Student Stories

this is to hide the first open tab
Kristie-Lee Alfrey, Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours)

STEPS is the founding reason I am where I am, and am who I am, today.
Kristie-Lee completed grade 12 with average grades and was sure that university wasn’t for her; instead she pursued a trade in hairdressing. During her late teens, Kristie-Lee found herself in a very low place in life. She had lost all self-respect, self-confidence and purpose but with help from her family, she was able to find a level of stability to continue with life. It was during the pregnancy of her second daughter that she faced medical issues necessitating an end to her 10-year hairdressing career. She became a stay-at-home mum and a fly-in/fly-out spouse. As much as she loved her family, Kristie-Lee experienced feelings of isolation, lost confidence and began questioning her life-purpose beyond motherhood. When both of her daughters were old enough for school, a family member encouraged Kristie-Lee to re-assess her future career path and apply for a university degree. Thus in 2015, the kickstart of her formal tertiary learning journey began via STEPS, and Kristie-Lee recalls this not being an easy decision due to her low self-confidence and high social anxiety.

It was in the second week of STEPS that some personal hurdles played on Kristie-Lee’s lack of confidence and belief that she wasn’t “smart enough” that she decided to quit STEPs and university altogether. However, during the phone call to notify her STEPS Coordinator of her intention to withdraw she was led to believe that she was indeed ‘good enough’, and it was decided that she continue as a part-time student. Kristie-Lee is convinced that if it wasn’t for that phone call, and a few other communications with her STEPs Coordinator, that she would not have continued her tertiary journey. She found that the personal support she received gave her the motivation and the will to commit to study, and to herself.

STEPS wasn’t always easy for Kristie-Lee though. As a socially isolated stay-at-home-mum for many years before STEPs, she had forgotten how to approach and interact with others, and the mere thought of being around other adults was simply terrifying for her. STEPs gave her the opportunity to re-engage with other adults in a safe and supportive environment in which she was able to “re-learn how to effectively communicate with others”. Amongst other things, she also learnt how to manage her time effectively, how to use software such as Microsoft Office and how to complete study at the university level. Kristie-Lee said STEPS made her feel so much more capable – in study and in life. The results she achieved from STEPs were also proof to herself and others that she was indeed “smart enough” to be a university student, completing STEPS with an outstanding GPA of 6.75 of a possible 7!

Kristie-Lee found that the support she was given during STEPs and post-STEPs has made her a more determined and passionate person. She has been inspired to help other students grow their competence and confidence and she has fulfilled this desire by becoming involved in voluntary support networks such as the Student Psychological Society and Student Mentoring. Her renewed self-worth have also resulted in her joining other extra-curricular networks such as the Motivation of Health Behaviours Undergraduate Research Lab. By maintaining the passion, confidence and skills she developed during STEPs, in February 2020 Kristie-Lee successfully completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours) degree, gaining 1st class honours, and receiving a GPA of 6.67. Building on this incredible success, Kristie -Lee has recently been accepted into a PhD with CQUniversity. And all this has been achieved in five years!

Kristie-Lee has also obtained many other accolades. She has received awards for student mentoring and leadership, excellence in research, engagement and social innovation, and academic achievement. While she says she still has moments of doubt, anxiety and disbelief, she can proudly say she has come a long way in becoming a much more confident and passionate human being, fervently maintaining that “STEPs is the founding reason I am where I am, and am who I am, today”.

Brooklyn Harrison-Roser, Southern Cross University Student

I’d like to thank you for your support and guidance in foundation studies. I’m extremely excited to tell you that I’ve been accepted into my preferred [undergraduate] course.

I’m looking forward to my future studies and appreciate everything that you’ve taught me and the extra time you gave to ensure I had the best opportunity to succeed. I’m excited to keep in touch and see you around campus.

Doreen Canoy, Clinical Psychologist
It was then that I saw an advertisement for STEPS in the local paper…

When asked to write a testimonial for the STEPS course, PhD candidate Doreen Canoy did not hesitate.  Eager to convey her firsthand experience of STEPS and how instrumental this course was to her individual, professional and personal growth, Doreen said that watching many others embark on and experience the STEPS journey was the impetus for the research underpinning the Honour’s thesis she wrote for the psychology degree course she articulated to in 2005 at CQUniversity after STEPS.

