The inaugural ‘Dr Tracy Westerman Aboriginal Psychology Scholarship’ has been awarded to five Aboriginal university students during the official launch of the program on Tuesday in Perth.
Njamal woman Dr Tracy Westerman, who has been a vocal advocate in Indigenous youth suicide, created the scholarship in October last year aiming to foster and develop the next generation of clinicians.
“My vision is to support students with remote and rural connections through their university studies with the aim of becoming Aboriginal psychologists skilled in Indigenous-specific mental health and suicide prevention and intervention programs,” she said at the time.
The scholarship provides eligible students with a $10,000 bursary to help with their study, living and transport costs.
Nikki McKenzie from Derby in the Kimberley region is one of the five inaugural recipients of the scholarship and said she decided to study Psychology after witnessing the continuous rise of youth suicides in her region.
“Looking at the lack of services and professionals and the lack of understanding of Indigenous culture, I just want to make a difference in my community,” she told NITV News.
“It's going to be a stepping stone to go down to part-time employment because at the moment I’m studying full-time and working full time. It’s been pretty full on.”
The 32-year-old is in her second year of studying a Bachelor of Psychology and is set to graduate in 2021. Ms McKenzie said she hopes to be the face of familiarity and cultural safety for her community.
First-year student and Balardong/Banjima woman Cheyenne Conway said she wont waste the opportunity that the new scholarship offers.
“I currently live at Saint Katherine’s College, so I’m not really in the best finical situation of paying rent. That scholarship is gonna help me a lot.”
Ms Conway said she has always been interested in mental health but the most recent Indigenous youth suicide epidemic has steered her into the field of psychology.
“When I was doing the enabling course last year I had a few options but psychology really stood out to me because I kept reading in the news all these suicides up north and it made me want to help and be a part of the change to help decrease the rates,” she said.
Other recipients of the scholarship included Taylah Thompson-Patfield, Yasmin Hunter, and Saira (Maheen) Rind. All of the five students are enrolled at Curtin University, a partner in the program.
Dr Westerman personally donated $50,000 over five years to launch the new scholarship, which has since attracted interstate and international donors.
“These students represent the future of our communities and it is a privilege to be able to support their dreams to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Indigenous people,” Dr Westerman said.
- Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. There are resources for young people at Headspace Yarn Safe.