Despite its many challenges, being an Indigenous university student brings a great sense of achievement and pride to myself and my community in La Perouse, says UNSW alumnus and Dreamtime Awards winner Ash Walker.
"We are able to bring different perspectives to the class room but are often expected to be the expert on all things Indigenous which can be difficult, particularly as a young person," said Walker.
Walker recently completed a Master in Business Administration at the University of Oxford with the support of the Charlie Perkins Scholarship Trust and was awarded Student of the Year at the Dreamtime Awards on November 16.
Ash believes that Indigenous students are often able to approach problems from different angles than those of their classmates, and bring a unique drive and resilience towards their studies. However, there also a number of difficulties, such as isolation from community and the expectation that they need to constantly represent their entire race.
Walker said that, despite not experiencing this personally, separation from community and isolation from support networks are significant challenges Indigenous students coming from rural areas must face when pursuing tertiary studies.
Walker, a 29-year-old UNSW and University of Oxford graduate, shared his experiences about life as a student after being awarded Student of the Year at the Dreamtime Awards – an annual celebration of achievement in sport, arts and academics within the Indigenous community.
"I think there is also a lot of pressure, both while studying and in the workplace, when you feel that you need to consistently speak and act on behalf of your entire race," Ash Walker said.
"However, this is also an opportunity to bring an Indigenous voice into a class room or meeting room where historically we wouldn't have had much of a say which is obviously very positive"
Walker, who is working as a Strategic Adviser at the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council before joining the Boston Consulting Group in February, said he took on the role to use his skills for the benefit of his community.
"My legal background is useful within the tightly regulated NSW Aboriginal Land Rights system and my business knowledge is becoming increasingly relevant in our drive toward sustainability" he said.
The UNSW Business School graduate hopes to contribute to building a strong economic base for his community, so its members can govern themselves effectively.
"I'm a firm believer that we can't be overly dependent on government funding. Obviously, government does have a role, but we need to minimise our reliance wherever we can" Walker said.
"I'm hoping that my experience studying both at UNSW and Oxford, as well as working at the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, Gilbert + Tobin and the Boston Consulting Group will help to me work towards that goal."