The creation of hope
Jami Emerson is only halfway through her Bachelor of Information Technology, but she’s already started a registered charity and is making big plans for a future in tech. She isn’t quite sure what her career will look like just yet, but Jami’s determined to follow her passion for finding business solutions to social problems.
Jami Emerson is busy. The NSW International Student of the Year award winner is in the midst of studying for her Bachelor of Information Technology at ACU’s North Sydney Campus as a non-school leaver, and somehow she still made time to begin a university mentorship program for women in STEM, work part-time, get a charity up and running, and successfully apply for and receive a prestigious scholarship to fund the entirety of her studies. She’s also begun laying the groundwork for her future as a tech entrepreneur.
Sitting back and waiting for opportunities to come her way isn’t Jami’s style, but it was her own chronic fatigue diagnosis when she was 23 that set her on an unexpected journey.
“It was so challenging. I’m from the US and I was housebound there for a number of months and I had to move back in with my family. I had chronic pain (and still do), as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression. I’d lie in bed dreaming about the day I could move to Australia and achieve my dreams.
“It’s so crazy to me that four years later, here I am – a part of ACU, the winner of the NSW International Student of the Year award and I’ve recovered from chronic fatigue. I’m in awe of that!”
Finding her fit
The IT program at ACU came to be the perfect fit for Jami.
“I like how the program combines business studies with the tech side of things. And it’s perfect for people with a social justice bent like me. I’ve seen for myself how ACU encourages students to pursue careers that create social impact, which aligns with my personal values.”
Studying IT still came as a surprise to Jami and it was never her plan. And like many women fighting to find their place in a male dominated world, she’s had considerable mental roadblocks to overcome along the way.
“As a female studying IT and trying to pursue a career in tech, I had to get over my imposter syndrome. I realised the subconscious narrative I kept telling myself was ‘No, no, I can’t do this’.
“I’ve come to find that I actually really like the technical side of things – there’s a clear problem to solve and I need to find a clear solution. That’s easy for me. I vibe with that! Developing systems is what I love about IT.”
Mentoring with mission
Helping women pursue STEM careers became part of Jami’s personal mission and she’s the founder in residence of a university ‘techcelerator’ program.
“It’s designed to help students find mentors who are already working in STEM. We believe mentorship is really important for the journey of running a start-up and it’s so important to have that person encouraging you along.
“In my experience, women pursuing STEM careers really do hold themselves back and many have imposter syndrome like me. Even just telling people I’m studying IT, I have other women tell me, ‘Oh, I could never do that’. To that, I’ve said, ‘You know what, I don’t think it’s that hard’.
“We’re just holding ourselves back mentally from pursuing something like an IT career.
"I spend so much of my time at work trying to empower my female interns. I tell them you can achieve, you can start businesses, you’re capable of this, you can learn IT. I have had to fight my own internal battle of thinking I’m not smart enough for this.”
Jami’s journey through chronic fatigue was incredibly debilitating and traumatic, but the hope she now feels is the message she wants to share through her charity, Chronic Hope. It’s become Jami’s way of giving back to others and is how she lets other people with chronic conditions know it’s possible to fight your way to the other side.
“There is only a five per cent recovery rate for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, so my recovery is a privilege.
"Chronic Hope is how I help those who don’t have a voice because they don’t have the energy or they don’t have the platform. It gives me opportunities to meet people and say, ‘Look, I’ve been through this, there is hope. Don’t give up.’
“We have so many plans for its future. We have a Chronic Hope podcast and release original music, and we have our House of Hope project going on too where we sell merchandise to raise money for therapy appointments for people in the chronic illness community.”
Jami said getting her charity legally up and running was a huge undertaking and inevitably lessons were learnt along the way.
“I’ve learnt so much about how to run a business.
"The main thing is you have to just go for it! Once I had the idea, I knew there were so many excuses I could’ve made to not make it happen – but I decided to go ahead anyway.
"I started small and made sure I had the right people around me. In the beginning it wasn’t perfect, but I’m growing as I go.
“I speak to so many people who want to start something similar or make a change in their lives and they don’t do it. My advice? Just do it.”
Leading with passion
Jami has big ideas for her future in IT, with her passions leading the way.
“The plan is to finish my degree, and then I want to start building tech-focused businesses. I also want to get an MBA and continue growing Chronic Hope.
“But I’m not one of those born entrepreneurs. I always knew I wanted to help people. I just didn’t know what that looked like. The idea for Chronic Hope just clicked. It was never about ‘I only want to work for myself’. It’s more that I wanted to create things that help people; that’s where my passions lie – making my visions a reality is what I want to do.”
If you’re interested in a degree like Jami’s, learn more about where a Bachelor of Information Technology at ACU can take you.