Theresa finds university dream is possible ‘no matter what stage of life’ | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Theresa finds university dream is possible 'no matter what stage of life'

Sometimes it just takes one small step to gain the degree and career that you hoped for, as new UniSC Fraser Coast Nursing Science graduate Theresa Byrnes discovered.

But when you have not finished high school and are the first in your family to go to university, it also requires a leap of faith and the realisation that there are many pathways to study success.

Theresa, 40, who once believed she was “perhaps too old and not smart enough for university”, graduated from the University of the Sunshine Coast this week with a degree in Nursing Science – along with a medal for her outstanding academic results.

She was also given the honour of making the address on behalf of graduates at the Maryborough ceremony.

“My story proves that no matter what age or stage of life you are at, if you develop a passion for something, don’t hesitate to take a step in that direction,” Theresa said.

“You never know where it may end up taking you.”

After completing her UniSC studies, Theresa has secured a position in the Graduate Nurse Program with the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service.

Theresa’s decision to ‘take that first step’ led to her securing a place in the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service’s Graduate Nurse Program, where she is currently completing her first rotation at the Maryborough Emergency Department.

It is a long way from her first job as a retail trainee selling crystals, and later working on a whale-watching vessel, as a dental assistant, and for several years as an estimator with a local concrete reinforcing firm.

“There was always something missing,” Theresa said. “I enjoyed my work, but I longed for challenges, more connection and personal satisfaction.

“I had a love of learning, but high school wasn’t the best environment for me, and I never thought I was smart enough to go to university.”

“There was always something missing... I longed for challenges..."

Theresa Byrnes makes the address of behalf of graduates at the ceremony in Maryborough.

"One of the best decisions of my life"

It took discovering some of the alternative routes to university – particularly UniSC’s Tertiary Preparation Pathway – to help Theresa on her way and in the process, find self-belief and confidence.

“While on maternity leave with my youngest daughter I enrolled in a Certificate 3 in Fitness at TAFE and discovered I excelled in anatomy and physiology,” she said.

“It was then I realised that I was a tad smarter than I thought but I had hesitations. Was I too old? How was I going to manage work, study and family life?

“But the seed was planted and after almost five years of procrastinating, preparing and lots of research, I nervously applied to UniSC’s Tertiary Preparation Program with the hope of continuing into nursing.

“As someone who didn’t complete high school and being the first person in my family to attend university, it was hands down one of the best decisions of my life.

“I met some amazing people, with a couple of them graduating with me. I was supported by patient and inspiring lecturers, and I developed the best foundation for higher education.” 

Motivated to make the most of her university experience, she devoted herself to her studies and campus life, taking on roles in student representative groups and volunteering at UniSC events.

At graduation, those efforts were recognised with a Medal for Academic Excellence for achieving a final cumulative Grade Point Average of 6.7 out of 7, and another prestigious honour – a Student Leadership award.

“The leadership roles enhanced my university experience as I felt like I was a valued part of the UniSC community, and I got to meet so many great people and make wonderful connections.” 

“As someone who didn’t complete high school and being the first person in my family to attend university, it was hands down one of the best decisions of my life.

Graduation honours: Theresa Byrnes (middle) celebrates with fellow Nursing Science graduates Isabella Beattie and Melissa Garousse, who all received Student Leadership Awards at the ceremony.

Now her focus is on “another steep learning curve” – working as a graduate registered nurse.

“The highlight of this experience so far is getting to work with, and be supported by, an amazing team of experienced nurses in a great department,” she said.

“I am inspired every day as they seem to manage their busy workload effortlessly and always have time to answer questions or share a tip from their wealth of knowledge.”

Theresa Byrnes outside Emergency at Maryborough Hospital, where she is completing her first rotation of the Graduate Nurse Program with Queensland Health.

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