Returning to study a life-changing experience
Jo-anne Walker lives by a simple philosophy: ‘dive in and make the most of every opportunity’. Seven years ago, she enrolled in a university degree on the spur of the moment – a decision that has proved life-changing.
After long careers as music teachers, Jo-anne and her husband Ross returned to university together in their 50s.
The couple were inspired to make a dramatic mid-life pivot after watching their daughter Genevieve embrace tertiary study.
“I was ready for a change, and I saw how much my daughter was enjoying university,” Jo-anne says. “I was interested in justice, equality, politics and I wanted to be surrounded by people who shared my passion.”
Jo-anne enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Global Studies at ACU and is set to graduate with honours this year. Her husband Ross did a master’s degree at ACU and is now working on his PhD at the University of Queensland.
For several years, the whole family was studying at the same time – juggling assignments, late-night revision sessions and readings.
“We understood each other and it was great having someone else who knew what you were going through,” Jo-anne says. “Sometimes it was a shoulder to cry on, other times, it was having someone to remind you to toughen up and get on with things.”
Discovering student life
Jo-anne embraced life on campus – joining the university choir on a tour to Rome, studying in France for a semester and taking on several internships.
“Coming back to university changed my life in so many ways. The times when I was brave and pushed myself outside my comfort zone were ultimately the most rewarding.”
One opportunity that has shaped her studies and career aspirations has been the chance to work on Our Lives – one of Australia’s longest-running studies of young people.
The project has followed thousands of Queenslanders from the age of 12 into adulthood, providing cumulative data on their attitudes, challenges and beliefs.
“For undergrad students to be able to work on such a fabulous project with such a wealth of data was amazing,” she says. “I learned how to use new software, analyse interviews and crunch the numbers.
Jo-anne with the ACU Choir in Rome.
“It’s been so rewarding to work with data and apply it to real-world projects. It’s what inspired me to go on and do Honours.”
Jo-anne mined the project’s extensive data for her honours thesis on political trust in young people.
“I was able to use the latest survey data, completed earlier this year, and look at trends stretching back ten or fifteen years,” Jo-anne says.
“Rather than asking if young people trust politicians, I was able to establish that trust was at an all-time low and examine why. My research pointed to a variety of different reasons, from changing values to a move away from traditional civic community groups and new social and economic pressures.
“There has been a fragmentation of values and ideals amongst young people which is really changing the conversation around political trust.”
One of the highlights of Jo-anne’s time at ACU was being mentored by Our Lives chief investigators Dr Jacqueline Laughland-Booÿ and Dr Jonathan Smith.
“Jackie and Jonathan are brilliant supervisors and they know the data inside out,” Jo-anne says.
“They are so passionate and encouraging and always looking for different ways to use their research. They offered me an internship during my Honours degree that involved working with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, looking at how schools are teaching civics.
“It was great to see how our research could be used in the real world and the potential to create change and really make a difference.”
Jo-anne is now hoping to continue her academic journey at ACU.
“I’m considering doing a PhD – something I could never have imagined,” she says.
“I was a terrible student at university the first time around, but the second time has been a charm.”
Interested in going to university? Explore the courses at ACU.