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June July 2012 Issue
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Kate's road to success with Wilto Yerlo

 Indigenous Education Feature

Bachelor of Arts student Kate Richards has taken a challenging road since leaving her Port Augusta home in 2006.

The 23-year-old Aboriginal student finished high school with a disappointing university entrance score, gaining little support from teaching staff in her home town, despite working hard in her final year.

But even that setback failed to deter the young woman who had her heart set on university.

A school trip to Adelaide to explore her tertiary options revealed a brighter future in the form of a Foundation Program offered by the University of Adelaide's Aboriginal Education Centre, Wilto Yerlo.

"It was obvious to me that the University offered a lot of support for Indigenous students and I grabbed the opportunity to enrol in the Foundation Program," Kate said.

The program prepares Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students for tertiary study by evaluating their learning requirements and providing support for a different style of learning.

"The Foundation Program was a lifesaver for me," Kate said. "If I had come straight from school into a degree without undertaking the program I would have gone home within six months because the transition is quite hard."

Instead, she topped the Foundation Program in 2007 and enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts the following year, majoring in Psychology.

Now in her final year, Kate is excelling in her degree and earning praise from Wilto Yerlo staff, including its head, Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney.

"Kate's hard work symbolises the strength and resilience Indigenous students bring with them to university studies," Professor Rigney said.

"She is a role model to other students and her success is testimony to the value of Wilto Yerlo's University Preparation Program that provides bridging skills needed to navigate university studies."

In 2011, Kate spent a full semester undertaking an internship at Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.

Her internship involved working on a strategy to strengthen relationships between Tandanya and other Indigenous art galleries in Adelaide - a project which earned her a distinction and resulted in her putting forward a number of recommendations.

These included the establishment of regular workshops for Aboriginal artists and the creation of an annual state conference for Indigenous cultural organisations in South Australia.

Kate's studies at the University of Adelaide have been made possible via several scholarships, including a Thyne Reid Scholarship and an Olympic Dam Aboriginal Community Trust Scholarship, both worth $10,000.

She was also awarded a Country Health Scholarship in her first year of university, requiring her to work in a country region for two years once she finishes her degree.

In the intervening period she hopes to achieve sufficient marks to get into Honours in 2013 and possibly a Clinical Masters after that.

"I am really keen to work in a field which involves psychology because this is where my interest lies," Kate said.

Apart from focusing on her own studies, Kate is also a tutor within Wilto Yerlo and enjoys mentoring young Aboriginal school students who visit the University.

Story by Candy Gibson

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Kate Richards
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