Shalom graduate aims for the sky

Renee Wootton at her graduation ceremony at UNSW late last year.

DESPITE a challenging childhood spent on the move, 23-year-old Renee Wootton from the Tharawal Aboriginal nation rose above it all and is now armed with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering with Honours from the University of NSW.

Having graduated late last year, Wootton became the 31st Shalom Gamarada Indigenous Scholarship Program (SGISP) recipient to earn a degree since its foundation in 2005, but is the first in the field of aviation. She is now a role model for all young Indigenous people who aspire to go to university and follow their dreams.

Wootton told The AJN on Monday that two main factors drove her towards her journey of achievement – a chance discovery of a local Air Force Cadets program as a teenager where she discovered a passion for aviation, and becoming a SGISP residential scholarship holder in 2011, backed by tutoring support from Shalom and the Nura Gili Indigenous Student Centre.

“If it wasn’t for Shalom’s program, I don’t think I would have succeeded – there were so many challenges to overcome,” Wootton said.

“I didn’t even have a plan to study at university and I definitely couldn’t afford to move to the city to study, but I heard about SGISP through previous scholarship holders and decided to apply.

“I was accepted and while I found it really intense at the beginning because my course was very demanding and I’d never lived away from home on my own, the support from Shalom, and just being able to talk to the other Indigenous and non-Indigenous students there who were all going through the same thing, made such a difference.”

Born in Sydney, Wootton moved with her parents to a farm on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast when she was three, but family circumstances led her to move to Marlee in NSW with her grandparents, and a few months later to her aunt and uncle’s place.

“When I was in Year 10, my aunty spotted an advertisement to join the Air Force Cadets. I did so and it changed my life – I knew then that I wanted to understand how aircrafts work.”

When completing her degree, Wootton began a two-year internship with Qantas, became an ambassador for UNSW engineering and the Power of Engineering, vice-president of the UNSW Inter-College Sports Association and is a Career Trackers alumni and ambassador.

She was nominated for a NSW Young Achievers Award and enjoys doing voluntary work with Indigenous children through Redfern-based organisation The Settlement.

The next intake of SCISP scholarship holders will be finalised by the end of February.

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