Charging a dream

05 March 2024

Mother-of-three Hannah Fernie is in no doubt. Without the Essential Energy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship, her dream to study law at University of New England (UNE) would not have been possible.

“The financial support allows me to take time away from part-time work to focus on my studies; it’s made a massive difference,” said Hannah. “If I didn’t have the scholarship, I would have to return to full-time work and that would mean giving up uni. I just wouldn’t be able to continue.”

With children aged 18, 16 and 13, tertiary study is enough of a juggling act. “Years ago I started a teaching degree, but it was too difficult when my children were young,” said Hannah.

However, in what she hopes will be her final year, she can now see a new and fulfilling career stretching before her.

“I was initially inspired to study law due to my own life experiences and wanting to be in a position to help others who need help with family law,” Hannah said. “Now I am looking to move more into public interest advocacy, to advocate for Indigenous people and help address the over-representation of Indigenous children in government care and juvenile detention, and the over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons. I find that completely appalling and that’s where I plan to focus my efforts.”

Along the way, she may also avail herself of paid work experience, which Essential Energy provides to all scholarship recipients.

“We are serious about diversity and inclusion, and through work experience our scholarship holders gain hands-on experience as well as building networks that might be useful to their careers,” said Melinda Campbell, Essential Energy Inclusion and Diversity Lead. “We are struggling to appoint and upskill enough staff to meet the demands of the energy transition, given the pace of innovation and technological advances across the sector. Having scholarship holders eventually embark on careers with Essential Energy is a bonus.”

Since the scholarship program began in 2020, Essential Energy has supported seven First Nations students and offered placements in the business, accounting, legal, engineering, media and IT divisions across its rural and regional footprint. After completing an internship at Essential Energy, one previous scholarship recipient joined Essential Energy’s three-year Graduate Program, which kicked off in February this year within the communications team.

“We are very excited by these outcomes. We recognise that students are not only studying but also juggling personal commitments and family responsibilities, so they can be limited in terms of work experience opportunities that lead to full-time roles,” Melinda said.

The $10,000 paid annually for the duration of the student’s degree is not the only benefit of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scholarship. Recipients are also invited to be a part of Essential Energy’s Indigenous Reference Group.

“We work on lots of different First Nations lands and have a responsibility to support those communities,” Melinda said. “As well as supporting students studying in rural universities, we form partnerships and encourage young people into apprenticeships as part of our commitment to building culturally diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our intention is to provide pathways to our Graduate Program, which is growing every year (24 professionals and 120 apprentices in 2024), to bring in and train new talent.”

While her studies have, at times, been challenging, Hannah is excited about the future. “UNE’s online learning program and Essential Energy have made it possible,” she said.

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Written by Amanda Burdon, University of New England

Hannah with Uluru in background

Image of Hannah Fernie