A surge of Indigenous students seeking overseas study opportunities has seen The Aurora Education Foundation (Aurora) award nearly $800,000 in scholarships to seven students who have demonstrated academic achievement and a commitment to give back to their communities.
This year's cohort will travel to the United Kingdom and United States of America to undertake studies with Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities.
Aurora is an Indigenous organisation that is tackling education inequity, by providing a holistic style of support for students involved in their programs, which includes but is not limited to; academic, mentorship and financial.
Aurora engages with students who are of highschool age to those pursuing the highest form of study through doctorate studies and within its fold are 3000 alumni and 40 Indigenous mentors.
Along with running the Charles Perkins, Roberta Sykes and Chevening Scholarships, Aurora also coordinate an International Study Tour, which appears to play a pivotal role in the success of students applications to world class universities, with 94% of participants being offered entry into these universities.
Aurora chief executive Leila Smith is no stranger to the program as a former recipient and success story of the Charlie Perkins Scholarship.
Ms Smith told National Indigenous Times that it was only by chance that she applied, advising that she was working as a Research Assistant with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies when a former colleague had prompted her by handing her a flyer.
"I put the flyer in the bin and thought that's not for me!" she said.
It wasn't until she attended an awards ceremony at the British High Commission by chance, that she heard the stories of the three 2011 Charlie Perkins recipients who were all about to head overseas.
"I was there by accident in someone's place" she shared.
Hearing their stories at this event made her realise "they weren't superheros without any faults they were just like me."
Ms Smith is now a testament to the opportunities that the experience can bring.
"Twelve years ago, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person had never graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. Today, we've seen almost 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars studying and teaching at these top universities," she said.
The scholarships and opportunities are open to all First Nations people and should be considered regardless of life stages, Ms Smith herself was a mother of a one year old at the time she commenced her studies at Cambridge. When she first discussed the opportunity with her husband she shared that his response was supportive.
"It was never a matter of if, it was a matter of how."
Once she arrived her friendships grew and the collegial nature saw them provide wraparound support at times when Ms Smith was required to be away from family: "they organised activities to keep me busy."
Those friends are now lifelong, and they regularly visit each other in London and Sydney.
Reflecting on the growth of this year's scholarships, she advised that it is partially driven by lockdowns and covid which forced a lot of people to think about what they want to do with their careers and with their life experiences.
She shared that the boost in scholarship funding is based on the increase in applicants, but also made possible through partnerships with organisations such as the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the British Government through the Chevening Scholarship and other philanthropic partnerships such as Google and Oracle.
Ms Smith shared that her study experience refreshed her mindset for her career.
"If there is anyone thinking about moving into a new area and is looking for the knowledge and confidence to take a leap whether that is for a couple of weeks or years. Taking a pause is not a bad thing to do."
She said that the opportunity provided the space to step back think deeply and connect with people and that it was such a privilege because "often a lot of Indigenous managers burn out really quickly from being overloaded too soon and without the right support, but for me to kind of press pause at that point and to get away from the domestic complexities of aboriginal affairs, that gave me the energy to come back stronger and a lot of scholars say that as well. That just getting out for a bit and slowing down and getting perspective on things, it just refreshes them to come back and take on new challenges.
"This year's scholars, and all those who have come before them, are showing us more examples Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander excellence looks like. That it's not about a predetermined path, it's about tailoring support to these scholar's versions of success. AtAurora, we catapult Indigenous students to the best courses in the world for their goals so they can come back home and make change. It takes courage to look outside of your comfort zone for opportunities to develop and pursue your aspirations, and I couldn't be prouder of our 2023 scholarship recipients."
This year's scholars include:
Dunghutti Gumbaynggirr woman and Charlie Perkins Scholar, Teresa Cochrane from Port Macquarie. This year she will move to the UK where she will study a Master of Philosophy in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at Oxford University.
Nyiyaparli woman and Roberta Sykes Scholar, Karri Walker from Melbourne, will go on to study a Master of Laws at Harvard University later this year.
Darumbal woman and Roberta Sykes Scholar, Mi-kaisha Masella from Sydney and is a current New York University student in her final year studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Recorded Music at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.
Gija woman and Roberts Sykes Scholar, Naarah Barnes from Hobart, with this scholarship, Naarah has her eyes set on a Master of Music Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music in the UK.
Anaiwan man and Roberta Sykes Scholar, Nicholas Harvey-Doyle from Newcastle, Nicholas is a student at New York University where he intends to use this scholarship, he is studying a Master of Arts in Media, Culture and Communication.
Bundjalung, Gumbsaynggirr man and Roberta Sykes Scholar, Dakota Feirer from Moruya, Dakota will study a Master of Arts (Museum Studies) at New York University.
Anaiwan man and Roberta Sykes Scholar, Connor Haddad from Tamworth and will study a Master of Public Administration in Public Policy and Public Value at University College London.