Rewriting his academic narrative | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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From expulsions to excelling, Jamie is rewriting his academic narrative

He never finished high school; in fact, he was kicked out, three times. Bullied, troubled and at odds with academia in his youth, single dad Jamie Bryant is as surprised as anyone that at nearly 40, he’s close to graduating with a Bachelor of Biomedical Science from UniSC. Maybe, all he needed was the right motivation, found in the form of a tiny, premature baby, with just a slim chance to live.

Soon after Jamie started high school, his beloved grandfather died, sending Jamie into a depressive spiral.

"I went through a suicidal phase, and instead of receiving support, I feel the school looked for any way to get me out,” he said. "It was a different era."

He was expelled for the first time, setting the stage for the rest of his tumultuous academic experience traversing a total of five high schools where he kept finding himself at odds with the school system.

“I was bullied a lot, about my lazy eye and that I was overweight, so I’d never really say I had a lot of friends. I just wasn’t meshing well at school and I went off the rails, which led to a second expulsion,” he said.

At 16, he left home and started living in a car he bought for $350, as well as in halfway houses, until his sister took him in.

He enrolled at yet another high school, but it wasn’t long before he got into a “bit of trouble outside of school” and his bag containing an almost-finished assignment was stolen. He was given the chance to work with a friend to rewrite the assignment, but after handing it in late, he was sent to see the deputy.

“The deputy said they were expelling me because I hadn’t handed in the assignment... it wasn’t anything else, just this one assignment. I pulled it out, threw it on the table, said a few expletives, walked out and that was it, I never went back to school.”
Jamie Bryant at UniSC
“I kept going back to school because I had this thing where I just had to finish. I was trying my best, but I was still a bit off the rails.”
Jamie feeding horses in Bayles Victoria
Jamie did a number of jobs after leaving school, including caring for racehorses on his father's farm in Victoria. Both his grandfather and father are well known in the horse and greyhound racing world as canine/equine chiropractors.

From that point on, Jamie “just started working.” He worked as a security guard for many different companies, including gigs like Woodford Folk Festival and Big Day Out. But at 18, he lost his licence for six months for drink driving. After getting caught a second time, he lost his ability to drive for a total of two and a half years. He was forced to quit his job.

While living in Brisbane, next to the train station because he didn’t have a licence, Jamie’s dad – with whom he’d had a difficult relationship – asked if Jamie could move to his new farm in Melbourne to help out. Jamie settled on the farm, substituting his income by working as a DJ, eventually branching off on his own as a successful DJ with the help of a family friend. Weddings were his bread and butter, but after a relationship breakdown, his enjoyment for the work was severely impacted.

“My life seemed to be falling apart around me... it was hard to work weddings and be joyful and happy for the brides and grooms."

Eventually, a new partner entered the picture. "Bonnie" had been diagnosed with endometriosis and they were advised having a baby was ‘the best way to help with her condition.' The expedition to have a child was underway, which Jamie said he was okay with.

“I’d always wanted kids… I wanted a whole football team,” Jamie laughed. Soon they were expecting their first child, a son.

When a routine doctor appointment turned into an emergency preeclampsia diagnosis, Bonnie was rushed to hospital, where their son Cooper was born ten and a half weeks premature, at just 1,040 grams.

The tears still come when Jamie remembers this early, fragile period of his son’s life.

"His life was in the balance, I knew it could go either way," he said.

For the next two months, Jamie drove an hour and a half each way to the hospital to drop off the breast milk his partner had pumped at home, and to spend time with his baby boy. When Cooper was finally released from hospital, Jamie said it was the “best feeling in the world.”

“I spent as much time as I could with him… I'd take him out in the tractor, I had a little harness I'd sit him in, we’d go feed the horses together and all that sort of stuff.” 

It wasn’t long before a little girl – Monique – was born, thankfully to term, “a big, healthy, fat baby".

Cooper was born ten and a half weeks premature, at just 1,040 grams
Cooper was born ten and a half weeks premature, at just 1,040 grams
“He was tiny, just 30 centimetres. His life was in the balance; I knew it could go either way.”
Cooper in a humidicrib
“He still gets me... every time I think about the struggle we went through.”

Soon after, Jamie moved his young family back to Queensland, where his parents helped them to buy a house. But before long, Jamie found himself a single dad with custody of his two young kids.

“I took them to school every day and spent so much of my time with the kids rather than working that I ended up selling the house and moving back in with my parents.”

