How Riley bucked high school expectations

SMH 12-7-16

UNSW medical student Riley Bennett was inspired by his nan, an Indigenous healer

How Riley bucked high school expectations

After going to UNSW’s Winter School for indigenous high school students, Riley Bennett abandoned plans to be a baker and pursued medicine instead.

Riley Bennett didn’t think he was smart enough to go to university. Growing up near Port Macquarie, he loved surf lifesaving and wanted to work in a field where he could help people, perhaps as a paramedic.

His high school careers advisor told him he should train as a baker.

“The idea of going to university was never raised with me,” he said. “The expectation for Indigenous people in my town was that you’d drop out of school at the end of Year 10.”

Medical student Riley Bennett at the UNSW Winter School: “Whatever you want to do, go after it.”


Medical student Riley Bennett at the UNSW Winter School: “Whatever you want to do, go after it.”

Mr Bennett qualified as a baker at TAFE while going on to Year 12. He planned to spend his last July holidays hanging out with friends. Instead, at his mother’s urging, he reluctantly signed up for medicine at the University of NSW’s Winter School, a program for Indigenous high school students considering further study.
“It was life changing,” Mr Bennett said. “I learned about what university was like, how accessible it was and what the opportunities actually were. As soon as I finished Winter School it was my life’s goal – nothing was going to stop me going on to do medicine.”

Mr Bennett, 22, is now in his third year at UNSW. When he graduates from medicine, he plans to work in Indigenous communities as a GP and emergency physician, delivering care to people isolated by geography or distrust for conventional medicine.

Healing is in his blood. His family is from Barkindji country in western NSW and Dalabon country in Arnhem Land, where his late grandmother was a respected medicine woman. He hopes to draw on the knowledge she shared to help treat patients.

“My nana was such an influential Indigenous healer,” he said. “When someone has enough power to help a community like that, it really inspires you to do the same thing.”

Mr Bennett now talks to school students about his path to university. He seized every opportunity available, winning three scholarships, attending the Pre-Medicine program and meeting people “on the same wavelength” through the Nura Gili centre for Indigenous programs.

Mr Bennett said young people were always asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But that was the wrong question.

“We should ask them, ‘What issues do you see as important and how do you want to solve them? What questions do you want to answer?'”

While students were sometimes underestimated by those around them, others limited their horizons by underestimating themselves, he said.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Mr Bennett said. “Whatever you want to do, go after it.

“A lot of the students I did Winter School with wanted to do nursing, physiotherapy, be paramedics. Most have gone on to do medicine. They aimed for a level they thought they were able to [achieve], but now they’re exceeding that expectation by miles.”

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An educator from Armidale, NSW, Australia.... I have been teaching for over fifteen years and I have been teaching Science for the last 4 years. Why Boys' education -- I feel boys are often left out of education policy development...... I am into technology, but have loads of things to learn.... all my rants here are my personal opinions

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