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A life-changing scholarship

Name: Shae Williamson
Age: 23
Studying: Bachelor of Science, Central Queensland University
From: Emerald, QLD

After finishing high school, Shae Williamson had planned to go to university. Four days before she was due to fly to Brisbane to begin studying radiography at QUT, she found out she was pregnant with her first child. “That put a stop to those plans. Instead I started working to support myself and my family.”

After working in Emerald for four years, Shae saw her friends start graduating from university. “I looked around and thought ‘What am I doing with my life?’ and I decided I needed to go back to study.”

With two young children and a mortgage, Shae decided to study a Bachelor of Science part-time through distance education in order to work and support her family.

“Science is something I really enjoying studying and distance education has allowed me the best balance in commitments and I genuinely love it.”

In 2016, Shae applied for an AIEF-BHP Tertiary Scholarship. Determined to study full time in 2017, she knew it would be a strain on the household.

“My scholarship has helped me in so many ways. Financially, I have been able to stop work to focus on my studies, and it has made it affordable for me to put my kids in day care. I wouldn’t be able to study without the support of AIEF. With a Bachelor of Science there’s no single, clear job at the end. Now there’s a pathway for me to follow and it’s given me more direction.”

“With the extra support I’ve received my grades have improved and I’m really excelling, I have even had a paper published in a journal in only my second year at uni. If I had still been working, there’s no way I would have had the time to put into doing that, getting my work to that acceptable publishing standard.”

Over the summer, Shae also completed an internship at BHP’s Blackwater Mine, which she says was a great experience and helped clarify her career goals.

“When I was first accepted for an internship, I contacted AIEF and BHP and asked to be placed somewhere close to home so I could still see my kids. BHP was really helpful and supportive, and it’s amazing that they were willing to do that for me.”

During the internship, Shae worked on a project in the coal wash plant.

“It was very hands-on – working in the lab, doing experiments, getting dirty and having fun – and then I wrote a report that was submitted to the executive leadership. I wasn’t sure where in the mining industry I wanted to go and the internship helped me find the area where I want to pursue a career. I’ll be applying for the BHP Graduate Program when I finish university – process engineering sounds really appealing.”

Shae admits juggling motherhood and studies has been really hard, but she is resolute in her desire to succeed.

“This has been a life-changing scholarship for me. I want my children to see me as strong and independent, to grow up and appreciate what I’ve done for them. I want to show them the importance of respecting women in the workforce.”

“I want to be a role model for my kids, but I also want to be role model for all Indigenous Australians to get out there and educate themselves, stand up, break the cycle and close the gap.”

“I’m lucky because my family has always been supportive of getting an education. Not everyone has that, but AIEF will be that support for you. They’ll be your own cheer squad, which makes all the difference in the world.”

Photos: James Laws

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The students are inspiring. It means so much to me to be part of the mentoring program with AIEF and to be able to help out in this way.

Volunteer Mentor
in the AIEF Mentor Program


The AIEF Scholarship Program and the AIEF Pathways Program are supported by the Australian Government in collaboration with individual, philanthropic and corporate supporters from the private sector.