My Story – Student Voice: Cassio Da Silva
Becoming part of the solution: a student mentor’s insights
I kind of always thought I would go to university, but it was a matter of finding the right time and the right direction. There were no university outreach activities available when I was at high school in 2004. I had applied for some degrees and been accepted, but my heart wasn’t in it; I think the only reason I applied was because I was getting pressure from my teachers.
I decided to take on an apprenticeship in jewellery manufacture, but found myself thinking about university more and more as time went on. I guess I was after a challenge and I was missing math!
Once I’d finished my apprenticeship, I worked for two years before travelling to America and Brazil. During this time, I saw a lot of poor people who probably would have liked to have gone to uni, but couldn’t. Being an Australian, university is kind of a choice. I guess that was one of the big things that made me think I would be silly not to.
I wanted a career that would challenge me and I was always interested in how things work. I grew up on solar electricity and tank water, so had to be conscious of the power and water I was using. The idea of self-sufficiency and sustainability has been an interest of mine for a long time. Plus, the world is going through an energy crisis and I want to be part of the solution, or at least try to be. I also feel it’s an industry that has good job security for the future.
With a clear goal now in mind, I began a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Electronic and Energy at Griffith University. Basically, this will lead to a career in the field of manufacture, transport and storage of electricity, from a sustainable viewpoint. It’s a four-year degree that I will complete in six as I need to work part-time.
By the time I returned to study it had been ten and a half years since I left school, and support through peer mentoring was a foundation for my academic success. I found PASS incredibly helpful especially in first year with the transition into tertiary study. Having an environment where you could talk to past students who had completed the subject not only helped with course content, but also with understanding what was required to excel at university. We would talk about things they found hard, stuff to look out for, even tips on how certain lectures were assessed. The PASS Leaders also offered insights into life stuff related to uni, like accommodation and work and how they balanced all that along with study, it was really good.
When I first stumbled upon the Uni-Key program, I thought it would be a great way to get involved — helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially refugee and non-English speaking students. I have moved to other countries and travelled a fair bit, and I know how hard it can be, and what a difference a single person can make. I wanted to make some more meaningful connections in my life, and become part of the solution, giving back to the community. Being older and more travelled than most of the other students means I see things differently, and can use my life experiences to help others.
I have now worked as a tutor, mentor and Griffith ambassador, through programs including Uni-Reach; Adult Learner Outreach; Uni-Key; Griffith Mates; a STEM research program working with young kids to help them get interested in STEM subjects at an early age; and Launch into Life — an outreach program for Year 6 students.
These are all great programs; some of my favourite aspects are:
- promoting that we are all different and we can all achieve what we want if we put our minds to it
- the personality workshops that help people get to know themselves better
- helping people realise that anyone can go to university and that it isn’t some impossible task
- those little moments when you can help someone realise, or even think about, something they can achieve which they hadn’t before
- engaging with students, staff and other mentors; we all have amazing stories
- building my own confidence when dealing with groups of people
- making me more aware of the problems people face and how they can be helped, or like to be treated.
Being involved has actually made me think about becoming an academic, lecturer or tutor.
When I enrolled in uni, I didn’t expect to get such high grades, so I was shocked to be awarded a place in Griffith Honours College for academic achievement, as well as a place in the Golden Key International Honour Society. I also value the recognition I have received from Griffith University and my employment as a mentor as one of most significant successes, along with making my first ever joke in Portuguese when I was learning the language!
From my perspectives as a student and mentor, I feel it is important to make a conscious decision about what you want to do, then follow it through. Be persistent and don’t doubt yourself; if you put in your best effort, you can achieve anything. My advice to other students is to keep in mind that academic staff aren’t asking you to do things to make your life difficult, they are doing it so you can learn the skills you need for your subsequent profession. The more you do, the more you will know how to do, and the more choices you will have.
My life philosophy is “I want to have an interesting life, not necessarily a rich one”. Since my childhood days in Mullumbimby, travelling four hours a day for school, I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities that will allow me to realise my personal goals.