After leaving school in Year 10, university wasn't on the radar for Byron Frencham – until he heard about UOW College's University Access Program.
Byron Frencham learned a lot from the school of life, but what he learned at UOW College has put him on a path he didn’t think was possible less than 10 years ago.
In 2016, at the age of 29, Byron decided he wanted a career change.
But after leaving school in Year 10, working a series of entry-level jobs, and spending eight years in the security industry, he wasn’t too sure on how to go about re-training.
“I had just left my job as security guard to care for my partner and I had a few hours a week to study,” he says.
“So, I thought I would see what my options were, started Googling and found out about the University Access Program at UOW College.
“University was never on my radar. I left school in Year 10, and I wasn’t a particularly good student. I was never really interested in school and got into a lot of trouble and never really did very well after about Year 7.”
Byron says he had tried to complete his Higher School Certificate a couple of times through TAFE and believed he was destined for entry-level jobs for the rest of his working life.
“I was seeing a psychologist, and she mentioned the possibility of me going to university and I laughed and said ‘I’m not smart enough for that’,” Byron says.
“She said I was [smart enough] and advised me to look at my options. Even when I was at school I never handed in any assignments. I had no idea about writing an essay so I knew I would have to start from scratch, and I was hesitant.”
But Byron took a leap of faith and enrolled in the University Access Program.
“I didn’t have a clue what to expect. I only knew the names of the subjects and to be honest, it didn’t seem particularly interesting to start with,” he says.
“So, I thought I would go through the motions and tick the boxes, but was surprised that I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would.
“It turned out I actually really like writing. I figured out I was good at it when I got my first lot of marks back and received high distinctions.
“I always liked learning, but I never thought I was good at conventional education. I had ADD and all sorts of other things that made it hard.
“My first go at writing more than a couple of hundred words was at UOW College.”
Byron says the small class sizes meant there was much more support for students like himself coming back to education after years in the workforce.
“I got to know my teachers really well and they opened a lot more opportunities for me as well,” he says.
“My goal was to go to university, but I did change what I wanted to do when I got there. I originally wanted to go into social work because of all the problems I had growing up and I thought I would be good at helping people, but over the course of the Access Program I got interested in the idea of doing research.”
Byron completed his Bachelor of Arts and has now finished his Honours degree. His thesis focuses on demedicalising addiction.
“I’m looking at moving away from the disease model of addiction and understanding the complex nature of addiction. It is looking at the philosophy of medicine,” he says.
“I guess it’s a conceptual analysis of the frameworks in medicine looking at it from a meta level, and whether we are thinking of things in the right way.”
He’s even considering continuing his studies with a PhD expanding on the topic.
But Byron hasn’t moved on from the College which he credits with helping him achieve such outstanding academic success.
He is now teaching there and is the College’s Co-Peer Learning Co-ordinator.
“I loved the peer learning program, and being a peer learning leader,” he says.
“The feedback you get from students is always so positive. I relate to those students who didn’t have such a good time in high school, particularly the mature-aged students because I had a similar experience.
“In 2016, I certainly didn’t think I would be here. It’s definitely a better outcome for me than working as a security guard.”