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University pathways to social inclusion

Jamie Mitchell

When Jamie Mitchell (DipAppBus 2019, ADegAppHlthComSup 2021) left school at fifteen, university was not on the horizon.

“We didn’t do university in our family,” he said.

“I thought university was for rich, intelligent kids from the city.”

But seven years ago, he had a life-changing moment when he found himself in the Stanley Burbury Theatre, having never before set foot in a university. “It was like going to the MCG for the first time,” he said.

“I looked around at the 200 students there. Paula Johnson (BAdVocEd 2005) from the University Preparation Program started giving an orientation lecture and, within five minutes, she just got me. I realised I had this all wrong.”

University, Jamie realised, was not something out of reach.

“A successful student learns how to study, learns what their strengths are and wants it badly enough,” he said.

He had enrolled in the University Pathways Program (UPP), a free bridging program for students who didn’t complete Year 12, and has been studying full time since, moving into studying a Diploma in Applied Business and then an Associate Degree in Applied Health and Community Support at University College. He has recently been accepted into a Master’s program at another university.

“The UPP taught me how to learn and gave me choices,” he said.

More recently, Jamie has worked in student recruitment at University College. “When I’m talking to students there, I’m talking to myself,” he said.

Jamie has now been approached by Autism Tasmania to become a support coordinator.

“Within the first hour of working with Autism Tasmania, we were having an NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) Tasmania meeting, empowering a mum to take control of her NDIS plan and manage it,” he said.

Jamie was given the opportunity to prepare the case notes from the meeting, using the skills acquired in the Applied Health course. “It demonstrated just how practical that course is,” he said.

He said Autism Tasmania are frequently approached by organisations interested in how to make their spaces more welcoming to people with autism, which he agreed was a positive step.

“But what people realise is that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” he said. “There’s nothing identical.”

“We’re interested in educating the public about how to be more accepting and to celebrate people with autism. There are so many opportunities out there, so hopefully in 5-10 years, people with kids with autism won’t have the same stigma attached.

“Autism is something that is really misunderstood. Working with people with autism and their families, all I see is untapped potential and the restrictions around them is us. The first thing is to build the rapport with the person; the challenge for me is to listen carefully … The Associate Degree set me up for that; it’s not just the theory it’s the doing something.

“From UPP to a Master’s in six years; it shows what can happen if people believe in you. Likewise, people with autism: people just need someone to believe in them.”

Jamie said he liked what the University was doing with Access scholarships, effectively “tipping scholarships on their head” by not just looking at merit, but providing access to those who may have previously been excluded.

“I love the way the Vice-Chancellor, Rufus Black, has gone about social diversity and social inclusion because that’s me.”

“My story is really about what can happen when someone believes in you,” he said.

Your support can help change students’ lives through a Southern Lights Access Scholarship, please donate to the Southern Lights Access Scholarship.

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Published on: 29 Oct 2021 11:20am