Student Profile - Naomi
We all know you learn a lot at university, but here is what the textbooks can never teach you. Iben Roerbye, a University of Newcastle student, talks with Naomi.
Course: Bachelor of Social Work
Year: Third Year
Disability: Short Stature
About me, and how I came to be at University:
Four years ago there were times where Naomi thought of giving up on her HSC, but she didn't because she wanted to go to university - not an easy decision.
"Coming from a small high school environment you worry about how you will survive in a university environment, you think it's just too big a challenge with too many obstacles to face, and particularly you worry whether the help will be there. It's very scary."
Today she is in her third year of a degree in Social Work and is talking about including travels into her work. This change in attitude has come about during her years at university. Her reply to her own worries four years ago, exemplifies what these years have meant to her.
"You face obstacles no matter what you do. You have to be innovative and practical in your thinking, don't write university off and don't think it's not an option, cause it is, there is a way around anything if you have got good support."
Naomi talks from experience. She initiated contact with the Disability Liaison Officer at the university before finishing high school; something she highly recommends.
"You have to be honest about what you can and can't do. If you can speak up and say, I'm having trouble with such and such, or I need help, you'll find that you will get help."
Several meetings were arranged with the Disability Liaison Officer covering everything from the different services available, such as computer, library and note-taking assistance, to having a look at the campus.
"It actually made me excited and motivated me to finish off my HSC," Naomi says.
But her HSC marks did not get her into the Social Work degree, so she began to think creatively.
"There are many alternatives, such as Newstep and Open Foundation, but I started out doing Bachelor of Arts and I gained credit for everything I did because I picked the subjects that were in the Social Work degree. You have to put the thinking cap on and choose the subjects that are in the degree that you want to do, but I didn't know that while I was at high school, so I stressed out for nothing. It's a shame."
She is very critical of the high expectations placed on high school students in their two final years at high school.
"It's an awful lot of pressure on students, and I also had that extra worry of how I was going to fit into university. Because your disability is visual it is not something that you can hide. People look and form opinions, that's human nature… but generally people are more open minded and more mature - it's not like a school yard."
University is challenging. There is a lot of time management involved, Naomi says. You have many different classes to attend to and the added pressure of getting to know other people and the lecturers. She remembers her first verbal presentation in a class.
"I was packing it, particularly because I am in a wheelchair and everyone stands up at the front, but then I thought well I'm going to do what is going to make me comfortable, so I did the presentation from my chair and that helped so much. Since I am the one doing the presentation I am the one who should feel comfortable - so I don't stuff it up."
The many different courses have developed her critical thinking about wider issues in Australian society, such as inequality, race and gender. But it has also developed her individuality. It has given her a freedom to voice opinions and be an individual and not feel like a follower, something, which Naomi characterises as 'a big shock' and 'very enriching' at the same time.
"You go through high school thinking that you have got to be like everyone else. It teaches you to be a sheep, and it really doesn't make you value your unique qualities in yourself. Coming to university allows you to grow as a person and to develop your own identity, and thus teaches you that valuing difference is worth while and that everyone around you is doing the same thing; it's a valuable experience, which you will have for the rest of your life."
University is best understood as a community, characterised by a common goal of wanting to learn from each other, Naomi says.
"This is a place for positive learning that values difference and values people being individuals - I think that defines university."
Written by Iben Roerbye