Growing up just outside Wellington, New South Wales, Sofoni West never dreamed of attending university. But everything changed when she landed a job at her local pharmacy and applied to study at Charles Sturt University – and secured a scholarship success to help her.
A small town girl with big dreams
Sofoni West grew up on a small reserve in central New South Wales. She was raised to be a proud Aboriginal woman by her single mother. Sofoni said her mother taught her the value of respect and hard work from a young age.
After she finished Year 12, Sofoni was unsure about her next move but didn’t consider university as an option. She applied for a job at the town pharmacy, where she’s been a happy and loyal employee for 11 years. Sofoni’s manager saw that she had great potential to move up the ladder and help improve people’s health, so he encouraged her to aspire to a university education and become a qualified pharmacist.
“I was a pharmacy assistant. I started on the floor and was there for two years. I gradually did a Certificate I, II and III in pharmacy [at TAFE] and ended up going into the dispensaries for prescriptions. Then, one day my boss said ‘Would you like to become a pharmacist and go to university?’ I thought – I am pretty good at this job, so why not? I am very thankful that my boss saw something in me – he believed I could go far.”
Rising to the challenge
Although excited to begin her tertiary education, Sofoni found the transition into academic life challenging.
“I have to admit that I found going back to study after so many years pretty hard. I struggled to get my head around everything and to learn how the system works.
“The staff at Charles Sturt have been so supportive because you can always just knock on their door and ask for help. That has made a lot of difference to me – if I feel like I’m struggling and a teacher picks up on it, they come over to help me and are always willing to sit down and help me. I also have an Indigenous support worker who helped me to find a tutor, which has been amazing.”
Scholarship success confidence boost
A chance meeting between Sofoni and Heather Robinson, Head of Campus at Charles Sturt University in Orange, resulted in Sofoni applying for the Pharmacy Foundation Scholarship.
“So many people applied for the scholarship and they chose me. I was shocked and overwhelmed, and I started thinking, ‘Maybe I can do this. I can do this!’”
Sofoni understands the struggles faced by students today and knows it’s not an easy road. That’s why she encourages all students to explore scholarship options available to them through the university.
“The thought of not having to worry and stress about being in financial hardship brings joy to my heart. It’s one less thing I have to worry about and it allows me to focus on my studies. I am forever grateful.
“I want to say a huge thank you to all those who are involved in the Pharmacy Foundation. Without these scholarships available to students, study like this would not be possible.”
Giving back to the community
Sofoni wants to use the knowledge and practical skills gained at Charles Sturt University to help shape the world into a better place.
“I’ve grown to love pharmacy and understand why it’s important to help people. I like to challenge myself, love learning and love the Aboriginal community. Standing in the gap for them makes my job worthwhile.
“I want to play a role in closing the gap between the local Indigenous community and non-Indigenous people, and between the patient and health professionals,” she said.
“We’ve got people who are not taking medication properly and are constantly sick, always in and out of doctor’s clinics and the hospital. But with a Bachelor of Pharmacy and a job as a pharmacist, I’ll be able to apply my knowledge to help them.”
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