Potential career possibilities heat up at annual Winter School

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Winter School participants (from L to R in yellow shirts): Jamaica-Rose Martin (16, Mackay), Amelia Bishop (15, Mackay) and Dylan Geary (17, Townsville) with their Mentor Myles McKenzie.

Last week, more than 120 students from as far as the Northern Territory and New South Wales traded their school holidays for the Indigenous Winter School Program at James Cook University (JCU).

Local and visiting students stayed in Townsville at the Bebegu Yumba campus for the week-long program, and were immersed in university life through lectures, research projects and sporting events.

Indigenous Student Programs Coordinator Emma Iwikau says the Indigenous Education and Research Centre (IERC) Winter School Program has grown from 100 to 120 over the past three years.

‘‘The program allows students from years 10 to 12 the chance to select a discipline of interest and over the week we give them time to experience what it’s like to study in areas including Environmental Science and Indigenous Knowledge, Chemistry, Medicine, Social Work, Marine Biology and Maths and Science,’’ says Ms Iwikau.

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‘‘We have 10 mentors from each of the chosen interest areas who take the students through an introduction to what could be their future chosen degree.’’

Nurturing a sense of belonging

Ms Iwikau says it didn’t matter where or how a student began their university journey, but it was important all students understood they belong at JCU – and they can do whatever they put their mind to.

‘‘I’d like to congratulate each student on being part of this year’s Winter School because your teachers have seen something special in you and so have we,” she says.

Myles McKenzie is a second-year JCU Medical Student and Bachelor of Psychology with Honours Graduate and says spending the week with more than 100 passionate young people was inspiring.

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‘‘It takes great courage for these young people to leave their families and friends and stay here at JCU for the week,’’ he says.

‘’I encourage students to think about what their passion is or what annoys them the most so they can then learn the skills to fix that thing.’’

Mr McKenzie says students shouldn’t shy away from university even if their grades weren’t quite where they needed to be.

‘‘Our Elders and our Community have afforded us all the opportunities we have today and I’m grateful JCU helped me shape a realistic pathway to studying medicine and achieving my goal,’’ he says.

‘’There is no such thing as a perfect or right way to get to university. You can reach those seemingly impossible goals and become the person you want to be but along the way, you will need to ask for help and the IERC can provide just that.’’ 

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Winter School attendees travelled from Townsville, Cairns, Brisbane, Thursday Island, New South Wales, Mackay, Burdekin, Darwin, Mount Isa, Toowoomba and Cooyar, with students allocated into groups to learn more about their chosen speciality area.

Those areas include:

  • Law 
  • Allied Health 
  • Maths and Science 
  • Medicine and Dentistry 
  • Indigenous Studies 
  • Social Work 
  • Nursing and midwifery 
  • Marine Science 
  • Chemistry 
  • Environmental Science and Indigenous Knowledge 

Taking steps towards a professional pathway

Returning Winter School student Dylan Geary says attending this program was a positive opportunity to make connections and see what university and the field of medicine will be like.

“I’m hoping to build rapport with people so that when I come back, they know who I am,’’ he says.

‘‘I’m going to try to go to Winter School again and then apply to the Summer School in my final year of high school. I’ve enjoyed looking at what I’m in for when I start my med degree. Being able to do that has been really interesting because it’s made sense with the classes I currently take, like Senior Biology, because it all leads into what I’m interested in doing at uni.’’

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live