GRADUATING from the Indigenous Higher Education Pathways Program at University of Southern Queensland Fraser Coast last Wednesday was a proud moment for Annette Seymour of Maryborough.
"I'm very excited about graduating and am looking forward to the future," she said after receiving her certificate from USQ's Head of College for Indigenous Studies Tracey Bunda.
Ms Seymour, 52, said doing the six-month IHEPP program had opened up endless possibilities for her future, starting with her university studies in archaeology which will get under way later this month.
"It will be so much different to the day-to-day work I was doing previously," she said.
Professor Bunda said Wednesday evening's IHEPP graduation ceremony was the first of its kind at USQ Fraser Coast.
"Today is a day of celebration for the graduation of Fraser Coast IHEPP students," she said.
"It's a momentous occasion as it's the first time such a ceremony has been held at USQ Fraser Coast.
"It is important to be able to bring family and friends together with the graduates and members of the community.
"For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the value of education might not necessarily be understood while at high school.
"To return to learning is about having confidence and feeling secure about coming into the university to get started.
"That's a big ask for people who have been disengaged from education systems.
"The IHEPP program is an opportunity to build educational success."
IHEPP co-ordinator Michael Gardiner said the program's completion rate had increased significantly since it underwent a major restructure last year.
"In 2013, the completion rates for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were between 10 and 15%.
"Since the restructure in 2014, the completion rates are in excess of 60%.
"For USQ Fraser Coast, that has meant that for the first time it has been worthwhile to have an event such as this because we now have sufficient numbers graduating.
"To have six from a single cohort in the second half of 2014 graduate is exciting.
"It can only get better as word gets out in the community and people see more of the mob graduating and going on to undergraduate studies."
USQ Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas said the IHEPP program was designed to give indigenous students tertiary preparation skills, with an indigenous focus.
"The program particularly suits those who have been out of formal education for some time as well as those who feel their skills are a bit rusty," she said.
"Successful completion of IHEPP may lead to enrolment in a USQ undergraduate program, increased employment opportunities and the opportunity to apply for entry into other universities."