Mother and son pair celebrate graduation from Aboriginal Pathway Program

By Melissa Keogh

Lavinia ‘Lovie’ Richards, left, with APP Program Regional Tutor Barbie Clutterbuck and Zac Nelson-Richards. Photo by Lauren Shivvaan. Lavinia ‘Lovie’ Richards, left, with APP Program Regional Tutor Barbie Clutterbuck and Zac Nelson-Richards. Photo by Lauren Shivvaan.

Mother and son duo Lavinia ‘Lovie’ Richards and Zac Nelson-Richards have shared many moments in life together but never thought studying at university would be one of them.

Barngarla Elder and Port Lincoln local Lovie, 65, and her son Zac, 26, have spent the past few years studying UniSA’s Aboriginal Pathway Program (APP), a program that prepares Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students for university study.

Lovie and Zac both graduated from the APP alongside their peers at UniSA’s Whyalla graduation ceremony in May.

The APP is a one-and-a-half-year program to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students embrace university study. It is designed for people who don’t meet standard university entry requirements, such as students without an ATAR.

The APP is taught in five locations across SA including Adelaide, Ceduna, Mount Gambier, Port Lincoln and Whyalla. Since 2017, 36 students have graduated from the APP, with 11 more expected to complete the program by mid-2023.

Students who successfully complete the APP can transfer into any degree at UniSA either in-person or online.

APP director Dr Nazz Oldham says the APP’s focus is on preparing First Nations students to succeed at university.

“Whatever the students’ background, the APP provides a culturally safe and supportive environment for them to build the necessary academic, literacy and numeracy skills to prepare them for their undergrad degrees,” he says.

“We spend time showing the students how uni works, what they need to do and even how to get financial support to build their confidence and make uni a lot less frightening.”

Lovie was made aware of the APP when her cousin explained the program to her. Frustrated with continual knockbacks from potential employers, she decided to explore study options at university to boost her education and employment opportunities.

“I was quite amazed at what UniSA had to offer through the APP and the possibility of further study,” Lovie says.

At the same time, son Zac had always dreamed of attending university but had not completed Year 12. The APP gave him that option.

“Studying with Zac has been very inspirational,” Lovie says. “Zac being a computer whiz helped me in the areas I found difficult, and I was able to encourage him in other areas he was not sure about.

“When we were feeling tired or weary, we were able to encourage each other to keep going. I wanted so much for Zac to succeed and fulfil his dreams. I am so proud of him.”

Although Zac admits studying with his mum was “a bit awkward”, he says it was nice to spend one-on-one time with her away from his siblings.

“There’s no stronger pillar of support than your own mother,” Zac says.

Zac and Lovie are now both studying undergraduate degrees at UniSA. Zac has commenced a Bachelor of Design (Illustration and Animation), while Lovie has begun a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing and Literature).

Zac says the best phrase he has heard during his time in the APP is “you’re never too old to study at university”.

“It was strange at first to go back to studying after dropping out of school a few years ago,” Zac says. “I am a bit of a slow starter, so I struggled in the first stages, but once I started to understand the subjects, I found myself getting through my work quickly.”

Zac hopes to one day pursue a career in animation. Lovie has plans to become an author.

“I will probably set myself up with whatever necessary to write books from home,” Lovie says. “I will look at writing my own story and children’s books to begin with and then see what happens from there.”