For Sianlee Harris, her role as an Indigenous Academic Enrichment Advisor is all about “building a really strong community of Indigenous learners”.
The Paakantyi woman works in the Dulka Yuppata Indigenous Training Centre at La Trobe’s Mildura campus.
Mildura’s cohort of Indigenous students visit Sian to get connected with services available to them at the university and in the broader community.
“There’ll be people who are engaged with services, but there’s also students who don’t know where to start, so having someone to guide them is really important,” Sian says.
That can mean acting as an advocate for students who are nervous about approaching lecturers or course co-ordinators, or putting them in touch with tutors and academic support.
Sian, who’s originally from New South Wales, says the number of Indigenous students at the campus has grown recently, and so have the number of courses they study.
“A few years ago, it was mostly Creative Arts, but now there’s a shift to nursing, social work and education,” she says.
No matter their course, one of the common challenges Indigenous students face is explaining to their family and friends the obligations that come with tertiary study.
But Sian has a suite of advice to offer those students, after her own experience studying Education at Sydney University.
While she loved teaching in a classroom environment, Sian says her role as an Indigenous Academic Enrichment Advisors allows her to pass on the support her received from the Indigenous Unit when she was a student herself.
“I had a really supportive Indigenous Unit [at university] as well, so working in this space is my way to give back and make sure other people have a good experience,” she says.
In fact, she believes it’s service to their community that motivates many of the students who pass through the centre. “They’ve all had that experience where someone’s really helped or inspired them on their journey.”