The University recently welcomed Sam Ricketts as the new Director of Walanga Muru. We spoke to him about his former life as a high school principal and his vision for Indigenous student success.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your mob.
I am a proud Dharug man, linked though my mother’s father. Our family lived on the Hawkesbury River for many years. I was born on Dharug land and spent most of my life on Darkinjung Country on the Central Coast.
You have come to Macquarie after 25 years at the New South Wales Department of Education, most recently as their Director of Learning (School) Strategy, Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships. What made you decide to move to the tertiary sector?
I have a keen interest in education, from the early years through to post-schooling. During my time at the Department, I recognised the under-representation of Indigenous people, not only in senior secondary school but in higher education settings as well. I felt compelled to create more opportunities in this space. When I saw the opportunity at Macquarie and found the values of the University – and the Indigenous Strategy in particular – to be so like my own, I was enormously keen to get involved in what was being built here.
You spent many years at Gorokan High School on the Central Coast, first as a PDHPE teacher and ultimately as Principal. How will you draw on your experience of teaching there to develop strategies to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student success at Macquarie?
I could not have dreamt of a more satisfying career in teaching and leadership at the school level – it was the perfect training ground for my role here at Macquarie. I have built significant networks across New South Wales, particularly with secondary school principals, Aboriginal communities and groups such as the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (NSW AECG). These networks are crucial to recruiting and ensuring the success of the next generation of Indigenous students here at Macquarie.
My journey in leadership enables me to support the staff at Walanga Muru in their own careers and in enhancing the opportunities for Macquarie students. They are a great team at Walanga Muru – they have made me feel very welcome and been very patient and accommodating when answering my ‘newbie’ questions.
You must have witnessed many moments of transformative education throughout your career.
There are too many to mention, but one year at Gorokan High we had 22 Indigenous students attain their Higher School Certificate. Of the 22, 16 were the first in their family to finish their HSC and many of those went on to university. I am still in contact with many of these students who are living successful and fulfilling lives.
As a principal, seeing this student success is so rewarding – knowing the individual stories of students and their families and being able to create opportunities for them to attain their goals and thrive in a setting they may have initially struggled in for one reason or another.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for Macquarie when it comes to improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and communities?
The biggest opportunities have come from Macquarie investing in Indigenous staff and students. Having a Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy) and a centre like Walanga Muru, with such dedicated staff, has created a culture of success.
Students know Walanga Muru as a place where they will be given support in any area – from cultural or academic support to providing a safe place to relax. We will point them to opportunities both at Macquarie and beyond. Our external partnerships with industry are outstanding, as are the relationships our staff members build with students.
Our biggest challenge is ensuring that all our Indigenous students know about the opportunities that are available to them. It is such a busy world, with students having their attention pulled from study to work, social media and other responsibilities. It is easy for them to miss an opportunity that might be perfect for them. Fostering relationships with our students, and understanding their individual goals, is key.
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I would be interested to know your ideas Sam on how we can help Indigenous school students to know about the opportunities that are available to them in high school and further education- any approaches that have been effective and why.
Congratulations Mr Ricketts! You were my teacher at Gorokan for PDHPE back in 2007-2008. Wishing you all the best in this new role and for the community you are serving!