When Alicia Mohamed-Engelhardt decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps to become a health practitioner, she didn’t know her time at the University of Canberra would turn into so much more than studying radiography.
A proud Narungga and Kaurna woman, Alicia moved to Canberra at the age of ten, after living in Adelaide, on Kaurna Country, for most of her childhood.
She grew up playing multiple sports at a high level, including dance and basketball, which she loved – until a knee injury brought her sporting ventures to a grinding halt.
“After having three knee surgeries, initially I wanted to become an orthopaedic surgeon – but unfortunately, I became really unmotivated at school,” Alicia says.
“Because I was Aboriginal, I was told I wouldn’t be able to be a doctor and that I needed to have realistic expectations – but I was really determined to do something in health.”
She applied to study a Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science (Medical Imaging) at UC, and was accepted to begin study in 2018. Now in her second-last year of study, Alicia has discovered not only the ins and outs of the radiology profession, but a genuine community and friendships within UC.
She is actively involved in the Ngunnawal Centre, and even works there as a casual in an administrative role. She says the Centre has been vital to her success while studying.
“I was going through a really hard time with my studies, which were compounded by some personal and family issues,” Alicia says.
“Jayde [Frail, Acting Ngunnawal Centre Manager] was really helpful during that time and in supporting me to get through my course and not drop out. I am very grateful to her for that.
“I was always around the Centre, and as I am really passionate about student support and helping students not to go through what I went through, I hope that my role in admin here in the Centre is contributing to our students’ success.”
It was through Alicia’s connections at the Ngunnawal Centre that she also became aware of a UC Sport initiative to bring a team of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students together to participate in the Indigenous UniSport Nationals, to be held in Melbourne in June 2023.
The team will be the first that UC has sent to compete in the event, and Alicia is looking forward to being involved, following her selection.
“I was really interested in being a part of it, because obviously I’m a sporty person – not as sporty as I used to be – but I think it’s helped motivate me and pushed me into looking at my fitness levels a bit more, which is a really positive thing,” Alicia says.
The team competed in a local competition – the inaugural Indigenous Intervarsity – between UC, the Australian National University and University of Technology Sydney on UC’s Bruce campus in March, and has been preparing for the national event ever since.
“At Indigenous Intervarsity, we lost every single game, but we definitely had the most fun out of all the teams,” Alicia says.
“Even though we didn’t even know each other that well initially, we’ve built these bonds that have helped us become more connected to community, so it’s been really cool.”
It’s memories like these that have made Alicia’s time at uni worth it – as well as the prospect of living out her dream as a radiographer.
When she finishes her degree mid-next year, Alicia says she’s looking forward to getting into her career and continuing to learn about the profession.
“I want to work in radiography for a while and establish strong foundations for my career,” she says.
“Then I’d really like to go and work in communities in remote areas of Australia to help support mob with the skills that I have gained, and give back to my community.”
Most of all, she wants to continue the good work of her parents in the health sector. Alicia’s mum has a nursing background and is the CEO of the Lowitja Institute – Australia’s only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health research institute – while her dad has worked for decades in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, and is the inaugural Ambassador for First Nations People in Australia.
“I’m looking forward to following in their footsteps really, and making changes at a national level,” Alicia says.
“I want to go into it because of them and the differences they’ve made – I want to help continue that legacy.”
Source: University of Canberra, words by Elly Mackay, photos by Tyler Cherry and supplied.