VC Alan Pettigrew And Samantha Hine (B Laws)

Interview with Samantha Fowler

Inspired to find a career that would allow her to help others, Dhungutti woman Samantha Fowler knew she wanted to go to university ever since she was in high school.

Samantha graduated in 2007 with a degree in Bachelor of Arts/ Bachelor of Law at UNE. During her time at UNE Samantha discovered independence, met her future husband, and took on leadership roles at college with Wright Village. Fast-forward to 2022, and Samantha now works as the Student Engagement Manager at the UNE Oorala Aboriginal Centre where she enjoys watching other Indigenous students experience a similar UNE student journey to as she once did.

With a new study year ahead and orientation on the horizon, we sat down with Samantha to discuss what her experience was like being the first in the family to study at university, and what golden advice she has for this year’s freshers who are unsure of what the university experience will hold.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I grew up on Darkinjung Country on the New South Wales Central Coast and Gumbaynggirr country on the Coffs Coast. I now live on Anaiwan country in Armidale with my husband who I met while studying at UNE, and our two kids. I enjoy the work I do with the Student Experience team for the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, and I love the fact that I get to help other Indigenous people access Higher Education.

What inspired you to go to university?

I wanted to improve my life. I saw education as the first step to having a good job that paid well and not having to live week to week. I also had this grand vision of being in a high-powered job where I was super successful. Something I would be proud of. Which is what led me to study law.

Do you remember how you felt when you first enrolled? 

I was a little anxious when I first enrolled because there were so many thoughts racing through my mind. I wasn’t sure if I was smart enough to study, or whether I could afford to study, or whether I’d enjoy living in Armidale away from my family. But I suppose you just jump in and hope for the best when you’re the first one in your family to go to uni. I was determined to make it work, because failure was not an option.

How did you manage those doubts?

I focused on the excitement of it all. Going to university was an opportunity for me to live independently. I’m the eldest of four kids so I was looking forward to having more time to myself because I didn’t get a lot of it. I was moving out of home and ready to make my own choices. I took pride in wanting to “support myself” financially. I felt confident that I would find a job which meant I could pay for my own food and rent and that made me feel good.

What were your favourite moments as a student?

I loved moving to Armidale. I remember driving out here with my best friend from High School with “Wide Open Spaces” by the Dixie Chicks playing on the stereo. I also loved living on campus. I lived at UNE residential college Wright Village, where I became Vice President. It was here that I met my now husband and a heap of amazing friends. We had a great time together.

What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation university student?

Not having someone to talk to within my close-knit circle that could show me the different options available to students. I thought that my degree was 5 years full time study, and that was it. I didn’t realise that you could change your units or reduce your study load. My top study tip is understanding that full time study does not mean you’ll finish your studies faster. If you fail units because your study load is too heavy, it will take you longer.

What were your career aspirations when studying?

I wanted to be a successful lawyer. Like one you see in a John Grisham book/movie who would take on big business and win. But then I was offered a legal job with the Federal Government after my degree, and I realised law was not something I wanted to pursue. I made the hard decision to turn the offer down. It wasn’t hard because I wasn’t sure. It was hard because it was the dream job for a law graduate. I knew I should want it, but I didn’t.

What is your advice for future/current students?

UNE has services galore for all students. Don’t be too proud to take them up on it. Every student regardless of their own personal circumstances and experiences needs additional support while they study. Work smarter, not harder. The success will still be all yours at the end of it all.

Thank you Samantha for stepping back in time with us and recounting your experiences at UNE! We know for many students, the beginning of the study experience can be somewhat overwhelming, however support is never far at UNE and we can help direct you in the right direction.

You are never alone at UNE. 

The team at Advocacy and Welfare are your independent Advocates, they’re always available to help you through any study or personal issues.