Community Education Student of the Year Award 2020

Community Colleges Australia (CCA) is pleased to announce the winners of the fourth annual Community Education Student of the Year Awards, which took place via a virtual “Zoom” event on Wednesday 25th November 2020.

The following two winners, two highly commended and four finalist nominations comprise this year’s shortlist, in addition to a special achievement award.


Kristal Barlow, nominated by Atwea College

During the year Kristal studied both the Certificate III in Individual Support (Disability) and the Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing). Her college describes her as “an inspiring young woman and dedicated student that has battled more than her fair share of hardship during her young life.” Kristal never finished her high school education and believed for a long time that her education journey was over, but she wanted to set a positive example for her children and recommence her education. Her studies have improved her confidence and abilities enormously, and she is currently volunteering for a disability organisation to assist their participants with behaviour supports, as well as volunteering for Alesco Senior College to assist their students with a disability to prepare for and undertake their trial HSC Exams.

Ayva Steel, nominated by Tamworth Community College

During the year, Ayva studied both the Certificate III in Business and Certificate IV in Business. Her college describes her as “an outstanding young lady who has met so many challenges in her life with determination, motivation and confidence. This is how she has also met her employment and training obligations, achieving outstanding results during her training and traineeship.” In 2018, along with a friend she ran a fundraiser cutting hair to raise money for a well-deserving charity. They donated 30cm of hair each as well as raising over $2000 for Charlie Teo’s Brain Cancer Foundation. That same year she was a part of multiple fundraising events, raising money for her Year 12 charity Beyond Blue. These events included the annual Oxley High School car wash and the RU OK day Awareness Fundraiser. Ayva has been involved in a variety of sports both social and competitive. She is the captain of her women’s soccer team and she has captained two matches playing Rugby 7’s for the Tamworth Pirates in 2019. While completing her HSC, she also represented the North West in soccer, playing against some of the best players in NSW. She has also played cricket, Futsal and Oztag; she believes involvement in sport and physical exercise throughout her life has greatly assisted her to develop resilience and leadership skills, which she greatly values.


Olivia Wales, nominated by Macarthur Community College

Olivia studied the Certificate III in Business Administration Medical during the past year. She had originally started a Certificate III in early Childhood Education and Care with another RTO, but in late 2019 she commenced a traineeship at a local medical centre. She has since completed 13 units of her qualification in 12 months, 2 months earlier than her traineeship completion date. Her employer has promoted Olivia to the Assistant Practice Manager of a new medical centre, even before her traineeship had officially completed. Olivia plays for the local netball association, and coaches and umpires as well. She also volunteers at a local nursing home, working with residents and helping in the kitchen.

Theresa Mapusua, nominated by Youth Development Foundation

Theresa studied the Certificate I in Business through the Skilling Queenslanders for Work during the year. Theresa – affectionately known as “Mumma” by staff and students at Youth Development Foundation (YDF) – is described as “the most amazing, caring, selfless person we have ever met at YDF.” Born in New Zealand and raised in Samoa, she moved to Australia as a new, young bride and started her family. After spending much of her life having and caring for her husband and family, with her children now all adults, she decided it was time to spend some time on herself. “When we met with Theresa to interview her for a paid traineeship, we found such a compassionate selfless woman,” the YDF says. With support from others in her program and the YDF team, she successfully completed a Cert I Business and Cert II Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways.  She now has a typing speed of 60 wpm/97% accuracy and “the confidence of Wonder Woman, a local legend amongst younger participants at YDF, and is a great asset with mentoring young Indigenous and Islander participants. The respect and dignity that is expected (without saying) when she is in the office is a blessing in disguise. Many of our young people will go to her asking for her advice on many topics.”


Polly Berry, nominated by Byron Region Community College

During the year, Polly studied the Certificate III in Horticulture with the college. Born in Cambodia and adopted by Australian parents, Polly has overcome many learning challenges. Without her Year 10 school Certificate, many pathways were closed to her and so she started enrolling in some non-accredited art courses offered by the College. By the end of 2019, she had completed 11 short courses ranging from art journaling, sewing, bamboo building to backyard food production. At each course, Polly’s confidence in social groups grew as she connected regularly with members of the community. Polly’s confidence in her own learning of new skills has grown, and she started providing advice to neighbours about their gardens and building structures to assist with their growing. With careful consideration and the backing of her parents, tutors and College staff, Polly enrolled in the Certificate III in Horticulture in January 2020 and has thrived through great effort and determination.

