Indigenous alumni inspired to give back through education

Published:23 August 2018

CQUniversity Bachelor of Education (Secondary) graduate Wayne Santo attended the Sydney graduation ceremony in August, 2018 where he not only received his testamur but was also presented with an Indigenous cultural sash

A desire to ‘give back’ inspired Wayne Santo to change career and head to university.

The 45 year-old father of three had been working in the Defence Force for 20 years before an epiphany-type moment sparked his desire to seek a career change.

“When I joined the Defence Force, the plan was always to do 20 years and then if I was unhappy, I would still be young enough to get out and seek another career,” Mr Santo explained.

“While I wasn’t unhappy, I was getting towards the end of my time at the Defence and needed some new challenges,” he said.

Born and raised in Charters Towers (North West Queensland) and now based in Townsville, the proud Gudjal man decided to do some volunteer work at the local youth detention centre.

“I was just helping out with running boot camps, I really didn’t do much, but when I went to their graduation I had a guy come up to me and thank me,” Mr Santo said.

“I thought, that’s just one guy and I didn’t do much so it got me thinking about something that I could do where I could give back even more and have an even bigger impact. I thought, of every person I’ve met along the way, I remember every teacher I’ve had so I guess in a young person’s life a teacher makes a pretty big impact. From Mrs James in Grade 1 to Mr Irwin in Year 7, I remember pretty much every teacher and when I thought about why, I realised it was because it’s what they give: education,” he said.

So with that, Mr Santo left the Defence and began working at Tec-NQ - a registered training organisation and senior secondary school providing apprenticeship training and pre-employment programs - as the Indigenous Liaison Officer.

“I sat in the room and helped the Year 10, 11 and 12 kids with writing. I realised then that while I was giving something back I knew I could take it even further – so I enrolled in university at JCU.

“I took it easy doing two subjects initially but soon realised that I was capable so stepped it up and went full-time.”

As the Terms progressed and the subjects intensified, Mr Santo said face-to-face learning became too much to balance with full-time work and family life.

“I heard that CQUniversity had arrived on the scene in Townsville and I was able to transfer my credits across and do the rest of my degree via distance and that suited me quite well. Looking back it had no real difference to being on campus anyway. The resources, the videos, everything was as if I was there anyway,” Mr Santo explained.

“The university gives you all the tools, you just need to use them and know which ones to draw out at the right time.

“I started my degree thinking I’m old, I’m mature, I’m going to struggle but when I realised that all I needed to do was put the work in, it was achievable.”

Mr Santo has just graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Secondary).

“I went to the graduation ceremony in Sydney which just so happened to be on the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples,” Mr Santo recalled.

“To be able to get up on stage and receive my degree on such a momentous occasion was a real buzz.”

Mr Santo continues to work at Tec-NQ but is now working with Year 10 students teaching mathematics and health and physical education (HPE).

“Seeing the change in a student’s positive outlook is what does it for me. It’s not just about the education, it’s about the person they become. Seeing where a student starts to when they graduate - that’s the juice for me.”