It’s never too late ... MullinJali Man Stephen Fogarty shares his journey to UNSW
Story by Rebecca Harcourt Indigenous Program Coordinator Australian School of Business UNSW
Stephen Fogarty is a 48 year old proud Murri, a MullinJali man- his traditional country northwest of Brisbane. At age five, Stephen moved with his parents to Mt Druitt in Western Sydney where he has spent most of his life, including being a loving father to his son Solomon, now aged 12. Many out West will recognise Stephen, a humble man in his deadly shades, an entertainer- MC, singer, guitarist and pianist, Stephan is in often in demand especially during NAIDOC week.
This year Stephen has many reasons to celebrate his achievements. Sitting at his new desk at NSW Treasury he reflects on the changes in his world since we first met a year ago in Mt Druitt TAFE where we spoke about the UNSW Indigenous Business Spring Forum.
“I was studying for my TPC- tertiary preparation course, thinking about going onto study education. I hadn’t considered the world of business before. I remember the speakers were highly motivated and shared a genuine spirit. I realised I had more options open to me- I could be a business man.”
Stephen’s completed application was in our inbox the next morning, we remembered him well- his enquiring mind, considered questions weighing up the possibilities, ones he hadn’t considered open to him before.
During our three day residential forum, Stephen was equally inquisitive and discerning, bringing a friendly presence, energy and maturity. He juggled late night study for his imminent TAFE exams with active participation in the lively engagement of the forum. Many of us whether facilitator, speaker or participant, experienced challenges and insights, as we journeyed together maximising the new program’s potential for mutual engagement and developing stronger pathways for mature age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to come to UNSW.
When I asked Stephen what continues to stand out for him about this experience, three observations remain key:
- “The UNSW staff: Professors, teachers, facilitators, made me feel so welcome and helped us all see our potential, what we could achieve. It made this dream of mine realisable”.
- “Other Indigenous Business students at ASB such as Adam and Yanti, sharing their stories - their testimonies showed us how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander can be Business leaders. If they could do it, I could do it as well!”
- “The role plays- Pitch in the Lift,” a simulation where participants drew on their collective ideas and visions to create a business proposition and pitch it. “Through acting this out practically, it planted a seed for the future, it made us realise we can do this ...through study and practice we can realise our dreams.”
Stephen’s next decision was pivotal. He applied and participated in the UNSW four week pre- program in Business, a partnership pathway program facilitated by Nura Gili and the Australian School of Business.
As he explains:
“This program gave me the opportunity to taste fully the subjects I would study at university, to realise and see the potential in myself to take on an undergraduate degree. Through passing the course, knowing the faculty’s insights into my potential and assessment of me, it made me realise I could do this.
The standards of teaching at UNSW are very high and they don’t relax this at all for Aboriginal people, this is good as they support us to achieve. During the pre-programs the quality of the teaching combined with the teachers’ real understanding towards us, as students, was palpable.
The field trips we went on during pre programs to various corporations and government departments made me realise that I could potentially obtain a cadetship with NSW Treasury.
Another highlight was our pre-programs graduation ceremony - all of us together with a sense of unity, all our clans united. We’d all shared a similar journey towards becoming leaders for Indigenous people by making progression towards gaining a tertiary education. Being with all those young people who continue to inspire me - they are our future leaders. We need more Aboriginal people leaders who have come through higher level education and are recognised in professional fields such as Accounting.”
Stephen’s first semester has been challenging and he has made sure he accesses all the academic support available. He cites the importance of the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS). Stephen’s ITAS tutor, LeLe, has been crucial in helping him get his head around statistics, often one of the trickiest milestones for business students. Through weekly tutoring Stephen has begun to feel a sense of confidence as he begins to gain a sense of progression in his understanding and ability to grapple with challenges, working with ASB’s numeracy advisor for additional support.
Stephen likens the study load of his first semester as double the intensity and time during his TCP studies and attributes his faith in Jesus for giving him the strength to master the academic challenges and rewards. His enthusiasm and dedication hasn’t waned and he believes that many Aboriginal people like him who are over 40 don’t recognise they can still achieve studies at university and he encourages them to give it a go.
For all of us Indigenous students having the support of people like your dad, Professor Harcourt, sharing with us about his field of Economics, his ongoing encouragement, opening his door to us as students and knowing there is this support from high profile academics is very comforting for Indigenous people, it helps us realise we can be accepted.
And your dad’s reference was pivotal in helping me get my three year cadetship with NSW Treasury.
Stephen has received further encouragement through being a co-recipient of the Ryan Family Scholarship.
“ I’m so appreciative, because at my age I had no faith in receiving a scholarship, as in the past I’ve been knocked back so many times.. the assistance I’ve received both in pre programs and now in my degree has helped me greatly.”
As the semester unfolded, Stephen also learnt he had been nominated for a number of prestigious awards as a result of his achievements whilst studying at TAFE. These included being recipient of the Western Sydney Institute (WSI) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student of the year award; a Gili Award; the WSI Institute Medal; and a nomination for the upcoming Regional Awards in September.
Stephen’s sense of belonging and celebrating amongst others continues to shine as he humbly shares his astonishment of these awards:
“ There are so many other brilliant achievers, I didn’t expect this amongst all the
Indigenous and non-Indigenous others studying with me, all who are just as
As Stephen’s reflects on how his life has changed since last NAIDOC week, he shares how much he is enjoying his time with the Human Services department at NSW Treasury; the first of many placements that will complement his studies throughout his studies for his business degree at the Australian School of Business. How he is now looking forward to a brighter future, studying and working as part of a team in the areas of business and finance and how much his learning and opportunity to contribute gives him a sense of fulfilment.
As I congratulate Stephen on this incredible journey he continues to take, with humility, discipline, courage and compassion, he doesn’t let me escape without a word in my ear.
“You are really important to us as business students, you make us feel comfortable. We can open up and talk with you as you nudge us in the right direction. You’ve motivated us and opened doors that we didn’t know go we could go to, helping us reach our potential and always allowing us to make our own way.”
And with these words I am reminded of pre-programs graduation last December and the pride with which I shared as the Business graduates, all now having completed their first semester at university sharing their equal passion, enthusiasm and talent as Songmen and woman with the chant of Business-Business resounding through the hall.