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Courtney Baker, a proud member of the Wirajdjuri mob, has not only excelled in her academic journey but has built a supportive community around her at the University of New England (UNE), particularly through the Oorala Aboriginal Centre. Her first interaction with UNE was at a local school careers event for Indigenous students, Careers on Country, where she immediately felt welcomed and at home.

“Talking to Oorala was just comfortable. It was a welcoming environment, and I felt confident asking questions. I had never experienced that from a university before.”

This initial interaction with Oorala set the tone for Courtney’s positive student experience at UNE.

Moving from Tamworth to live at Earle-Page College for her first year of study at 17, Courtney found the environment of college life supportive.

“It definitely helps living at college because everyone else around you is studying – everyone is in the same boat as you.”

However, it was Oorala that truly made a difference in her academic success. Oorala Aboriginal Centre offers services, programs, and facilities of a nationally recognised standard to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students who have chosen to study at UNE. From the Targeted Tutorial Assistance Program (TTA), 24-hour access study rooms and the Yinga Kara Orientation Program, Courtney found valuable support from Oorala that helped her thrive in her studies.

“Being part of Oorala helps build relationships. It’s not only student tutoring; it’s a whole other support system. Even if you don’t intentionally ask for support, you still get it anyway.”

Courtney’s dedication and hard work has not gone unnoticed, as she was awarded the inaugural 2023 Oorala Student Leadership Award at the Oorala Awards Night, an award acknowledging the excellence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and the University of New England staff that support them. For Courtney, this recognition not only affirmed her efforts but allow allowed her to reflect on her growth and recognise the impact of her hard work.

“I felt very proud, surprised, lucky, and supported when my name was called out. When I came back down from the stage, all the staff members and my friends were all rushing towards me and congratulating me.”

Oorala has not only given Courtney the opportunity to excel in her studies, but it has also given her the opportunity to initiate her professional career. While studying, Courtney was given the opportunity to work casually as a Student Ambassador of Oorala and now is working full time as their Student Engagement Officer. This has allowed her to give back to the community that supported her throughout her journey.

As Courtney prepares to graduate with a Diploma in Community Welfare and Wellbeing in May, she credits Oorala and UNE for providing her with the tools and opportunities to shape her future.

“UNE and Oorala have given me the opportunity to build relationships with not only people from the university but also out in the community.”

Reflecting on her experience, Courtney encourages commencing students to take advantage of the support available that UNE offers. Oorala, AskUNE, Student Accessibility and Wellbeing, Dixson Library and the UNE Medical Centre were especially helpful throughout her experience.

“Take advantage of the support. If you’re on campus, attend all the UNE and Oorala events that you can because they are really beneficial.”

Through UNE and Oorala, Courtney has not only excelled academically, but has also found a sense of belonging and purpose. Courtney plans to continue her role as Student Engagement Officer with Oorala to give back to the future Indigenous students of UNE.