High school students gain Head-Start at University

Published in the March-April 2017 issue

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Year 11 and 12 students from the Gold Coast through to the Coffs Harbour region are getting a head start at Southern Cross University, completing a first-year university subject alongside their senior school study.

The prestigious 12-week Head-Start program, now in its sixth year, has welcomed 149 local students from across the Gold Coast, Lismore and Coffs Harbour campuses and the National Marine Science Centre.

Head-Start Gold Coast students Ashleigh Jones and Chloe Dunemann

High school students go through a rigorous selection process to take part in the Head-Start program, to study first year units including Biology, Communication in Organisations, Processes and Philosophy of Engineering and Visual Communication and Design.

Dr Mieke Witsel, Senior lecturer in the Southern Cross University School of Business and Tourism, has taught the Communication in Organisations unit since the program began six years ago.

“The students are very motivated and participate really well on every level, preparing before class and engaging very well with their university peers in class,” she said.

“They are the bright sparks of the local kids, we just love having their enthusiasm on campus.”

Dr Witsel said students in her class learn writing skills, referencing, researching, communication and interpersonal skills to become better communicators, which not only helps them when they start university but also with their final years of high school whether it be the HSC in NSW or the QCE in QLD.

“Head-Start also helps remove some of the stress of Year 12 because once they’ve passed the university unit they have direct entry to Southern Cross Uni. While many of these high-achieving students still achieve well in their HSC or QCE, they have the barrier removed,” she said.

Meanwhile senior lecturer Dr Anna Scott said the program has rapidly grown in popularity in Coffs Harbour since the National Marine Science Centre first offered the biology subject to Head-Start students three years ago.

“This biology unit gives high school students a very unique opportunity to study a university unit at a world-class teaching and research facility,” she said.

“At first the students learn how to use a microscope and before long they end up doing much more complex tasks such as identifying plants and invertebrates.

“They learn about a range of interesting subjects such as microbial life, plant and animal diversity and evolution, and will take a field trip to Woolgoolga to have a look at the amazing array of invertebrates that live in our rock pools.

“It’s great we have such good support from our local schools which enables students to undertake the program and gives them a feel for what university will be like, while gaining valuable skills.”

Head-Start alumnus Asha Midson gained a scholarship to study midwifery at the Gold Coast campus after completing the program at the Coffs Harbour campus in 2012.

Asha has secured a graduate position at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle this year, fulfilling her dream of becoming a midwife.

“I really loved the open and welcoming environment and felt that Head-Start really provided me with the tools and knowledge to tackle university head on,” she said.

“The transition from high school to university was so much smoother with the exposure I’d received from Head-Start. I found my feet a lot quicker which helped me to achieve the best marks possible from day one.

“I received a scholarship and a job as a university ambassador because of my experience through Head-Start which has helped me get where I am today.

“The commitment and initiative it shows in your character is a quality that future employers really value.”

Southern Cross University Head-Start project officer Caitlin Burcher said the free program was offered annually to outstanding students in year 11 and 12 in addition to their school-based subjects.

“These students are impressive young people, with their organisational skills, enthusiasm, politeness and career goals,” she said.

“Head-Start provides the opportunity for these students to gain direct entry and advanced standing into a variety of courses at Southern Cross University.

“It has been a pleasure working with these students and giving them a fabulous first experience of university.”

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