Study journeys are rarely linear. Many of us move from one path to another and experience many different learning paths throughout our lives. UNE Education alumna Ellie Ryan is a perfect example of someone with a well-rounded study journey as she, in her own words, “took a roundabout route to studying” with UNE.
“I grew up in Inverell and I have always had a soft spot for UNE,” said Ellie when discussing her studies. “I initially studied a BA/LLB at the University of Newcastle and received my Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the Australian National University. I worked as a solicitor for the Hunter Community Legal Centre in Newcastle and as a legislative drafter for the NT Government in Darwin. After a few years I became a bit tired of the law. As much as I liked my colleagues and found the work challenging, I could not see myself doing it long term. I wanted a job that focused on people and that had plenty of variety day-to-day, so I decided to retrain as a teacher.”
Studying Education at UNE was a shift for Ellie, but being passionate about learning creates the perfect mindset for taking on the challenge of new study. Ellie also notest that it was a fantastic boon that she was able to study flexibly online and attend her professional learning placements interstate. Ultimately, this flexibility created lasting and unique memories for Ellie.
“I ended up doing my first placement at Nhulunbuy High School. I worked in the classroom with Aboriginal students from remote communities who spoke English as a 5th or 6th language and on Friday afternoons we would go out to the beach and the students would go fishing or hunting for mussels and then bring them back to cook on a campfire at the beach. It feels like a bit of a dream now. I feel so privileged to have been able to spend time up there and am grateful to UNE for their flexible placement options.”
This fantastic experience wasn’t the only unique opportunity that Ellie had while on her study journey with UNE:
“The other defining memory I have from my education degree is a study trip to Bhutan. A group of education students travelled with Judy Miller, John Haynes, Brenda Wodolko and Anne-Marie Morgan who each have a long-standing relationship with education faculties in Bhutanese universities. Bhutanese people have a reputation for being generous, happy and kind hosts, but I believe our group was treated particularly well thanks to the high esteem in which UNE in general and those academics in particular are held. We were only in Bhutan for a few weeks, but the experience had a profound influence on my educational philosophy.”
Having these opportunities has been such a positive influence on Ellie’s study journey that she recommends if students ever get the chance to undertake practical experience, they should go for it. For students who might be following a similar study path as Ellie, she has this advice:
“Make sure you seek out study opportunities outside the classroom, lecture hall, or online platform. This is especially important for online students. Studying online can lonely. I cannot overstate the importance of meeting others in your field to discuss ideas and consider different perspectives. It won’t just help you with your studies, it will also help you throughout your career.”
For someone who has tested the waters of various disciplines, it is natural to wonder what drew Ellie to education as her vocation. It seems that it was a love of the teaching environment that sparked her passion. From the day-to-day routine of teaching in a classroom to sharing a range of exciting topics with students, Ellie finds the prospect of teaching both compelling from a personal and ideological level. This is perfectly summarised by Ellie when she said “I think education is one of the best tools we have for achieving social justice in our society and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to contribute to that aim over my career.”
When discussing what she sees as her biggest achievement over the course of her study journey, Ellie noted humbly that she is particularly proud that she was able to make it past the challenges of study while juggling other responsibilities.
“‘Getting through’ does not sound like that great an achievement but it was for me. I got through the first year of teaching while completing my Masters and dealing with Covid, and I got through working and studying full time for the few years before that. I am pretty proud of that.”