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Wanted: 150 mentors to help high school students reach for the stars

by Rosanna Galvin

Fern Seacombe, (right) with fellow AIME participant Kim.Fern Seacombe, (right) with fellow AIME participant Kim.

The program which brought billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson to the University last year and is raising Indigenous student high school completion rates across the country is back at UniSA for a second year.

The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) – a nation-wide educational program that gives Indigenous high school students the skills, opportunities and confidence to finish school at the same rate as their non-Indigenous peers – is ramping up its operations at UniSA with a goal to recruit 150 new university mentors this year.

The mentors will work with 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students in Adelaide's northern and western suburbs, conducting sessions on everything from résumé-writing to hip hop.

AIME participants including Fern Seacombe (bottom right) and Kim, Adam and Hudson.AIME participants including Fern Seacombe (bottom right) and Kim, Adam and Hudson.

One of the students who was part of AIME’s inaugural year at UniSA is Fern Seacombe (pictured bottom right). A public relations and world politics student, Fern says she joined the mentoring program with hopes of helping teenagers reach their full potential, but what she got out of the program was far greater than that.

“I wanted to encourage the children to reach for the stars as I am a huge believer that children can create their own future no matter what – they just need someone to say ‘hey, you can do this, I believe in you’,” she says.

“The best part of AIME for me was seeing how the children changed over the year. They started off shy but after a few sessions they started talking about their dreams and ambitions. Some of them shared their stories with me – life seemed so tough for some of them and yet every time I saw them they were smiling and singing.

“They were so much fun to be around but most importantly, they showed me so much about strength and resilience. It was a very humbling experience. They taught me a lot about life and helped me with my own journey.”

Fern’s own path to university hasn’t been smooth but she hopes her experiences will help the mentees relate to her and see what is possible with the right attitude.

Diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia and dysgraphia as a child, Fern says education has been a challenge for her.

“To say school was hard for me would be an understatement. However my story is not unique and there are many children having the same struggles as I did or even going through worse,” she says.

“What has helped me succeed at university is finding motivation through teaching children at a local swimming centre. I have worked with some amazing children, many of whom were facing hard challenges.

“I soon learnt that while not every story is the same, and some could be worse than others, the truth is everyone is facing challenges and everyone is trying to overcome them.

“This became my motivation to do well to conquer my challenges and set an example for all the children I work with. I was surprised to see how much achieving my goals would motivate children to overcome their own challenges.”

UniSA’s Adjunct Associate Professor Rosie Le Cornu, who has worked in the field of education for more than two decades, says mentoring can have huge benefits for mentors as well as the mentees. She says the mentee is provided with support, while the mentor is provided with opportunities for reflection on practice and is affirmed for their experience and expertise.

“It works best when we move away from a conventional mentoring model – with its traditional hierarchical relationships – to a co-mentoring model,” says Assoc Prof Le Cornu.

“Here both mentor and mentee are positioned as learners and a reciprocal relationship can develop where both the mentee and mentor can learn from each other.

“I think university students participating in the AIME program have a lot to gain from the experience. It’s an opportunity to reflect on themselves and on their values and attitudes and to learn more about themselves in the process.”

UniSA offers a number of opportunities for both mentors and mentees. For more information on some of the opportunities available, go to the Global Experience webpage.

To find out more about the AIME, go to their website.