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Eric Ward studies earth science at UQ

Helping rural and regional students overcome barriers to university

UQ people
Published 7 Jul, 2022  ·  6-minute read

Eric always knew he wanted to go to university. The difficult part was figuring out how to get there.

While Eric’s family may not have been in the financial position to send him to university, he was lucky to have something that not every Aussie teen does – the support and encouragement of his teachers, school and parents.

Because of this, Eric’s journey to uni began in Year 10 at Toogoolawah State High School, with UQ’s Young Achievers Program. This led to him studying a degree he’s passionate about and becoming part of UQ’s thriving and supportive student community.

Eric’s the first to admit that he couldn’t have done it without the financial, practical and emotional support provided to him along the way, which is why he’s invested significant time and effort into providing the same for future university students across rural and regional Queensland through UQ’s Outreach team.

Discover how the support Eric received has inspired him to help high schoolers all around the state overcome barriers to attending university.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Growing up in the town of Esk in Queensland’s Somerset Region, uni was always on Eric’s radar, but financing this move to higher education was a key concern.

“Though my family were happy, my father had made so many sacrifices for my siblings and I to attend school and he struggled with unemployment and job security during my time at high school,” says Eric.

“Meanwhile, my mother was working hard after moving over from Japan to be with my brother and I as well, so I wasn’t actually sure if uni was a possibility.”

Eric explains that most of his immediate family had attended university, and that his father was constantly regaling him with tales of how good the experience was, eager for Eric to be provided with the same opportunities. But the question still remained as to how he was going to get there.

“I had always thought the costs of rent and groceries, let alone other expenses such as moving from a rural town, were always going to be too much of a challenge to make the big transition over.”

“Sure, I had the drive and the ambition, but the financials were always the challenge.”

Eric found out about the Young Achievers Program when the head of his senior school posted about it in the school news.

“I was instantly drawn to it and knew that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to propel myself from a position of hopefully attending uni to seeing it come to fruition,” he says.

“Luckily, I was able to receive the scholarship and have been super grateful ever since as it has definitely changed my life!”

Eric Ward quote

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to propel myself from a position of hopefully attending uni, to seeing it come to fruition.

Eric Ward
Bachelor of Science

Eric considers himself fortunate to have attended a high school invested in empowering students to attend university if they felt that was the pathway for them. The unwavering support of his father, mother and stepfather helped him along the way too.

“I always knew I wanted to study at UQ, but the Young Achievers Program really solidified that and made it a possibility,” says Eric.

“I remember my father got emotional upon finding out that I had been accepted as he knew how much it meant."

UQ’s Young Achievers Program helps Year 10 students realise their university dreams. The program offers financial assistance, mentoring and unique higher education experiences during Years 11 and 12 and throughout university.

Learn more about the Young Achievers Program

Minimising financial concerns, maximising community involvement

Eric explains that the Young Achievers Program has helped him in many ways, the first being financially.

“Without it, the only source of income I would be relying on to get me through uni would be from Centrelink and from part-time work,” he says.

As part of the program, Eric receives a $7,000 scholarship each year, for up to 4 years during his undergraduate studies. This has helped him with moving and living expenses and has also gone towards purchasing a car so he can easily travel to visit his family.

Having the scholarship has allowed Eric to not only focus more on his studies, but it has also helped him to get more involved in the UQ community and the opportunities available to students to further their professional experience.

Eric has secured casual paid work within the university’s Outreach team, travelling to remote high schools in Queensland to chat to Year 12 students about their options for attending university.

“It feels so great to go back to rural schools and to share your experiences and knowledge and help them overcome some of their barriers,” he says.

Eric also belongs to the student-led UQ Geoscience Society, which provides opportunities for geological earth sciences undergrads to get involved in the industry, make contacts and meet like-minded people.

“I think what I enjoy most about being a part of the UQ community is that there’s a sense of belonging and a common interest in striving towards our individual goals, whether that’s an assessment or a degree. And everyone is so keen to help one another achieve those goals.”

Eric Ward quote

It feels so great to go back to rural schools and to share your experiences and knowledge, and help them overcome some of their barriers.

Eric Ward
Bachelor of Science

Space to grow

Now in his third year of studies, Eric has well and truly settled into uni life. But transitioning from high school in a rural town to living independently in the city took time – and a bit of trial and error.

“I think uni is just one of those things where you never truly know what it’s like until you get there."

“The transition to uni was probably a bit easier for me than some others had found it, as I had developed some good habits at high school that enabled me to take up the self-learning quite quickly,” he says.

“However, after a while through my first semester I began to lose motivation in what I was studying in Law and this did make it tricky to adjust to because I didn’t have the drive to catch up on things I had missed.”

Eric finished high school in 2020 knowing he wanted to study science or law at UQ. His ATAR was high enough to enrol in the Bachelors of Arts / Laws (Honours), so he began this program in Semester 1 of 2021, but soon came to find that it didn’t quite align with his interests.

“After a bit of searching, I eventually stumbled upon my current study area in Earth Science and I realised it was a degree that could really gel my adventurous and science sides together,” he explains.

“I never thought I would have found myself doing it, but I am now loving it and have never found rocks as fascinating as I do now!”

Many students leave university having studied something entirely different to the program they entered on. Giving students the space to develop their interests and try out new study areas is essential to helping them find a career they can thrive in, and Eric knows that his scholarship afforded him this opportunity.

Eric Ward inspects rock while on bush walk

Parting advice

When it comes to advice for high school students experiencing financial hardship in rural and remote communities, but wanting to go to university, Eric has some essential advice.

  1. Do your research.

“There are an immeasurable number of scholarships out there for aspiring university students and I would absolutely recommend that current high school students have a look at them because there is no harm in applying.”

  1. Don’t be afraid of the Centrelink stigma.

“Another big thing that a lot of aspiring students don’t know about is Youth Allowance – it’s going to be a lifesaver during your time at uni and will help you so much in paying for things like your bills and rent.”

  1. Look up what student loans you’re eligible for.

“Definitely have a look at HECS because I know from my role as an Outreach Ambassador that so many students are still unaware that you don’t actually have to pay for you studies upfront.”

“Have a look at these things because they will set you up for your uni years.”

Find out more about scholarships for rural and remote students and equity scholarships for students experiencing financial hardship.

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