Profile photo, close-up of Sarah Clark, 2021 GW-NSW scholarship recipient

UOW student awarded Graduate Women-NSW Joan Bielski Scholarship

UOW student awarded Graduate Women-NSW Joan Bielski Scholarship

Sarah Clark overcomes obstacles to fulfil study dream

After 20 years away from formal learning, University of Wollongong (UOW) undergraduate student Sarah Clark is harnessing her passion for advocating for marginalised people into study.

Despite learning difficulties, financial hardship, and housing insecurity, the single mother-of-four is determined to contribute to the wellbeing and improvement of society and empower others to meet their potential along the way.

Sarah is in her first year of a Bachelor of Social Work and has been awarded the 2021 Graduate Women-NSW Joan Bielski Scholarship of $5,000 per semester for up to three years, for her academic excellence.

The aim of the scholarship is to enable a mature-aged woman, whose circumstances prevented them from going to university at the time of leaving school, to attend university for the first time, essentially giving them a second chance.

The Keiraville local said UOW’s Wollongong campus has been part of her life for the last 30 years, but she never imagined she would have the chance to attend as a student.

“UOW has always been a beautiful and vibrant place within my local community and being given the opportunity, at 41, to study here is like a dream come true,” Sarah said. 

“The Bachelor of Social Work has been the perfect fit for me with a strong focus on social justice, human rights, advocacy and hands-on experience through work placements.”

Sarah’s own life experiences, as a single mother on welfare facing stigma and biases, have driven her passion for social work.

“I am living proof that one should never put limitations on people. I have a strong passion to stand up for what is right, what is just and to assist those who think they can’t do something to see that they can, and help them along the way,” she said.

“With every assessment, I research and educate myself on the many obstacles faced by disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups in Australia and I get outraged by it.

“I have such a fire in me to succeed at UOW and use all the knowledge gained here, along with my life experiences to empower others.”

The desire to set an example for her children inspired Sarah to pursue higher education as a mature-aged student. Sarah and her eldest son are both navigating the first year of tertiary study together at UOW. Her son is studying a Bachelor of Pre-Medicine, Science and Health. It is not very often that a mother and son have the opportunity to be first-in-family students together.

“We discuss assessment stress, uni life during COVID-19 and walk side-by-side in our education journey. We are the first members of my family to attend university but I’m hoping my other children, if they desire, will follow our example,” Sarah said.

Sarah was overwhelmed when she received the news that she was the Graduate Women-NSW Joan Bielski Scholarship recipient.

“Upon hearing I had been awarded the Joan Bielski Scholarship, I just burst into tears and in truth, most of the time I still do if I speak about it,” Sarah said. “I already couldn’t believe UOW had accepted me and then here are a group of highly-educated, intelligent and pioneering women saying Joan would want me to succeed. That they are willing to help that happen is life changing.”

Making the transition to full-time study was a financially difficult decision for Sarah to make. The scholarship will enable Sarah to cover some of the cost of studying.

“In Australia, we currently have a major housing crisis and as a mother-of-four I have faced it head on. The money from the Joan Bielski Scholarship will help assist me to meet some of the housing needs of my family.”

Graduate Women-NSW promotes education for the advancement of women and girls. The Joan Bielski Scholarship AO Memorial Scholarship carries on the legacy of Joan Bielski. Joan Bielski was a leading advocate and activist for equality for women in employment and education and was a formidable pioneer and persistent promoter of the cause for educational equality.