Scaling the heights of success
Even from an early age, Joshua Yasserie wanted to tell stories. As an Indigenous kid growing up in MacKay, Queensland, there was no one who looked like him on TV. No one like him in the books he read at school. He wanted to share stories about himself, about his culture, about what it means to be an Indigenous person in Australia.
Fast forward to 2018, and Yasserie is now a second-year student in the Bachelor of Design in Animation at UTS. Here, he’s not only learning the fundamentals of animation storytelling, but engaging with animation projects that have an Indigenous thread.
“The support I’ve had through some of the UTS staff there at the animation side, they’ve just been so open to having me to work culturally there, so that was one of the biggest things,” he says.
Winding up at university seems an unlikely plot twist for Yasserie, who describes himself as an ‘average’ student at school. But he says that UTS’s extensive support systems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students made the process easier than he’d imagined.
He’s a regular fixture at Jumbunna, the Indigenous house of learning that provides cultural, academic and social support for students throughout their UTS experience. He lives in UTS Housing, and through his degree, he’s living the kinds of experiences that he’d never imagined.
The world has not heard our stories from our communities, our perspective. There’s very little out there; we need more of it – we need the architects, we need the storytellers, we need the visuals.
“I’ve recently been overseas as part of the Global Studio elective – I never thought I’d go overseas my whole life, and the first time I went out of the country, I went to France to the animation film festival in Annecy,” he says.
“To be doing the things I’ve done, it’s so phenomenal. I can’t explain it. I used to be a failed student at school, very average marks or below. Now I’ve come to university, I’m getting HDs.”
But it was in DAB’s homegrown Indigenous outreach program that Yasserie really found a way to bring his university experience and his community together. Called Galuwa (the word means ‘to climb’ in Gadigal language), the program is the DAB iteration of an existing UTS outreach program that invites Indigenous high school students in years 10-12 to discover what university is all about.
Student 1: Coming to Uni for a week, being able to use all this technology and use airbrushes and laser cutters and 3D printers and meeting new people, seeing what University is like makes me want to come here even more than I did before.
Student 2: I've drawn for as long as I know. So coming here and getting to draw all day, and making a little film out of it is just awesome.
So when I was invited back, I just fell in love with it, kind of thing. Fell in love with this place, wanted to come here.
Nicole Phillips: The kids that have been in the group so far, they've told me that it's a lot more pressure thinking about school these days and what's going to happen after it. And having Galuwa as a place to venture into Uni, they feel a lot more comfortable about their career.
Deborah Szapiro: The Galuwa Design and Architecture program is our indigenous outreach program for the faculty. It's aimed at years 10, 11, and 12 students from all over New South Wales. It gives them a chance to come to UTS to experience what it's actually like being at University.
Student 3: Galuwa, it's really just about learning what your potential is, learning where you have a passion.
Student 4: I think the Galuwa Design Workshop's very interesting. You learn a lot from them. The fashion one is more of my choice, because I like that a lot more. Fashion is what I want to do.
Kaleena Smith: And we want to make University seem a place that they belong. And so this Galuwa program's about encouraging students to come, meeting students just as like-minded as them, who are interested. Maybe a little bit nervous about coming to University. They get to be themselves. They are not intimidated by this whole big, huge institution.
Joshua Yasserie: These are the kinds of opportunities I never had as a kid, and it has taken me so long to get here at this point to be able to do these things. Whereas these kids have the opportunity now. Every mountain is conquered by one step at a time. So projects like this? It's the start of something.
Student 5: I would like to come back here. Cause it's a fun place, and I know my family would be proud of that.
Joshua Yasserie: What I really want to do is be able to bring culture into animation, so that indigenous people have a voice. Because I want to be able to represent our people our way. And it's not someone else's idea of who we are.
Elizabeth Mossop: It's not architecture the way that it's practiced now. And it's not design the way that it's practiced now. That's the huge potential of these young people, is that they have got the ability to reinvent it in a way that's going to be relevant for their communities and for the sorts of lives that they want to have.
Kaleena Smith: What is really exciting now is that we can offer housing. Not only to regional students that live in the 90 minutes or more outside of Sydney, but we can actually offer housing now to local students.
Deborah Szapiro: It's always very, very exciting that last day, trying to get everything prepared. But when we finally see everything on the big screen, it's really quite amazing. There's always students that didn't understand what they could do, and you see that moment where they really blossom. It's incredible to think that these kids have done this in the space of a week.
Participants spend a week at UTS learning about pathways into DAB degrees, getting a feel for the UTS campus and the broader Ultimo precinct, and engaging in workshop experiences in their chosen design discipline.
Yasserie joined Galuwa as a mentor, working with high school students who had an interest in animation. He guides them through the experience of creating a group animation project and chats to them about the experience of studying at UTS.
“By working on this program, I’m helping my own people and helping out my community. I also think it’s good for the kids to see an Indigenous person going through this the university experience,” he says.
Since its launch in 2015, Galuwa has grown from less than 20 students in two design disciplines in 2015 to more than 50 students across all of the faculty’s Design and Architecture programs. This year, it will be rolled out to the School of the Built Environment as well.
And it’s already showing incredible returns. Today, 7 students (2.3 per cent) in the Bachelor of Design in Animation are Indigenous, compared to 0 or 1 in previous years – and that’s just in a single degree. Other design disciplines are also showing signs of growth.
Kyle Britton was an attendee in the first DAB Galuwa animation program in 2015. While he’d always planned to go to university, he didn’t have a clear sense of what he wanted to study. He spent his week at UTS finding out more about the Bachelor of Design in Animation – and figuring out how his passion for drawing could become a viable career.
“During the program, they showed us one or two animations done by past students, and the whole experience was very inspiring for me,” he says.
“It really solidified the fact that I really wanted to get into an animation degree. Before Galuwa, I knew I wanted to do some kind of art course, but I never really thought about it in depth. After Galuwa, that was when I started to shape everything towards preparing to apply for the course.”
For Yasserie, Galuwa is a symbol of his broader aspirations – by supporting Indigenous young people to pursue university study, he’s encouraging them to take their stories out into the world.
“What I really try to push out there that the world has not heard our stories from our communities, our perspective. There’s very little out there; we need more of it – we need the architects, we need the storytellers, we need the visuals,” he says.
“That’s what university, what UTS, supplies us with – the knowledge and the ability for these kids to empower their community to make it a better place."
The next Galuwa program will run from 3-7 December 2018.
Learn more about the UTS Bachelor of Animation.