Teressa Leigh Gass, nominated by Community College Northern Inland

Teressa studied the Certificate III in Individual Support, specialising in Ageing, during the past year. The College notes that she “is a determined young woman who has a positive outlook on all things in life, who doesn’t see her cerebral palsy as a barrier and has overcome significant hurdles to achieve her learning and career goals. After leaving school, Teressa found local employment in retail where she worked for the same country store for 26 years until its closure in November 2019. When faced with redundancy, Teressa took a positive approach, turning disaster into an opportunity to follow her dream to work with the elderly. On completion of her training, she gained employment at the local district hospital. Her supported transition into a new career provided Teressa with confirmation of the value of learning and training. Teressa is a very popular member of the Inverell community, well respected and admired for the barriers she has unassumingly overcome during her life.

Kirsty Cottrell, nominated by Riverina Community College

Kirsty studied the Certificate III in Hairdressing during the year. At days she is not at the college, she also works with people with disabilities. Kirsty has said that she has always had a passion to do hair and the past year was the right time to pursue her dream. The college comments that “the skills Kirsty has obtained during training are already at a high level of expertise considering she is only one year into her hairdressing career path, with great attention to detail in meeting client needs. When appointed as salon manager during salon days she is able to delegate duties and keeps the salon running smoothly, always offering support to her fellow peers. Kirsty has completed first aid and is a qualified sports trainer, and often helps out with local AFL teams. Kirsty has also said she is always the first to put up her hand to volunteer if help is needed when working with people with a disability.

Rocio Caraballo, nominated by VERTO

During the year, Rocio studied the Certificate IV in Business through a 12-month Aboriginal Traineeship Program, and works in Organisational Development and Learning in the NSW Department of Communities and Justice’s Learning Design and Strategy Team. Rocio says: “Starting my traineeship and Certificate IV in Business was a big step in my life, and one that I needed to take to help jumpstart my career. I originally came from a hospitality background and didn’t have the slightest clue of what an administrative role would involve. I was eager to invest my time and energy into completing this course to the best of my ability. I ensured I was at least 20 minutes early to all my classes and put my focus on completing my assessments ahead of time, so any trainer feedback could be incorporated into the final product, before submission date. I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive manager that allowed me to work on my assessments as a priority and even had a specific day in the month to solely focus on the assessment. This ultimately led to me submitting only my best work. Undertaking this traineeship has allowed me to grow and discover a side of myself that I did not know I had. While I know that many people find it almost enjoyable to study and invest in themselves by learning, I found really it difficult to take that leap. This is one of the reasons that I am very proud of the fact that I had the courage to take on this traineeship and complete a Certificate IV in Business. I have gone from being an extremely introverted person with limited social skills, to someone who is confident and willing to take on anything. I believe that this opportunity has provided me the perspective I needed to realise that I can do anything I put my mind to.”

Special acknowledgement:
Rebecca Hilton, nominated by Western Riverina Community College

Community Colleges Australia also recognises the life and study achievements of Rebecca Hilton, who studied a Certificate lll Individual Support at Western Riverina Community College (WRCC) and who recently passed away. WRCC’s Alison Quinn writes: “WOW is really an understatement of a lady I have had the pleasure to have meet and been able to teach. Shortly after Rebecca commenced her course, she became seriously unwell, which affected not only her studies but also her personal life.

She never gave up and was determined to finish the course, and I had the honour of being able to reward Rebecca’s commitment and determination with her certificate completing her studies in Cert III Individual Support in August 2020, whilst being in hospital via Facetime with her classmates. She received the certificate and quickly replied with photos of her in hospital pyjamas and all proudly showing off her certificate. We did get to have a final, meeting before her passing in September where she attended the college with her framed certificate to have photos with her trainer.”


Eligibility: The 2020 Student of the Year nominations are all students who undertook formal study with an Australian not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) organisation during the period 1 September 2019 through 31 August 2020, with nominations submitted through their community education provider. All students needed to be at least 18 years old by 31 August 2020.

Judging: Decisions on the Award winner/s will be based on the judging criteria of career and study achievements; communication, team and leadership skills development; and achievements in areas other than study and work, including community involvement. More details on judging criteria can be found in the Terms and Conditions link here (PDF).

Prizes: Cash prizes are proudly funded by the NSW Government.

Nominations: CCA welcomed all nominations from all not-for-profit Australian adult and community education providers, not limited to member organisations.

Judges for this year’s Community Education Student of the Year Awards are Vanessa Iles, Manager of the Reading Writing Hotline, and Gordon Amann, former CEO & Principal of Coffs Coast Community College. The judging panel is chaired by Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia.

Winners of previous years Awards: This the fourth year of these Awards; the 2017, 2018 and 2019 CCA Community Education Student of the Year Award winners and nominees are available here.