My Story – Student Voice: Damon Stevens
Damon Stevens is in his fourth year of a Bachelor of International Studies — Laws, at the University of Wollongong (UOW). Damon grew up in Albion Park and, through the help of a strong support network and programs such as In2Uni, he transitioned easily to life as a university student. Since 2015, Damon has worked as an In2Uni mentor in UOW’s Outreach & Pathways unit, making new connections and finding further employment opportunities throughout the campus.
For me, university was never something I could clearly picture in my mind, and I knew almost nothing about it, except that I wanted to go there. I can’t quite put my finger on what made me decide that I wanted to go so early on. It wasn’t peer, teacher or parental pressure. I think it was more curiosity and proving to myself I could do it, and that I’d figure out the specifics later! I was doing it for me. This was my attitude from early on in high school, but it took many years for me to put all the pieces together and become the first member of my immediate family to go to university.
I am currently studying at the University of Wollongong (UOW), completing my Bachelor of International Studies — Laws, majoring in International Relations with a minor in Spanish. I am in my third year working as an In2Uni mentor as part of the Outreach & Pathways Unit. My job is extremely rewarding as I help to conduct informative, engaging sessions for both primary and high school students of many different ages. They range from university taster sessions and fun activities, to HSC study skills workshops. Through these sessions I’ve been able to personally help many students make a smooth transition to life as a university student, when many of them didn’t dream it was possible they could make it to this ‘scary’ place called university.
During high school, I was a pretty typical student, I wasn’t too involved in leadership activities but I always had a commitment to study and a love of reading. At school, I remember all the sporty kids getting congratulated weekly on their achievements but it didn’t feel like there was as much emphasis on promoting academia. Sometimes in class, if we weren’t given textbooks, I would try to search for my own — to the annoyance of some of my teachers!
I vividly remember our senior class being visited by a group that called themselves the In2Uni mentors. One of the mentors was the older brother of one of my best friends, he had done very well in his HSC and was studying a Deans’ Scholar program at UOW. The mentors explained what university was like by describing some of the degrees on offer, as well as the multiple pathways to get there. I felt very comforted by this information, and started researching degrees myself. Journalism, Arts and Law were some of many that took my interest.
At the end of Year 11, the school careers advisor called me into her office with an offer to participate in the inaugural In2Uni Summer Master Class program. Having such a positive impression of university, I gladly accepted. The program was brilliant — I got to experience life as an officially enrolled university student before starting Year 12. We were given access to the university’s facilities, we attended lectures and tutorials, and I met some amazing people, many of whom I still talk with today. For me, this was the final piece of the puzzle I needed to properly visualise university, and suddenly I wished I could skip to the end of my HSC and start studying there straight away! Today, working as an In2Uni mentor, I am proud to say I have helped deliver this program to several classes of students, which has expanded to include subject areas such as English, Science, Mathematics and Ancient History.
The most rewarding part of my job as an In2Uni mentor is helping students from diverse backgrounds set goals, and surprise themselves by surpassing them. Probably my favourite program I support is the University Preparation Program (UPP). This involves facilitating study sessions for small groups of Year 12 students who want to go to university but do not believe they can achieve the marks necessary. I will never forget the look on a student’s face who had never passed a senior Mathematics test when he achieved a high mark. Nor will I forget the student who had repeated Year 12 who was able to make it to university for the course he wanted. I have been able to share in the stories of so many students, and having them come up and thank me out of the blue for helping them get to university is amazing.
I think I realised my In2Uni journey had come full circle when I returned to my former high school to deliver a three-hour session to Year 11 students, and a former teacher commented on how confident, knowledgeable and helpful I was as a presenter. As clichéd as it sounds, if even one student in that classroom I sat in five years ago decided to investigate further education after the session, I feel I’ve done my job.
Working at In2Uni has also led me to other helpful opportunities. I’ve been fortunate enough to grow personally and professionally through working with UOW’s Learning Co-Op as a Peer Academic Coach (PAC), as an In2Uni Administrative assistant, as an Event Staff Member for the Student Service Division, as a Disability Services Student Notetaker and in several roles on the Law Students’ Society.
The main piece of advice I’d give to students is: no matter what background or area you come from, achieving your goals will require effort, determination, a good support network and putting yourself out there. Natural talent is a small head start, but to really get anywhere it takes a load of hard work.