A young leader forging a pathway to change, Rachel Stringfellow is fueled by a passion for people as she supports the education and mental health of mob.

Stringfellow’s maternal connections are with Gudanji, on desert Country around the Northern Territory’s Barkly region.

She is currently working as Research Assistant at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and is a Project Officer at Queensland based not-for-profit, Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Foundation (QATSIF).

Passionate about mental health, Stringfellow has an educational background in Psychology. Last year she completed an Honours in Psychology and is hoping to complete her Masters in Clinical Psychology soon.

However, her academic journey didn’t start in Psychology.

“I started doing Business and Law, and I tell you what I failed the majority of the units!” she laughed.

“I was blown away by the big city, it was so exciting to be in this new place … I had this realisation, ‘Hang on, why would I want to do this business degree and law, what am I passionate about?’ I hadn’t had that real moment with myself.

“At the end of the exams I thought, I cannot do something I’m not passionate about. Psychology, human behaviours, why do people do the things they do? The good, the bad and the ugly—that is what I’m interested in.”

Stringfellow thrived in the course, learning the value of personal connection and research. She completed her thesis on the impacts of trauma in the body.

“I thought I was going to be like The Mentalist … psychoanalysing people, reading their body language, but it wasn’t, instead it was a really heavy research degree. I really valued that, and as I progressed, I realised I was really a people person and that these research evaluation skills were really important.”

Combining her love for people and passion for education, Stringfellow took on her current role at QATSIF.

“We have a really small team … I’m one of four members and I work as a Project Officer, to be honest, my role is really, really varied, which I really love,” she said.

Established in 2008, QATSIF works to provide Indigenous families in Queensland with increased access to education options and opportunities in life.

Managed by the Public Trustee of Queensland, the not-for-profit operates through a small Secretariat.

Prior to COVID-19, the QATSIF team attended an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander careers fair.

“I’ve never seen it before, it was for all our kids … all ages in high school. They set up a number of stalls, we had universities there, we had professionals in their fields. We could have a yarn and start asking questions, we could give them avenues to explore or even start to think about,” Stringfellow said.

“Giving them options and letting them know, ‘Hey you don’t have to know what you want to do in the future, you don’t have to have all the answers. Just know that it is possible for you’.”

“We want them to see there are so many positive role models in their corner.”

At the moment, Stringfellow is working on strengthening community and school relations.

“I’m trying to get a database sorted of our Queensland Elders, as our ultimate goal is connecting our Elders with schools because there is so much knowledge and support that just isn’t being utilised,” she said.

“I think it is because schools, they might have their Community Education Counsellors (CEC) and that’s great, but often we see them take on all the work for anything relating to our kids and the fact of the matter is that that is a whole school job—it’s not just one person. We’re trying to get that attitude to change.”

Stringfellow has a steadfast belief in the power of education to change.

“When I was studying Psychology, the number one thing I took away from that degree in all my study of health and community in terms of inequality, it was education … the greatest tool of empowerment you could have for people,” she said.

“That’s why I feel happy to go to work, it’s why I feel blessed and grateful because I know I am working as part of a charity impacting our communities so that we are changing that aspect of it.

Education truly is the biggest tool of empowerment in my perspective, and this is a means of doing that for our communities.”

With the year speeding past, Stringfellow is living in the now, and remaining open to what might be in her future.

“At the moment I just want to learn as much as I can from the people I have around me; my Elders, my mentors, and my family because I feel like at this point in my life I am wanting to soak up and share the knowledge I’m being given,” she said.

“Nothing is set in stone and that’s what I know about life. I have to roll with whatever opportunities come my way if they align with what I’m about.”

For more information about QATSIF or to support the organisation, visit: https://www.qatsif.org.au.

By Rachael Knowles