Shania Charvat was in a tutoring session on campus when she received a call from someone sending her a well-timed lifeline for uni. And the first thing she did was hang up on them.

She laughs she saw the unknown interstate number and assumed “they were trying to sell me a vacuum cleaner or something”. Shania called back three hours later to learn she’d been awarded the national Puggy Hunter Scholarship, worth up to $15,000 a year.

The Australian Government established the scheme as a tribute to the late Dr Arnold ‘Puggy’ Hunter’s outstanding contribution to Indigenous Australians’ health and his role as chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

The scholarship is awarded to an Indigenous student in a health-related discipline. The Bendigo Bachelor of Human Services/Master of Social Work student and Palawa woman says she can’t put into words how much it means to be a 2019 recipient.

“At the time they called I had $9 in my bank account to last me two weeks, and I thought, how am I going to do this? I sobbed on the phone and said, this is lifechanging for me,” Shania says.

“I’ve never been in the situation where I considered leaving university but weeks before the call I started thinking I’d have to go and earn some money before I could continue the course. The scholarship means I can stay at uni and I can get my degree.”

Shania is in the second year of her four-year course. She came to La Trobe straight after finishing VCE at Bendigo Senior Secondary College to study a Diploma of Health Sciences, planning to eventually become a nurse like her grandmother.

“But I found I really loved learning about psychology,” she says. “It was just so interesting to me and I couldn’t put my text books down, which was a first because I’m dyslexic.

“My lecturers recommended I do psychology or social work. I chose social work and I haven’t looked back since.”

After graduating from the Bendigo course Shania hopes to work with young people in prison.

“I want to show them that prison may be where they’re at now, but it’s not going to be their life, we can change it.”

She’s the first person in her family to go to university, but certainly not the last. Shania’s mum, Sam, now studies Education at the Bendigo Campus, her sister Michellie is here completing a Bachelor of Creative Arts, and her younger sister, Takeetah, plans to pursue her love of sociology at La Trobe University Bendigo next year.

By Lauren Mitchell

First published on the La Trobe University Bendigo website, 14th August 2019