Rachael Maxwell’s resume covers a lot of ground. She was a factory worker, the first woman on the floor in her company. She’s worked in the disability sector and supported victims of family violence. She’s a mother of two, the vice president of her local footy club, and plenty more.
“Did you know you could fold towels for a living? I didn’t, until I was doing it,” she says.
Her path has now led her to the Moondani Toombadool Centre at Swinburne University of Technology, where she works as an Indigenous student advisor. And it’s precisely this wealth of diverse lived experience that is helping her support the success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as they approach the opportunities (and challenges) of university life.
Supporting student success
Rachael, a Koori woman, says her role is all about connection and providing a culturally safe environment for students.
“Indigenous students are often travelling from interstate or from remote communities. In the process, they can lose connection – to family, to community, to culture,” Rachael says.
“We look holistically and work with them across health and wellbeing, study, family…we see what’s impacting them and link them internally or externally to the support that is available.”
Swinburne is home to more than 900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, but many may still be the only Indigenous student in their class or might not be connected with other Indigenous students in their course.
Providing these interpersonal connections and being a friendly face to talk to is a major part of what Rachael and the Moondani Toombadool Centre provide for students.
“What the Moondani Toombadool Centre does really well is create those engagement opportunities, whether it be going to Indigenous Nationals, having a BBQ or just saying ‘hey, let’s catch up for a coffee’.”
“That’s what’s most important in this role, just being an open listener and being able to provide – or direct students to – that trauma-informed and culturally appropriate support.”
Education and experience
In addition to being a staff member, Rachael is also a Swinburne alum. She recently completed a Diploma of Community Services as part of a partnership with her former workplace, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA).
She credits her sister as an inspiration to continue to her studies.
“My sister hasn’t stopped studying, she’s always looking at how education can give her more tools and skill sets to help educate others and advocate for her community. Now I’m encouraging my kids to see how important it is and show them that there’s more out there.”
Rachael says her diploma gave her the confidence and skills she needed to create a culturally safe workplace and deliver better outcomes for her clients at her previous role.
With diploma in hand, Swinburne is now providing Rachael with greater opportunities for career development.
“After my last job, I was culturally burned out, pulled in lots of different directions and didn’t have much support.”
“At Swinburne, I felt really comfortable from the start and have been aligned with a mentor in HR to explore pathways for secondment and other experiences. There’s just so many possibilities.”
Rachael says that education and experience should go hand in hand, informing and enriching each other, something her wide-ranging career path can attest to.
“Working in disability for five years helped me look at the world differently. It made me realise there is more to life than just myself. It grounded me and gave me perspective.”
“I say to my kids now that you should work in the community sector, disability, or even retail and the service industry. It changes you in a good way.”
Rachael continues to chase new experiences and create positive change in her community. She’s currently studying a Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping, not to mention helping her local footy club grow as they field women’s teams for the first time.
“My dad never let me play footy,” she says. “Now my son and daughter can play football together at the same club.”
Just another trail Rachael is helping to blaze.