I discovered my passion for education as a mature age student

Chanelle van den Berg

Becoming a leader in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education. This is my Murdoch journey: meet Chanelle, mature age alumnus and current Pro Vice Chancellor First Nations.

“This is my passion. I’ve realised the fire in my belly is fed by student success because of the transformational experience being able to succeed at university gave me.” 

Chanelle van den Berg is a notable figure at Murdoch University and these days can be found on campus as Pro Vice Chancellor First Nations. However her journey hasn’t been a straight line to triumph; rather, she’s a perfect example of the power of career reinvention.

Despite being an eager and capable student in school, university was a challenge for the teenaged Chanelle.

 “I went from being that person who was scared of failing, to dropping out. By the age of 23, I had three kids and I was working at Red Rooster,” she said.

Obviously, that’s not where her higher education journey ended. 

Working a shift one day, she spotted an article about bridging courses at Murdoch’s Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre. It motivated her to re-enrol at university as a mature age student (this means applicants aged over 20 – also called non-school leavers) and set her on the path to a career in the education sector. However it was during her Indigenous Studies units, examining the issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that her critical thinking skills were “set on fire”.

Although she had a remarkable role model in her grandmother, Rosemary – the first Aboriginal woman in Western Australia to be awarded a PhD – Chanelle said that growing up, university wasn’t seen as an option for most Aboriginal children.

Chanelle’s current work at Murdoch University is turning that around and the programs she helped implement have already had an impact, with higher retention rates and more students graduating.

“We engage early and work with young people, and we put the right kind of support in place. We are starting to see a huge shift now and more Aboriginal kids seeing university as a place for them,” she said.

“As a university we are demonstrating they are important. We are not just talking about it.”

Murdoch University has the highest rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in domestic study in Western Australia*.

A lot of this work involves Kulbardi. Although familiar with the Centre when she was at uni as a teenager, she didn’t reach out for help at the time, saying she was unsure if this the centre was the right place for her.

“My experience could not have been more different from those first perceptions. I found beautiful connections there, a place I belonged, great relationships with the academics – and that set me up for really great success in an education degree.”

Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre has a range of services as well as K-Track, a free award-winning course supporting First Nations students starting out at university or looking for a change in direction. The Centre also promotes student interaction, group solidarity, and cultural support.

It’s no exaggeration to say university can change the trajectory of your life, just like it did for Chanelle. Explore our enrolment options for mature age and First Nations students to get your journey started.

Posted on:

14 Sep 2023

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