I barely recognise the person I was a few years ago. I've come full circle, from battling post natal depression and feeling like a failure to winning a Vocational Student of the Year at the 2020 Queensland Training Awards. Some days my depression was so heavy and overwhelming, but I'm on the other side of that now and I'm really proud of my transformation over the last two years. A lot of my success comes down to my supportive husband, my TAFE Queensland training, my encouraging teachers and a get-stuck-in attitude.
I'm a mother-of-two, and after having my children I realised that I wanted more depth and meaning in my career than my public service job provided. I also really craved being active and spending time with my kids outdoors. I struggled to find the perfect outlet, so I created my own community-based playgroup which was designed to reconnect people with nature. I also volunteered at my kids' school and with groups like Landcare and Tangaroa Blue. This work allowed me to not only look after my mental health by spending time outdoors in nature which I love, but I was also surrounded by people who had skills I could learn. I didn't know it at the time, but the connections I was making would turn out to be really important down the track.
During my post natal depression, I did try to complete an online qualification with another training organisation. I paid thousands of dollars in upfront fees, I was sent the course material and then left on my own to figure it all out. The lack of structure was horrible. I felt so disconnected and I didn't end up completing the course. That experience was not good for my self-esteem.
I eventually decided to revisit the idea of returning to school, but I didn't want a huge financial burden. I started looking for something that would suit and I came across TAFE Queensland's Diploma of Community Development (CHC52115). Even though the course was online and there was no physical class for me to go to, I had such a positive learning experience.
I attended online classes and student forums to engage with other people in my course. You don’t have to be a campus-based student to use TAFE Queensland's facilities. I packed my bag once a week and went into the Pimlico campus and studied all day. I'd access the wifi and a computer and visit the library and the cafe. It was really great to go to campus and be part of the TAFE community. I felt so supported the whole way through my TAFE Queensland studies. My teachers were accessible, positive and encouraging, and they were really cheering for me as I progressed through the course. Even though I was studying online, I could visit my teachers face to face or email or call them if I needed help.
During my studies, I was able to secure work as an Environmental Support Officer at St Benedict’s Catholic School. It's the first time a position like this has existed in the region. I'm not an environmental expert or a teacher, but I'm passionate about the outdoors and finding ways to link curriculum to environmental projects to get more students learning outside. I love my job, it's very fulfilling. I bound into work every day feeling like the luckiest girl in the world!
The school I work for backs onto bushland and I thought it would be an amazing project to tidy that parcel of land and transform it into a bush tucker trail and an outdoor learning space. This project drew on all of the knowledge I was taught at TAFE Queensland. It was really uncanny how well the course and every new assessment aligned with what I was doing at work. I was able to directly apply my new skills and practical knowledge on the job.
I was also able to utilise the connections I'd made years earlier through my playgroup and volunteering. I reached out to Landcare members including a landscaper, a developer, an ecologist and an Aboriginal elder to help support the project. The school community and the wider community really got behind this plan and together we've cleared the space of invasive weeds, planted 140 native trees, identified the traditional uses of plants along the trail, and students now have this amazing outdoor learning space.
My experience with TAFE Queensland the whole way through has been wonderful, and I can't believe I've finished my diploma studies! I'm not an academic person, I’m more of a doer, and I could have cried when my TAFE Queensland results came through. Learning at TAFE Queensland has been phenomenal — from writing project plans to realising my vision for the bush tucker trail, the skills I gained from the diploma have been invaluable. To have such success with an 18-month course has been amazing.