From lab cleaner to scientist: Free course becomes life-changing catalyst | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Free course becomes a life-changing catalyst

Moana Krause left school before Year 9, believing her dream of becoming a scientist would remain a fantasy.

It took just one free workshop at the University of the Sunshine Coast to alter the course of her life.

In a previous job, Moana cleaned onsite soil science laboratories for a large mining company in Western Australia, and often imagined herself wearing a white lab coat and running tests on samples with other scientists.

"It was a lovely daydream, but because of my circumstances and lack of education, I firmly believed that I was not clever enough to consider pursuing higher education, let alone a career in science. UniSC’s university skills workshop turned out to be one of the most positive and impactful decisions I have made,” said Moana, 48.

She is now completing a degree in Environmental Science at UniSC Moreton Bay, with the aim of becoming a research scientist, specialising in using living organism to reduce and detoxify waste and pollutants.

"Before the workshop, I believed attending university was only for young, high-achieving school leavers. Overcoming the mental hurdles, doubts, and societal preconceptions of being a non-school leaver who did not finish Year 9 was monumental."

UniSC is offering its next series of free online and face-to-face UniSC Equip workshops across campuses in Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast, Caboolture, Gympie and Fraser Coast, starting soon. Details here.

The course is designed for people aged 18 and over who are considering taking their first steps towards university or TAFE, including those who have not studied formally for some years, or did not finish high school.

In a no-pressure, supportive environment, participants can complete one, two or all three workshops that explore study options and help to build skills, direction, knowledge and the confidence to take on career and study goals.

"The workshop was a critical turning point in my life journey and has transformed me as a person," said Moana, pictured at UniSC's Moreton Bay campus.

For Moana, who will help present the next round of workshops, the experience instilled the self-belief she needed to navigate the academic world, starting with a semester of UniSC’s Tertiary Preparation Pathway (TPP).

“It transformed my perspective on learning and gave me access to the university's wide range of support to help make higher education accessible and achievable for students of all ages and backgrounds,” she said.

Through TPP she gained the entry requirements to begin undergraduate study at UniSC Moreton Bay, and is on her way to achieving her aim to become a research scientist, delving deeper into using living organisms to reduce or detoxify waste and pollutants.

Her experience also influenced her family; now her children and husband study at UniSC.

Wise words and a vial of minerals lead to science journey

When Moana left her job at the WA mine site, the scientists gave her a small vial of iron ore as a keepsake of her time there.

“The little vial sat on my studio work desk for the next ten years," said Moana, who returned to Brisbane to start her own business designing and making bohemian-style leather handbags and accessories.

"I often stared at it and fantasised about what my life would have been like if I had finished high school, gone to university and become a scientist.”
The turning point was losing her Uncle Wil to brain cancer.

“He was a loving and wise Māori man who had always been a great advocate for people, culture, the planet and education,” Moana said.

“In the moments we spent together in his last days, he made sure that he left me with a few profound words that would ultimately pave the pathway to a new life for me and my family.

“He said, ‘Promise me that you will give yourself permission to be brave enough to be bad at the things you want to do long enough to get good at them. If you do this, I promise you; you will eventually master them'.

“He knew it was fear that kept me from trying, and that those words at that moment would help me find the courage I lacked to pursue the things I wanted to do.

"Now, I take him and his words with me to every class, lab, tutorial, seminar and field day. And I hope that I can be someone else's Uncle Wil and that my story can be someone's source of motivation or courage to have a go.”

Degree opens new world of experiences

Moana says her university experience gives her space to weave together academic pursuits with her values and passions about people and the planet and preserving First Nations cultures and knowledge.

Through a UniSC Undergraduate Fellowship, she has collaborated with traditional owners in East Arnhem Land to bolster food security and conserve vital bush food and medicinal plants.

“I have also begun a Special Research Project that aims to understand how bush medicine knowledge and practices of Aboriginal women in Arnhem Land can contribute to cultural preservation, ecological balance, and community welfare,” she said.

She is President of UniSC Pasifika Association, a student mentor and student ambassador at the University’s Moreton Bay campus and a member of UniSC ENACTUS, a student-based global movement to implement projects through entrepreneurship.

Moana (centre) representing the UniSC Pasifika Association at the Australian Pacific Netball Championships.

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