Raise the Bar Academy is a joint initiative between Melbourne University Sport and Athletics Australia which provides Indigenous school students from around Australia a chance to discover the pathways to higher education through participation in athletics.
‘Our goal is to inspire young Indigenous people to realise their own potential. Whether that be in sport, study, or leadership. Our next generations are strong, intelligent, and exceptionally talented. We hope to help them realise this and to grab every opportunity with both hands.’ MU Sport Leadership Coordinator, Asha Steer
In the six years since its launch in January 2015, the Raise the Bar Academy program has received over 500 applications from Indigenous teenagers nation-wide. Many applicants are from rural and remote parts of Australia that have little access to higher education. Applicants, their teachers and families have seized the opportunity to learn more about university and discover their true potential.
Each year between 25-40 participants have been selected to take part in the week-long program. Academy participants experience professional athletics coaching, career advice, university academic sessions, aspiration workshops and many other fun activities, guided by outstanding student mentors. Raise the Bar mentors include UoM Indigenous student-athletes, Athletics Australia athletes and local Indigenous leaders. The mentors each have responsibility for a small group of participants and lead by example, showing all the opportunities available for Indigenous students at university and in sport, and inspiring participants to strive for their goals.
‘Raise the Bar is an invaluable experience for the participants… It’s an opportunity to explore university life and form friendships with like-minded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the country.’ 2020 RTBA Mentor & UoM student, Nathan Hucker
The RTBA mentors also find the camp personally rewarding as they reconnect to culture, practice their leadership and role modelling skills, and are in turn inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and passion for sport and education.
At this year’s January camp, participants reported that one of the most rewarding part of the camp was the university academic sessions. These sessions included robot-building with the Melbourne School of Engineering, explosive experiments in the Faculty of Science, Virtual Reality activities with the Melbourne School of Design, and a tour of the Faculty of Arts ‘Awaken’ exhibition. Many students came away from these sessions excited and keen to learn more about the options available to them at the University of Melbourne.
Other highlights consisted of visiting Coles HQ and learning about career pathways and corporate life; visiting Collingwood Football Club and practising their skills with AFLW player Micky Roberts; going to the Australian Open Rally for Relief event; and of course, athletics training where they got to learn, practice and show off their abilities.
At the end of the week a celebratory dinner is held to honour the participants achievements. Guests have included high profile athletes and Olympians such as Nova Peris OAM, Kyle Vander Kuyp, Patrick Johnson, Beki Smith, Torita Blake, Jemima Montag and Steve Hooker.
The program accepts students who display a range of attributes including leadership skills, academic commitment, and a passion for participating in athletics. By engaging the students through their shared love for athletics, friendships quickly develop in the cohort, and the participants empower and encourage each other to try new things, learn from disappointments and aim high. Through the camp the participants learn how to transfer their experiences and knowledge from track and field into other areas of their lives, including academic aspiration.
‘We aim to use athletics as an engagement tool to raise aspiration around higher education, particularly here at the University of Melbourne.’ MU Sport Leadership Manager, Bridgid Junot
Following the program, participants, and their teachers and caregivers have reported an increased enthusiasm and aspiration for completing high school, continuing athletics, and attending university. Six RTBA participants have since attended the University of Melbourne, and many attend various other universities across the country.
‘This program is really effective in opening your eyes to the possibilities of what you can do after school. You not only learn about the different University faculties and degree offerings, but you are also told about the various scholarships, college bursaries and Indigenous pathways you can apply for. This makes further education accessible and possible.’ RTBA participant & UoM student, Paige James
In future years MU Sport hopes to expand RTBA into a year-long program for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students and provide many more young people with opportunities to excel in sport and higher education.
Recognition of the program’s value includes a philanthropic contribution of $25,000 from the Yulgibar Foundation, $10,000 from the Edwin Flack Foundation and winning the 2015 Community Leadership and the 2016 National Community Service awards from Australian University Sport. The program was also nominated for the Vic Sport Peter Norman Inclusion Award in 2018.