From TAFE to university: Will’s inspirational journey

Will Elrick

Charles Sturt University alumnus Will Elrick hasn’t let a car accident that caused life-changing injuries stop him from achieving his goals. In fact, the crash (which caused a brain injury and meant one of Will’s legs had to be amputated) fuelled his determination to dedicate his life to a cause he’s passionate about. And he’s been on quite the journey – from tradie to TAFE to university – to make it happen.

Despite his setbacks, the former bricklayer took the opportunity to rise to new challenges. Through his Charles Sturt degree in ecological agricultural systems, Will is making his next move count as an agroecologist and keynote speaker. He relishes the opportunity to help landholders, farmers and communities with landscape interpretation and ecology.

Will’s passion for helping others is taking him places. He was invited by the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition to attend the UN Climate Summit, where he was part of discussions between industry and government from around the world.

The road from TAFE to university

The journey from high school to university is different for everyone. University study wasn’t always on the cards for Will. After high school he embarked on a career as a tradie.

“I had always wanted to go to university, but after I left school at the age of 16, it wasn’t really an option. So I got my trade as a bricklayer instead. This provided me with some steady income and the chance to save some money to travel.

“Travelling the world was such a great time of life. I just picked up any work I could (such as a tree lopping or bar tending) to get enough cash to keep going.”

Obstacles to overcome

Life took a drastic turn for Will in the 1990s when he was involved in a serious accident.

“During a return trip back to Oz to attend a friend’s wedding, I was involved in a serious car accident that left me in a coma for six weeks. In fact, medical staff recommended that my life support be turned off. Thankfully, my friends knew me better and point-blank refused!

“I obviously survived that accident, but not without permanent injuries. My right leg had to be amputated from the hip. I also suffered a brain injury. I actually learned to live with losing a leg much more quickly than I came to terms with my brain injury. I refused help. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I struggled on alone. I didn’t really understand what had happened to me or the full extent of my brain trauma.”

What Will did next – from TAFE to university

After a long and testing time of adjustment, Will found his purpose again through education. Will explored TAFE as an admission pathway to his university degree with Charles Sturt.

“A decade later, things finally took a turn for the better when I enrolled in an organic agriculture diploma with TAFE. I was also encouraged to find out more about my brain injury and how it might affect me in future workplaces.

“It was only then that I discovered the full extent of my injury, and I knew it was ‘make or break’ time. I could keep struggling on alone or try to understand my injuries, seek help, make a better life for myself and start anew.

“TAFE was the new beginning I needed. I loved the course. Loved the people. I loved the study, and it provided me with a great preparation for university as I’d not really undertaken any study for many years. I didn’t hang around after completing my TAFE diploma, enrolling into uni as soon as I could.”

Taking on the challenge of university study

Will puts his success at university down to one key factor – perseverance.

“I absolutely loved my ecological agriculture systems course at Charles Sturt. I love to learn. Now, I love the fact that when I walk in a landscape, I actually understand what’s going on around me.”

“That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging or stressful. I found the academic participation required at this level the most challenging. I found getting through all the readings, the assignments, even referencing difficult. My only strategy was to persevere! Persevere! Persevere! Persevere! I knew I’d get there in the end. Plus, I linked in with the support on offer. Charles Sturt provides all the ladders you need – you just have to learn to climb them.”

“University has definitely changed me. It has taught me about the process of learning and provided me a deeper understanding of landscapes. More generally, it has helped me to articulate myself more clearly.”

Looking at a bright future

Will’s life experiences and journey fro TAFE to university have allowed him to look at things differently. It’s an approach he believes is to his advantage.

“I’m able to look at things differently, which allows me to think outside the square and often see things that others miss. This is important when looking at landscapes because some things aren’t always obvious. Sometimes you need to look deeper into the key indicators to find out what’s going on.”

Will has a grand vision for how he wants to help create a world worth living in.

“My dreams are big! Long term, I want to contribute to our national and global community at a high level. I’d love to be advising our government, or even the UN, on food security issues.”

Create a world worth living in

What does a better world look like to you? Does it mean finding a cure for illnesses, caring for the sick, improving health and education, making new discoveries, leading a movement or developing innovative technologies? Or, like Will, is it about having an impact in your local community and making a difference through agriculture?

If you’ve ever wanted to make a difference in a career you’re passionate about, you can with us. Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. Follow your heart, get qualified and land a job you’ll love with Charles Sturt University. What’s more, if like Will you want to come from TAFE to university, we can help you make that transition. Let’s get to work!