Brandon Daley, Breanna Mancer and Jacob Robinson-McKay are all on a mission to find their academic futures as they undertake a university indigenous access program in Port Macquarie.
They are among a group of 17 new and mature-aged indigenous students preparing to study at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in 2020.
Brandon Daley of Port Macquarie said his dream is to study a Bachelor of Health Science and make a difference to mental health in the community.
"It all started after losing a few friends to suicide. I want to close the gap on not understanding mental health," he said.
"I want the people that do have mental health concerns to be able to reach out for help and get that help when they need it.
"I struggled with mental health from the age of 14. If I didn't have the support of my mum and dad I don't know where I'd be.
"Hopefully I can get into Aboriginal health work here in Port Macquarie. I'm very passionate about men's health and that's what I'll focus on.
"Before I started the program I didn't know what career path I wanted to go down but it has given me an idea of what I want to do and what I need to achieve."
Gunnedah hopeful Breanna Mancer is following her sister into university. She said her goal is to study a physiotherapy course.
"When I injured my knee playing netball my physio was amazing, so I just want to help people like she helped me," she said.
"I really enjoyed physical activity and I think that's my strength. I really enjoy helping people as well.
"I hope to go into the public system in rural towns to provide constant physiotherapy for regional areas.
"I think it's really important for people to attend these programs because not a lot of indigenous people actually go to university and graduate those higher courses."
Toormina High School captain Jacob Robinson-McKay from Coffs Harbour said he would like to study an occupational therapy course and start his own business.
"Knowledge is power and if we empower all the indigenous communities with knowledge there is not limit to what we can achieve," he said.
"I'd like to start my own business in Coffs as it grows into a city and just want to keep it equitable for communities to see me."
Mr Robinson-McKay is no stranger to the spotlight after receiving a Royal Life Saving Society Australia (NSW) Commendation Award in 2018 for treating a stabbing victim with first aid.
Some of the hopeful students will already have been introduced to university life through the Strong Moves program for 16 year olds. Around 30 Port Macquarie students take part in the mentoring program for one day a week over four weeks.
Students from a 200km radius of the campus can use the Strong Moves program to explore course options, campus facilities and leadership opportunities.
CSU indigenous student centre manager Blake Dunn said students undertake literacy, numerical, written and oral assessments to achieve course benchmarks.
"They have been through a range of testing and they will continue with that to hopefully be given an offer in their course of choice," he said.
"For them it's a lot of hard work in the next few years. There will be support from the university and once they graduate, the sky is the limit.
"It's great that we can provide an outlet for them to experience university and access higher education to gain the certification they require.
"Many of our students are the first in their family to attend university, which is not unique to CSU. It can be quite a different experience to their education in the past and that support or mentoring can be very beneficial.
"Statistically our indigenous cohort come from more low economic circumstances which can make a real impact on their studies and outside influences."
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