School of Indigenous Studies

Colleen Sorensen


UWA Social Work Graduate 

My name is Colleen Sorensen. I would like to share my story, because never in a million years did I believe I could ever attend a university, let alone attain a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree with honours, at the University of Western Australia.

The motivation behind embarking on such an ambitious exercise was primarily to put something back into society, and learn about my own Indigenous identity.

Like many others of my era, finishing your education at year 10 was quite normal. The difference for me is that, when I was in year 10, I was assessed and found unsuitable to continue with main stream education, so was placed in a special class for children deemed to have learning difficulties. I left school at fifteen and worked in a number of unskilled positions until 1973, when at 19 years of age, I got a job as a receptionist in the Shipping Industry. Apart from a five-year break, where I married and started a family and had three children, I remained in this industry until I decided to take the plunge and start a Social Work Degree in 2004.

This decision was not taken lightly and literally meant turning my world upside down, but I knew that I wanted to follow my Indigenous identity, so I approached the School of Indigenous Studies. It was all a bit scary at first but I persevered and took my inspiration from an Indigenous Social Worker I had heard give a talk about her journey. I decided to give it a go and applied for entry as a mature age student through the School of Indigenous Studies. I was both delighted and terrified when I was accepted into their orientation course, a course designed to bring me up to a level acceptable for entry into an Arts degree. After six months hard slog of orientation classes my grades allowed me to enter a BSW, which I started in the second semester of 2004. The rest, shall we say, is history as I graduated with honours in 2008 after five years of study.

I guess what I am trying to say here, is that you are never too old to fulfil your dreams, or, for that matter, make a change – be it career or personal. It was difficult and challenging at times, but fortunately, I had my family and fellow students, as well as the wonderful staff at the Shenton House (my second home) - all of whom became family. They were there to pick me up in the low points; rejoice with me in the high points; and pull me through when I thought about giving up. One thing is for sure, without the support and guidance I received from staff at Shenton House; I would not be writing my story.

My message is, don’t succumb to thoughts of: “I’m too old, or, I’m not smart enough” – just give it a go. For what it’s worth, I can honestly say, the experience has been both rewarding and enriching, and is something I am so proud to have achieved. In fact, I haven’t looked back and have even taken it to the next level by enrolling in a Master of Social Work Forensic Studies & Behavioural Sciences, which I hope to start in 2012. I believe this will help improve my skills and knowledge base within my chosen field of working with individuals within a correctional setting (namely Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison, where I currently work).