With a passionate for community and education, Chanelle Van den Berg has been appointed Murdoch University’s Pro Vice Chancellor of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership.

Raised in Armadale, Western Australia, the Noongar woman inherited her love for education from her Nanna.

“She was my inspiration. She went to university quite late in life,” Van den Berg said.

“I am the eldest of four children. I was never really pushed by anyone to do well at school, it just came naturally to me. I remember always feeling destined to go to University.

“My Nanna was my inspiration; we didn’t have a computer growing up so we’d go to my Nanna’s and study. She would always support me and push me in that way.”

Van den Berg enrolled in university straight out of high school at 18-years-old but didn’t finish her studies.

“Nanna was studying through the Aboriginal Centre and had that support whereas I, back then when I first came to university, I didn’t think I needed that,” she said.

“I did drop out the first time and Nanna said I needed to utilise those connections and have that space using the Aboriginal Centre. It is so silly I felt that way, I see that now when I reflect on that time being 18.”

Returning to university later in life, Van den Berg connected with the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre at Murdoch and found a strong sense of belonging.

“When I went back later to study, I had three kids and I did connect with the Aboriginal Centre through an enabling program. I found that those relationships and the family feeling is what really inspired me to keep going,” she said.

“When I felt like things were hard with the kids and there was a lot going on, that family and academics pulled me through.”

Van den Berg graduated and moved into teaching; a career that gave her the skills to inform strategy for student success when she returned to work at Kulbardi.

“Working in schools gave me a lot of knowledge around those strategies for success for students, so when I came back as Student Success Officer I used a lot of that training to inform how we were approaching student success,” Van den Berg said.

“Any student journey is going to be up and down. There are going to be varied points in a semester where a student might be going through some things, and not being able to cope.

“For me it was so important to say yes, Aboriginal students do have those moments but how do we make sure they have the tools themselves, and how do we have coaching conversations?”

“It is all about that ongoing reflection, asking what they’ve tried, brainstorming techniques and moving forward to work things out.

“We all start off on that same journey, I knew how much education transformed my life and the tools I gained from that.”

Van den Berg moved from Student Success Officer to Manager, then Senior Manager at Kulbardi — a position that streamlined her to her new role as Pro Vice Chancellor.

“The most exciting part of my role is that we see students come in not quite sure or not believing themselves to be learners. It’s so great seeing them coming in and completely transforming,” she said.

“Their confidence builds, they’re taking opportunities, they’re going out and putting themselves out there. You see students come in with their kids, then their kids start to talk about learning.”

Passionate about people and their learning journeys, Van den Berg said for her, “it is always about students”.

“For me, education is something I am really passionate about, and in the Aboriginal space too, getting people to take notice of all the great things happening and how hard our staff are working,” she said.

“Kulbardi is just the best place to work, everyone here knows what their purpose is and knows that we get out of bed in the morning to make a difference in students’ lives.”

By Rachael Knowles