For ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year, Lisa Birnie, her achievement goes beyond a personal one.
The Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri woman, who has been living and working in the Border region for six years, wants to champion educational equality through her ACT Training Awards win.
“As an Aboriginal woman, this achievement goes beyond a personal achievement,” she said.
“It encourages and empowers other Aboriginal people to further their studies, gain employment and learn new skills, which works towards breaking down the trans-generational cycle and disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face.
“It’s breaking away from that ‘welfare mentality’ and empowering people to make positive choices in their lives.
“Instead of looking at all the disadvantage, look at how you are advantaged.”
Ms Birnie left her role in family and youth services at Upper Murray Family Care to begin the Indigenous Apprenticeship Program with CIT Solutions in 2018, which involved employment with Defence.
A personal crisis meant the mother-of-four, running a farm on her own, was unable to work for four months at the start of last year.
“With the help of my mentors at CIT, I was able to catch up and overtake my cohort,” Ms Birnie said.
“The highlight of my apprenticeship was the graduation ceremony in December; this was a proud day for me and also a very emotional day.”
The 43-year-old was born in the ACT and grew up in the Riverina, and has been inspired by Uncle Stan Grant Senior.
“He is one of my biggest role models – he is all about education and improving the lives of other Indigenous people, and has worked hard on restoring the Wiradjuri language,” she said.
“My mum grew up in an old tin humpy that my grandfather made – he worked hard on the railway.
“Mum ended up being a librarian. My family always had the view, that you work hard and get a good education.
“It is a gateway in.”
Ms Birnie says her employment as a governance officer – now full-time – with Defence had been challenging and rewarding.
She completed a certificate four in government and was nominated in the ACT Training Awards by mentors at CIT Solutions.
“I won the state title, making me an ambassador for Indigenous Vocational Education and Training,” she said.
Ms Birnie will now be in the national awards in November.