ABCN Foundation scholarship recipient Nicole Hillier can claim a couple of firsts: she is the first in her family to head to university and ABCN’s inaugural South Australian scholar.
Nicole was one of 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students whose scholarships were funded by Stockland over the past decade.
The youngest of five, Nicole comes from a family where money is tight and her parents live in two different states. Her mother is a First Nations woman from the South Australian Yorke Peninsula and Nicole identifies as a proud Wirringu/Kookatha/Mirning Aboriginal woman. Neither of her parents studied post-school.
In her 2017 application for the Accelerate program, Nicole wrote: ‘I hope that this scholarship can help me demonstrate how we can close the gap with resilience and education. I hope I can become a professional and then be a role model for other Aboriginal people in my community.’
Four years on, Nicole has completed the program and has been kicking goals ever since. ‘It’s the little things,’ she says. ‘Like graduating high school, receiving awards, enrolling in university – all the things I aimed for. Accelerate was pivotal in helping me do this. It set me up for the future.’
Her mentor, Kathrine Andersen, was one of 13 Stockland employees who have mentored ABCN scholars over the years. ‘Nicole embraced every opportunity that came her way – all underpinned by her drive to be a positive role-model for her community and drive change for Indigenous Australians,’ Kathrine says. ‘It really was a pleasure to mentor her and I know she will make a great leader one day.’
Nicole has recently re-evaluated her goals, swapping business for social work at Flinders University. She also sits on the Board of the Tjindu Foundation – an organisation that helps Aboriginal youth complete their education while also experiencing their culture.
‘In hindsight, business was a safe option,’ she says. ‘Social work is something I feel more passionate about and a way for me to give back to my Indigenous community. But I never would have had the confidence to make that change before Accelerate. My mentor, and the program, were a huge factor in how things have unfolded since.
‘My experience has also inspired others in my community. My peers can see it’s worth trying and think “if she can, then maybe I can too”. It starts with one person. If I can be that one person then I’m already achieving my goal to pay it forward.’
Nicole says of ABCN and its many supporters: ‘I want to say thank you – not only for your support, but for believing in a future generation of Indigenous people that can achieve great things. Thank you for being there in the tough times, especially during COVID. I didn’t know you, but you were there. I hope you know that your contribution is making a difference in so many lives and I’m truly grateful.’
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