Shayma Taweel

Social Science
Winter 2016

I came into my internship with the Aurora Education Foundation (AEF) not knowing what to expect.  Having had little experience beyond the retail sector and some volunteer work in the social justice space prior to my placement, I simply knew I was in for a great deal of learning.

The AEF runs several projects aimed at improving education outcomes for, as well as changing the conversation around, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at various stages of their education journeys.  During my placement, I worked alongside two teams at Aurora.  These were the International Scholarships team, which administers postgraduate scholarships and opportunities for students, and the Websites/Marketing team, which operates a database of scholarships, helping connect Indigenous students with ease to sources of financial support from across Australia.

Over the course of the five weeks, I researched education programs developed for indigenous students across multiple colonial contexts, such as the United States and Canada; assessed scholarship application processes across Australian universities for their accessibility and ease-of-use; summarised scholarship applications for interview panels; assisted with event management, and did my fair share of data entry.

I quickly realised the relationship between the work of the two teams fed into and informed one another.  Aurora takes a holistic approach to education, addressing the issue of accessibility in varied and innovative ways whilst creating a supportive community for scholars both in Australia and abroad.

My placement with the AEF opened my eyes to the amount of work that goes on in the background – the logistics, relationship management, and funding applications – to sustain and expand education projects in Australia.

I learnt that there may be hundreds of scholarships available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, but that the amount of time, energy, and prior knowledge it often takes to find and apply for these opportunities can mean that the students who need this financial support are not aware of scholarships they may be eligible for, or cannot capitalise on them.  Aurora’s work invited me to reflect on the very nature of scholarships, inclusion, and the relationship between educational aspirations and confidence – if so many scholarships require self-selecting, decent rapport with academics for references and an awareness of how university administrations operate, in addition to time, how many students from marginalised communities miss out because they assume there isn’t anything for them, or believe they are unlikely to succeed in an application?  The AEF does not simply look at expanding upon the number of existing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; the organisation also has a thorough consideration of all the steps that lead up to a student deciding to apply for a scholarship, and sought ways to meaningfully address the factors informing these barriers.  It caused me to reflect on my family's education experience, and I came to appreciate Aurora’s thoughtful, behind-the-scenes work in the education sector.

Through my internship I was also privileged to witness the calibre of students involved in Aurora’s programs – some of the most promising scholars in Australia, often with incredible stories, who have succeeded in building a community of Indigenous academics in Australia, the US and the UK.

I gained a lot from my Aurora internship – I further developed my research and administrative skills, reached a greater understanding of how a not-for-profit operates, and gained insight into Australia’s education system.  This all contributed to underlining the structures of disadvantage that impact vulnerable communities and the possibilities of redressing these issues, reaching across the lines of government, institutions and community engagement.

My experience with Aurora has provided me with further clarity as to the next steps of my career – leveraging my research interests and skills into creating meaningful change in the education sector.  I am grateful that what at first glance looked like a run-of-the-mill, office-based role in Sydney turned out to be so much more.