Inspiring career started with La Trobe

Students from the 2012 TEPThe Tertiary Education program champions mature age study and the importance of being able to make choices about education. After a successful start in Albury-Wodonga, it was recently expanded to cover other La Trobe campuses in Shepparton, Bendigo and Mildura.

The next program will begin on 22 July 2013 and is currently taking enrolments.

Fiona Elgin, Senior Coordinator, Enabling and Pathways Programs said the program offered a wonderful pathway to University for people who needed a supportive environment to develop their skills, build confidence in their abilities for study and be empowered to make choices about their future and the role of education. It also complemented the University’s Future Ready goal to provide opportunities that increase the number of students studying in regional Victoria.

‘Highly respected regional social worker and past La Trobe University Tertiary Enabling Program student, Helen McDougall is a superb example of the benefits of the program and the opportunities it can create,’ said Mrs Elgin.

The opportunity to pursue a lifelong desire to be a social worker came for Helen in the early 1990s when, at 44 years old, she enrolled in La Trobe University’s Tertiary Enabling Program (then named the University Bridging Program).

‘It was the start of an inspiring journey involving passionate commitment to community and encompassing community health and not-for-profit community agencies, parenting programs, community support networks and carer support in aged care,’ she said.

Helen McDougall has shared the experience of her 20-year career spanning community health and the broader community sector across the Hume, Alpine and Goulburn Valley to encourage mature age study and the importance of being able to make choices in life.

‘When I came into the program I had no background in social work. There were some people in the program looking to gain formal qualifications in the area in which they were working but I had been a mother, worked in areas unrelated to social work and hadn’t had the opportunity to study since finishing school,” Mrs McDougall said.

‘I needed to test the waters and see if I had the capacity for tertiary study. I wanted to make a contribution to my community, perhaps it was also a sense of social justice, but I was so nervous about study and had doubts about my capability.

‘It is not always obvious at the start of new pathways that the personal qualities and life experience that you bring to study are valuable. I couldn’t see it at the time but I can see it with the benefit of hindsight and the Tertiary Enabling Program was important in this process. It helped give me choices,’ she said.

Helen McDougall’s her first choice after TEP was to complete an Advanced Diploma in Welfare Studies, which gave her the opportunity to work in Mount Beauty as a community health worker with Upper Hume Community Health Service (now Gateway Community Health) in the mid-1990s.

‘I was so fortunate to be able to explore the practice of health service provision in my local community and to work at the coal face hearing stories of things that can happen to people and the importance of support,’ she said.

‘It allowed me to think more broadly and was the catalyst to go back to study again for another two years to complete the full social work qualification, part time while our children were still at school.’

Mrs McDougall recently retired after a very rewarding 20-year career in community service provision and social work, having contributed to developing program delivery partnerships with regional service providers in the Hume, Alpine and Goulburn Valley; provided case management support around aged care and disability needs; coordinated dementia respite options, provided carer support across the Greater Hume and participated in related committees.

She contributed to a significant local submission to the 2009 House of Representatives inquiry, ‘Who Cares - Better Support for Carers’, which contributed to Albury-Wodonga being the only regional centre visited as part of the Inquiry consultations.

‘I really love that it is called an ‘enabling’ program because it is so important that people are enabled to have choices. Study can take you in so many directions and it is important that people have the chance to make this choice,’ she said.

People interested in further information on the Tertiary Enabling Program including how to enrol should contact Fiona Elgin on (02) 6024 9784 or email


Media enquiries

Fiona Elgin, Senior Coordinator, Enabling and Pathways Programs

T 02 6024 9784, M 0403 774 390 E

Zerin Knight, Regional Media and Communications Manager (Acting)

T 03 5444 7375, M 0428 463 161