Jenna Owen is an outstanding student by any standards: with a distinction average in her studies in a demanding course, she has now won the CooperVision Australia Prize for the best Year 4 performance in the UNSW School of Optometry.
Her achievement will be all the more special later this year when Jenna will become the first indigenous student in NSW to graduate in optometry and only the second in Australia. Somehow she has also found time refine her gift for golf, which she plays off a handicap of only four.
It's been long way from her tiny town of her childhood, Albert, 150 kilometres west of Dubbo, which had no school. She spent an hour on the bus each day to attend classes in Tottenham, a town of just 300 people.
When she reached Year 8 her family moved to Dubbo and that's where she intends to return once she has qualified as an optometrist. She is the first member of her family to attend university, living at UNSW's Shalom College with the help of a Shalom Gamarada Scholarship provided by Investec Bank.
"Being an Indigenous student from a rural area it would have been impossible for me to study optometry, having to live so far away from home because of the financial stress of accommodation, living expenses and travel costs," she says.
"Helping others has always been a passion of mine and being an optometrist will give me the opportunity to improve the health of my Indigenous community.
"There is only one qualified Aboriginal optometrist in the whole of Australia! The shortage of Indigenous health professionals makes the task of improving the health of our people more difficult - and that is why we need more Aboriginal doctors and optometrists.
"The elevated rate of illness among the Aboriginal population saddens me and many common illnesses, even diabetes, can be reduced through proper eye care. I hope to return to my community and provide the wider central-west of New South Wales with this desperately needed health service.
"Education is such a vital tool in the development of a healthy future for Aboriginal communities. I am so proud and grateful to have the opportunity to achieve my goals through this scholarship and better serve my people."
Bob Beale, UNSW Faculty of Science media liaison - 0411 705 435 firstname.lastname@example.org