This year the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) celebrated its 11th anniversary as the provider of scholarships and guidance to Australia's Indigenous school and university students. Allens has been with AIEF in a pro bono capacity for all of those 10 years, starting with assisting in AIEF's set-up phase.
More than a decade later, our relationship with the foundation is flourishing.
A particular highlight is Allens' mentorships of AIEF students in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Michelle Penfold, a Founder and Director of AIEF, said, 'The mentorships are an opportunity for mature adults who are not in the student's inner circle and who have rich life experience to provide another pillar of support to the students beyond their families, schools, and communities.'
'Our volunteer mentors have life lessons and life history that enable them to impart practical life advice, not only career advice. They fill the gaps of opportunity for such conversations that can exist within the students' lives.
'Mentoring and career support are two of the valuable pillars of the AIEF Pathways Program. Support in years 7-9 focuses on establishing rapport and nurturing the relationship with AIEF in preparation for the student's road ahead,' Michelle said.
'Year 10 initiates the mentoring and career advice including helping the student select school subjects that will lead to jobs or a fulfilling long-term career. By years 11 and 12, the mentor and AIEF advisor are providing concentrated and highly personalised one-one-one sessions in readiness for pathways post school.'
Once the student graduates high school, AIEF is their eternal go-to support. This often means helping the now-graduate apply for scholarships, prepare resumes, practise for job interviews, negotiate leases, open bank accounts, move cities, and so on.
AIEF is unique in its monitoring, tracking and engaging with its alumni.
'We know where the alumni are and what they're doing. The relationship is permanent,' Michelle said.
The path of Carlie-Ann Bender (née Smart) exemplifies the value of the AIEF Pathways Program.
‘When Carlie was growing up no students from her town of Bowraville (NSW hinterland) had ever gone past year 10 at the local school,' Michelle said.
'Carlie was the first in her family to finish year 12. Then she went on to graduate from UNSW. After that, she did her year at the College of Law and was admitted as a solicitor in NSW. In 2011 she completed the Allens Indigenous Legal Internship Program. Carlie is now a lawyer for SBS and she is on the AIEF Board.'
'Carlie was a trailblazer, far from home and family, Carlie persisted with her education, and she broke the cycle of her town. Following her example, her two younger sisters have gone on to complete Year 12 and tertiary study. Now, AIEF has a Carlie Smart story every day, with student after student taking chances, following ambitions, and achieving life-enhancing goals.'
AIEF provides an opportunity for Indigenous students who are supported by their families to earn an education.
'We have enthusiastic young people with committed families going to culturally inclusive schools of excellence,' Michelle concluded.
'It is all the kids' hard work, not ours – we provide the opportunities but they do all the hard work that lifts themselves, their families, and their communities.'
By its very nature, closing the gap in education is the act of changing a nation. Ten years on, that remains AIEF's calling.