28 Apr 2023
Unhappy, trapped in nine to five customer service management job in Brisbane, Sonnie Flores took a giant leap of faith to get her spark back.
It led to a sea change, “talking crocodiles” and a University Medal.
Four years after turning her back on city life and moving to Hervey Bay to begin a degree in Animal Ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Fraser Coast campus, Sonnie reflected on her surprising journey in a speech on behalf of graduating students at a recent ceremony.
“As we get older, I think it is normal to become settled and not want to make changes to learn and grow,” she said. “It is so hard, uncomfortable and terrifying but staying 'stuck' when you could make a change to better your life today is one hundred percent worth it.
“When I saw the Animal Ecology degree at UniSC’s Fraser Coast campus I immediately knew it was the right choice for me. This is absolutely not how I thought my life was going to go, but I am so grateful that I took the leap.”
Her study experience included field work with turtles, dolphins, whales and seals – igniting a passion for research.
As the next step towards a PhD, Sonnie is now capturing the range of vocalisations from estuarine crocodiles to develop a repertoire for the species and to determine what factors influence these sounds.
“Crocodilians are the most vocal reptile; they vocalise before they even hatch and that continues throughout their lifespan. Despite this very little research has been done on what vocalisations they make and in what context they make them,” she said.
At today’s celebration at Maryborough’s Brolga Theatre, Sonnie was awarded a University Medal – the highest academic honour for a graduating student – for achieving close to perfect results during her undergraduate studies.
Several other high-achieving students were recognised with UniSC Medals and Commendations for Academic Excellence.
Those who have made outstanding contributions to the University or wider community through co-curricular and service endeavours received UniSC Student Leadership Awards.
Sonnie, who completed a Bachelor of Nursing and worked as nurse after leaving school, said her second degree had proved 'life-changing'.
“Previously my degree choice was about being able to always have a job and to help other people but doing this degree for me, because it is where my heart is, has made the difference.”
Despite her study success, Sonnie said the road to graduation had not always been easy. Like other students who began their studies in 2020, her first year of university coincided with the start of the COVID pandemic.
In an address to the University’s 2023 Fraser Coast graduates, Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett praised their determination to succeed after pandemic restrictions dramatically altered the study landscape.
“Your tremendous resilience in these difficult times will stand you in good stead to weather any storms you may face in your life,” Professor Bartlett said.
She said UniSC had worked in partnership with students to change the model of learning and teaching to help them thrive during those disruptive times.
“The achievements of this cohort are tremendous, with the results reflected not only by their graduation from university but also in the Student Experience Surveys from 2020 and 2021, which ranked UniSC first in Queensland among public universities for student satisfaction,” Professor Bartlett said.
“We are focused on becoming Australia’s most relevant university through teaching and research that creates the most significant and positive impacts for our regions and we are continuing to work in partnership with our students to achieve this,” she said.
“Many of our newest Fraser Coast graduates are already making their mark locally as accountants, teachers, social workers, counsellors, scientists, nurses and allied health workers.
“We are excited to see a growing number of PhD, Masters and Honours students based at the Fraser Coast campus advancing their careers under the supervision of our talented academics who are world leaders in their fields. Together they are contributing to research with significant local – and global – impact.”