In 2004, when contemplating her return to full time employment after having her children, Doreen was not entirely sure what she wanted to do but she knew she wanted to develop a career and establish financial and emotional independence. She had previously completed all modules in some online studies, but due to feelings of anxiety, did not complete the final assessment.  She was also aware that the required tasks were not extending her knowledge and considered undertaking a TAFE course. However, she believed this would not satiate the personal growth she was searching for, nor challenge her to leave her comfort zone. It was then that Doreen saw an advertisement for STEPS in the local paper.

Doreen considers STEPS to be unlike any other type of university study because STEPS students learn as much about themselves as they do about their preparation for university.  This integral component, Doreen believes, could assist with the retention of CQUniversity students.  She also believes that the skills and knowledge learned in STEPS are beneficial not only for those students who articulate to a university degree but also those who have gained employment after having been unemployed for a considerable period. Rather than this being of detriment to the STEPS course, Doreen believes it highlights the importance of continued government and university support – university study is not suited to everyone; however, everyone deserves to have purpose and feel valued.  These are extremely important goals of STEPS and a strong focus of CQUniversity’s drive for community engagement.

In reflecting on her professional achievements over the last 15 years, Doreen is very proud. She attributes the teaching and wonderful mentorship of the STEPS staff as the impetus for her decision to apply for a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) degree course.  To her surprise, she was accepted, thus beginning her academic journey.  STEPS gave her the confidence to know her way around campus, to be comfortable in approaching staff and to feel at home in the library. She considered she was ahead of new undergraduates who had not completed STEPS and she is quite sure that without this wonderful introduction into university she would have felt overwhelmed and most definitely out of her depth.  As a mature age student, 22 years since completing her secondary education, Doreen stated: “To say this return to study was daunting is an understatement”.

Doreen successfully completed her undergraduate studies over six years whilst working part-time, and upon completion she worked for two years before returning to CQUniversity to undertake a Master of Clinical Psychology.  Her work encompassed research, the criminal justice system, academia, and community mental health, each experience building on from the next. She was awarded the Australian Psychological Society Student Prize for the Clinical College of the APS (CCLP) for her clinical thesis.

She completed the Clinical Psychology Registrar course and is now an endorsed Clinical Psychologist.  She returned to CQUniversity several years ago as an academic and is the Head of Course for the Master of Professional Psychology, a course she wrote.  She continues to work with clients one day a week in her psychology practice and is also in the process of completing her PhD. As an academic, the sense of familiarity and belonging she felt when she commenced her undergraduate studies with CQUniversity is something she has also witnessed when meeting new psychology undergraduate students who have previously completed STEPS.

Doreen is so grateful that she had the courage to realise her goals, and achieve something more by taking that first step applying to STEPS ….as frightening as it was, she said it truly changed her life. Without this transitionary program she considers she would never have been confident enough to commence the journey, and as she stated, “What a journey it has been”. Doreen says that with each new opportunity that presents itself, she pauses and remembers where her learning journey began, and she has absolutely no doubt none of it would ever have eventuated without the wonderful teaching and support provided by the STEPS teaching team.

Belinda Cardozo, Studied a Diploma in Health, now in a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (honours)

I was working full time, had my daughter and didn’t feel like there was anything further in terms of career progression. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my work at the time, it just wasn’t enough. I made an appointment to chat to the University staff and discovered UniSA College. When I started, I noticed how supportive all of the staff was. Nothing was ever too hard, and everyone made themselves available to help. The teaching staff were so encouraging and were willing to do anything to ensure that you did well. It felt like a little family.

Holly Millican, Masters in Education at Southern Cross University.

Holly struggled in the standard classroom and as a result did not get the ATAR she needed to get into uni. Now she is an award-winning mathematics high school teacher who also createsmonthly videoepisodesfor ACER Teacher Magazineto assist educators across the world in implementing alternate ways to engage students andteach mathematics. Holly says:“Going back to “school” made me incredibly nervous. I did not feel prepared to tackle a university degree, I certainlydidn’t have enough confidence in my abilities to write academically, create a productive study pattern or successfully navigate university, so Idecided the PSP{enabling} course could be my “trial run” to see if I had what it took to make it in uni. I chose the PSP course to help boost my confidence and set me up to be successful at university. As a result, I walked into my first semester confident in my abilities to achieve and excited at the prospect of my university degree, rather than dreading an unknown”.Holly is now completing her Masters in Education at Southern Cross University.

