Education is a powerful tool to close the gap
Jenna Owen is an Australian role model. She has recently completed a five-year double degree in Optometry and Science, making her the first Indigenous optometrist in NSW and second in Australia. Thanks to a scholarship she received through UNSW, Shalom Gamarada Scholarship, she was able to complete her studies at Shalom College in Sydney and travel home to help out her family. Jenna is a new statistic to fight the 60% drop out rate for indigenous students at university. She would like to be seen as a role model for other Indigenous students and encourage them to seek out an education.
Jenna is Wiradjuri woman from a small town near Dubbo in the northwest of New South Wales called Albert. When Jenna was growing up, the population of Albert was 11 people. She grew up in a farming community, which was fairly self-sufficient. They mainly farmed cereal crops, sheep and cattle.
Growing up in Albert, there was not a lot of access to education. Not many students finished school. When Jenna was 14, she, her mother and brother moved to Dubbo to continue her schooling. When Jenna turned 16 and went for her driver’s licence eye test and failed, she became interested in optometry.
“Can you tell me the letters on the chart,” the examiner said.
“What chart,” Jenna replied.
Jenna did some work experience with he local optometrist in Dubbo, Tony Burgon As none of her family had finished school, let alone gone to university, she found it difficult understanding how she and her family would manage to get her off to university to study optometry. Jenna researched scholarships and discovered the Shalom Gamarada Scholarship with the Nura Gili Indigenous Program at UNSW. She applied and received the scholarship.
The challenge to get to university was not the only hurdle she faced. Once at university and living at the Shalom College in Sydney, she was faced with several other challenges, the biggest being the social challenges. She was a long way from her family; the metropolitan life was very different to the agriculture and remote living she was accustomed to. The academic challenges were also difficult.
With more indigenous students attending university, she was one of the first at UNSW; there is now a large cohort, which provides a good community. This is very important for the young indigenous students. Jenna attributes her supportive college life to her success at university and her recent graduation.
Next year, Jenna will travel to port Macquarie to do optometry. She still has strong ties with her family and community and wants to go back eventually to work with them. She would like to travel to remote communities across Australia and conduct eye clinics and educate about eye health. A lot of the eye problems in Indigenous communities are avoidable through education about hygiene Jenna is passionate about closing this health gap.
Jenna is a role model for all young people. She would like to see everyone get access to better health services and a good education.
Jenna believes, “education is a powerful tool to close the gap. It gives you the opportunity to become a leader. Education lasts a lifetime and becomes available for generations to follow.”