For those within the University of Canberra community, Adina Brown’s face might be a familiar one.
During her time studying a Bachelor of Communication and Media (Sports Media), she was an active participant in all aspects of university life – something that might have been surprising to her 15-year-old self.
“For me, at school, I definitely struggled. I had a big life change at the age of 15, and dealt with grief within the family,” Adina says.
“I moved schools, I moved houses, I moved work, and I had a great deal going on, so I found myself really struggling throughout school.
“I went from doing a tertiary ATAR package – I did advanced English and two-unit religion – but I just couldn’t manage all of the stress at my age, so I swapped to non-ATAR.”
As she came to the end of her schooling years, Adina – a proud Gumbaynggirr, Biripi, and Yuin woman – found herself feeling lost about what she might pursue following her Year 12 graduation.
Her English teacher sat her down to discuss what her options might be, and Adina found herself considering university study as an option once again.
“I said to [my teacher] I like English, but I don’t want to talk about politics,” Adina says.
“She asked me ‘what do you like?’, and I was like ‘sport’ – so she just said, ‘well you can write, and you like sport, so look at sports journalism’.”
After finishing school, Adina took a gap-year to work full-time and consider her options. In the end, she applied for three very different undergraduate degrees – psychology, teaching, and sports media.
While she was accepted into both teaching and sports media, she had always reflected fondly on the conversation with her English teacher.
“I got the email from UC to say I got in and I was in hysterics, crying and smiling,” Adina says.
“I rang my parents and they said ‘well, I guess you’re going to uni!’”
In a matter of six weeks, and at the age of just 19, Adina packed up her belongings and made the move to Canberra from her home of Western Sydney.
Despite her excitement, her early weeks at UC weren’t quite what she pictured – she missed her friends, family, and home.
“I moved here not knowing anyone, and was extremely homesick,” she says.
But instead of throwing in the towel, the emotions made her even more determined to succeed and make the most of her time at UC.
“By the time I left last year, I was so upset, because I’d built such a life for myself in Canberra. It was really a full-circle moment, and I’m so proud of myself for representing myself and my family at such a high standard,” Adina says.
During her time at UC, Adina was the Student Representative Council (SRC) representative for Indigenous students, an active member and user of the Ngunnawal Centre, and received the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Dean’s Excellence award for her academic success.
She also made a name for herself as a student voice on Indigenous matters and as an MC for several events, including the Ngunnawal Centre graduation dinner.
“The Ngunnawal Centre was a huge place of connection for me. I found a lot of grounding there,” Adina says.
Now, as she graduates in the March 2023 graduation round, Adina couldn’t be prouder of what she achieved in just three short years at university.
“I thought I wouldn’t even be able to get into uni, let alone complete it – and to have those achievements as well is something that I’m very proud of,” she says.
Adina credits many of UC’s staff as mentors, and says she was surprised at just how accessible and open to helping students many of her teachers were.
“When you’re in high school, they say ‘this isn’t going to be what it’s like at uni, you can’t just reach out to your teachers, they aren’t going to push you’ – but that was one of the first things I noticed when I came to UC – if you create a relationship with your teachers and engage in your classes, they support you in everything you do,” she says.
“You’re not just a number throughout your degree, and that was something I really needed when I first moved.”
It isn’t just tutors and lecturers Adina formed a connection with – she names Kirsten Tapine (Associate Director, Office of Indigenous Leadership and Strategy) and Chancellor Professor Tom Calma AO as great supports during her time studying.
“Kirsten became pretty much a big sister to me. She was there when I needed support in terms of advice, but was also just a friendly face to connect with,” Adina says.
“I met Uncle Tom (Chancellor Calma) in my first year at UC and he’s been with me throughout my journey. I really respect him as a person and as an Elder.”
When Adina walked across the graduation stage today, it wasn’t just for herself – she kept in mind her older family members who didn’t have the opportunity to study at university, but also the younger generation that she knows she can set an example for.
“I just wanted to be that beacon for a lot of my little cousins who come from small country towns,” she says.
“I want to really create a positive space not just for women but for the Aboriginal community. I think there is nothing better than to feel like you’ve been a role model for other people.
“And I do want the younger generation behind me to go ‘well, she came from Western Sydney, and she did it’.”
Adina also speaks passionately about her desire to pave the way for young Aboriginal people looking to study and pursue higher education.
“I really found my space when I was there [at UC] and I found better ways to articulate what I feel as an Aboriginal woman and the challenges that we face,” she says.
“Although there is negativity about certain things in that space, I try to articulate it in a way that is not just positive but also empowering for people to go ‘lets make this change’.”
Since finishing her studies at the end of 2022, Adina has secured a position with Telstra’s head office through their graduate program.
As part of her role, she looks after the sports marketing and sponsorships with the NRL – a perfect fit considering her skillset and what she studied.
“That has been a really amazing opportunity for me, because not only did I study sports media, but I majored in business management, so it’s the perfect role in the sense that it’s working with the NRL and within the sports industry, but it’s also a business and I’m able to learn about the business fundamentals,” Adina says.
“So I’ve hit the sweet spot, and I love it so much.”
Earlier this year, Adina also hit another life goal – speaking at the National Apology Day breakfast on behalf of CareerTrackers – something she says was equal parts nerve-wracking and an honour.
“My CareerTrackers advisor reached out and asked if I wanted to talk at the breakfast – and I immediately said yes,” Adina says.
“I was able to share my journey and what it’s been like for me to be an Aboriginal person, and what Apology Day means to me.
“Doing that speech in front of a room full of Elders and politicians was a huge opportunity for me,and was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Words by Elly Mackay, photos by Tyler Cherry and David Beach.
This March, the University of Canberra would like to congratulate the graduating class of 2023.
We are so glad to celebrate such a milestone with you – you have overcome challenges with grace and resilience, and grown in remarkable ways.
Many of you are already impacting your chosen fields, while others embark on the postgraduate study path – we look forward to seeing the next steps in your amazing journeys.