Jordan Ivey, Honours Degree at Southern Cross University

I started to believe …“I remember how hard the words hit me –‘you’re not smart enough’. I lost all motivation and started cutting classes. I almost didn’t finish high school. I hit rock bottom after school, with no university acceptance, no career trajectory and no plan. I’d heard about the Preparing for Success Program. I was accepted and worked hard.For the first time in my life I received good grades and it felt so good. I started to believe that I was not only capable of university, but with hard work, I may actually excel at this.I received a scholarship, which enabled me to dedicate to my studies full time. With global problems surrounding marine life, I want to enable real change in the world and research is the best way I can make an impact. I am now living in Fiji conducting practical coral research while I finish my honours degree. Then I plan to complete my PhD.”

Katherine Burrows, Student at the University of South Australia

My Story – Pathway through Higher education –  Katherine Burrows

I remember walking at to the stone stairwell of the Brookman Building at the Eastern Campus of The University of South Australia (UniSA) with my sister. I was mesmerised by the old stone building, big wooden doors and watching as all the students went about their business. I had found out a few months before that my Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) score had not been high enough for direct entry to the areas of study I had selected at school. As if that time wasn’t hard enough, the thought of entering a new environment completely overwhelmed me. I was scared at the idea of change, being thrown from the comfort of high school where teachers supported you and motivated you to do the work required, to what I thought was all self-motivated and self-driven work. The thought of ‘can I handle this?’ swam around my head for some time.

I initially walked into the event and was overwhelmed at the options that I felt were not attainable due to my ATAR, but I was drawn to the UniSA College stand, and I inspected what they had to offer. I applied to the Diploma of Arts course, as a pathway to higher education. For me this felt like it would be a great stepping stone, a transition from High school to University.

Fast forward a few months and I had received an offer to study the Diploma of Arts, which I gratefully accepted, eager to start. The program was well set up to support all kinds of students, be it new to higher education, international students or mature age students. The program was able to break down barriers and show students the expectations of university studies within the confines of extra support. It is a focused program that is able to offer opportunities for students to learn and grow in a university environment that promotes academic achievement and the insatiable desire to continue learning. The program itself is broad and encompasses many different areas of study including diplomas and foundation studies which provide access to different studies and Degrees.

My experience doing the Diploma of Arts was fantastic as I was able to meet like-minded people, supportive lecturers and tutors. I really excelled with my grades and that was able to induce a sense of confidence in my abilities that, before this, I had never experienced.

I transitioned seamlessly into the Bachelor of Social Work; an area that I had grown extremely passionate about. I was offered to transfer into the Bachelor of Social Work (Honours), however, unfortunately due to personal circumstances I was unable to continue to pursue that and continued with the Bachelor. I graduated in April 2018; it was an amazing experience to walk across the stage in my gown and mortarboard with the people I had spent the last 4 years studying with. On my Graduation day I actually saw one of my lecturers who I had for tutorials from the UniSA College and I was able to get a picture with her. It was probably one of my proudest moments of personal growth. A full circle, from start to finish.

I was lucky to be offered a position in the same organisation where I did my final placement and I now work for the South Australian Government as a Social Work Case Manager for young people who are currently moving through the youth justice system. Looking back at my higher education journey, I never would have imagined that I would have been provided with the opportunities that I have.

I have achieved more than I initially though I would. I have also been offered so many other opportunities through UniSA College, including the chance to mentor other students who are going through the courses, promotional opportunities where my educational experience was used in advertising material and even this! I have also been able to sit on student panels where we provided feedback about the course which has now been used to shape the future direction of the UniSA College.

My best bit of advice for other students or people looking at higher education would be: not to give up, to keep pushing through. Being a student was one of the best parts of my life, a foundation for who I am now. It was and is an identity for me, a group where I will always belong.

University of Newcastle

University of South Australia

Southern Cross University