Cooper – who has ADHD and autism – was having trouble settling into a school environment.

“He’s a smart kid,” Jamie said, “but I used to get called in a lot as he was causing a bit of trouble. I would also go into school a lot to take the kids cupcakes, muffins and caramel slice, and some of the mothers started to notice and comment on what a hands-on dad I was.

“Then as Cooper got used to what was expected at school, he started to behave a lot more and I found myself with a lot of free time."

Cooper had made his first friend at school, a girl named Isla. Because the two kids spent a lot of time together, Jamie became friendly with Isla’s mother, Claudette, who is a doctor.

“One day Claudette told me, ‘You can become a doctor.’ And I sort of went, ‘nah, I never even finished high school.’ But she insisted that I could do it.”

"Here was a doctor telling me I could become one. I was making all these excuses like, ‘I won't get into uni, I never finished grade 12. I’ve never done anything... I got kicked out of school, three times! But, she got me thinking.”
Jamie was accepted into a Bachelor of Biomedicine at UniSC, studying at both UniSC’s Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast campuses. He is now on track to graduate next year.
Jamie was accepted into a Bachelor of Biomedicine at UniSC, studying at both UniSC’s Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast campuses. He is now on track to graduate next year.

After he made a few inquiries, Jamie found UniSC’s free Tertiary Preparation Pathway (TPP) program. He enrolled and completed the four required units, ending up with a grade point average of 6.5 out of 7.

“I found the biology, chemistry and math relatively easy to catch up on, but the academic writing – especially the referencing and research – was difficult. I had to keep reminding myself how much I wanted to get into uni, and that was the motivation to put in a lot of time, but it was challenging,” he says.

His efforts paid off when he was accepted into a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at UniSC, studying at both UniSC’s Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast campuses. He is now on track to graduate next year, crediting the guidance of some of his teachers for his success.

“It didn’t matter how many times I needed something explained, Dr Melinda Dean would explain it in a way I could understand, with a smile on her face. And one of my other teachers, Dr Peter Brooks, has been one of the most dedicated educators I’ve ever seen.”

Biomedical Sciences discipline lead Associate Professor Fraser Russell said one of the primary keys to succeeding in the degree was a willingness to participate in class activities.

"Our teaching teams are passionate about working with students to reveal their full academic potential," Professor Russell said.

"Students such as Jamie demonstrate the importance of engagement and resilience. These qualities are helping to develop enthusiastic health professionals of the future."

Bachelor of Biomedical Science

The program structure, program requirements and notes for the Bachelor of Biomedical Science

Beyond the requirements for his degree, Jamie has taken the initiative to challenge himself beyond his comfort zone, completing a Special Research Project (SRP) over the summer – which he received a high distinction for – and he’s doing another double SRP this semester. His goal now is to complete his degree, then an honours. After that, he hopes to continue to a PhD or becoming a GP. He has also thrown himself into campus life, joining Students as Partners, and will graduate as part of the Golden Key Honours Society, and with a leadership award.

Above all, the driving motivation for his efforts are his kids.

“I hope I'm setting an example for them, and anybody else really who is in the same position I was. My son goes to school now quoting the things I'm teaching him from uni. I'd get the marker out and I'd write all the bones above where they are on his leg.”

“He was correcting a couple of older ladies at Costco one year around Halloween, saying that the skeleton they had up there was anatomically incorrect 'cause he was missing that rib, these bones... he was nine years old.”
“There's always a lot of places I feel I could have done better, or where I should have known better... but, as I look at it, I'm nearly 40. I've got a 6.5 GPA coming into the last semester. I'm smashing it. For someone who never finished school, I am doing the best I can."

“I’m doing this for me… it’s my life and I’ve got to make the most of it. Don't be afraid to put your hand up, ask questions, seek help. Don't be afraid to disappoint. Everyone knows me because I'm always talking and asking questions, and hopefully if someone else has a stupid question I've already asked, it's answered for them too.

“And don't look back, keep moving forward. If it wasn’t for my kids Cooper and Monique, my parents Michael and Carol, my friend Dr Claudette Baxter and most of my teachers – especially Dr Melinda Dean and Dr Peter Brooks – I don’t know where I’d be. They’ve kept me on the right road and supported me through thick or thin. They’re the ones I have to thank the most.”

“I also have to thank Robert and Thu along with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood for allowing me to undertake my special research projects (SRP) with them.”

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