admission applications and providing guidelines.

Business partnerships with BHP and Alcoa have also been of value, with Aspire UWA able to work in the Peel region through $US1.2 million ($1.8 million) in funding from the Alcoa Foundation since 2016.

Ms Veale said representatives from business were often invited to schools so they could explain the value of a university education.

Business perspectives were valuable because they often explained not just how a university education could help build a career, but how studies could change someone’s goals and ambitions.

Ms Veale said this was important because it explained to children a university education brought opportunities rather than confining them to a narrow career path.

“When industry guests come in, they’re interested in passing on the message that these days, you don’t have to stick with one job and one career for your entire working life,” she said.

“It actually is beneficial to have transferable skills, because the employment market changes a lot.

“You might start working in one field and it might change, and you need to be able to adapt.”

While Ms Veale said she hoped Aspire UWA’s activities would encourage children to consider attending university, she said she was happy to just see students made aware of the opportunities available to them.

“We realise that everyone has a different pathway and may choose to do different things in life,” she said.

“If they decide at some point they’d like to do further studies, that support is always going to be there.

“So long as students are hearing the message that university is possible if it’s something they want to do, I think that can have an impact on students.”

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