When Ayesha stepped onto the UNSW campus, it was the first time she had ever been on a university campus. Growing up in Sydney’s Western suburbs, she attended Auburn Girls High School, where university was not considered an option by many of her classmates. She was one of only 10 students offered a university position, and the only one who enrolled at UNSW.
Ayesha's first semester at UNSW made her feel like she didn't belong. "I was clearly an outsider - the way I dressed, how I spoke, what I ate (mum's left-over Briyani). I felt lost, " Ayesha said. This was a far cry from the familiar faces and commonalities she shared with her high school friends. Ayesha contemplated dropping out but her outlook changed when she became an Aspire Ambassador. Aspire Ambassadors' are student volunteers who encourage disadvantaged students to pursue higher education - building confidence in their academic abilities.
Aspire provided her with a sense of belonging and gave her the assurance that she could complete her education. The program gave her a renewed sense of purpose and fueled her desire to champion education as a possibility for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. After graduating, she worked for Aspire full time and witnessed how Aspire could positively transform the trajectory of a person’s life.
“A student from Syria who had been involved in our mentoring program and had only arrived in Australia three years earlier, called me to let me know that she had just received her first University distinction.”
It’s these moments of success that students achieve, despite their initial self-doubt, that make Ayesha proud to be part of Aspire. "When you help realise a student’s academic potential, you also pave the way for their family to realise higher education as a possibility, breaking the generational disadvantage cycle."