Seize opportunity

Donisha Duff (MBA '13)
28 Nov 2022

As a proud First Nations woman from Thursday Island - where my family descend from the Moa and Badu Islands, and the Yadhaigana and Wuthathi people - I am equally proud to be the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to graduate from The Australian National University (ANU) with an MBA. And there's no way I would have done it without the incredible support of my sister, and the many friends I met through The Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre (The Tjabal Centre).

Around the same time that I started my MBA, the organisation I was working for was advocating to government and parliament to improve First Nations health, and inclusion in the workforce. From that experience, I decided I needed to know more about politics. When the opportunity came up to work at Parliament House as an Adviser to Warren Snowdon MP, the first Federal Minister to hold an Indigenous Health portfolio, I had to give it a go.
For three years, under two Labor Ministers, I was extremely busy with work. While I had to put my MBA on hold for bit, the experience I gained in politics only enhanced my desire to study and learn when I eventually returned to campus.
When I first undertook an MBA, my idea was to upskill myself enough to run an organisation. I was interested in entrepreneurship, and I was also working in organisations that needed a lot more governance structures. But it's funny when I reflect on it, and see how the friendships and education I gained at ANU have intertwined with my work experience at Parliament House. So much so, that I recently leant on both experiences and learnings when I ran as the Labor candidate for Bowman at the 2022 Federal Election, where I was extremely proud of the campaign we ran and closed the margin between Labor and the Liberal National Party.
My sister, who was working at The Tjabal Centre while I was at ANU, always pushed me to keep going with the MBA.
I remember trying to make sense of an economics course, which was part of my studies. I was struggling, so went to The Tjabal Centre and said, "Look, I need a tutor for this because my head just doesn't think like that". Through Tjabal, I ended up getting an economics tutor and I did well after that. It also helped that Professor Vinh Lu, who worked in the College of Business and Economics at the time, taught our class and was so helpful in unpacking and demystifying the workload for me. I did well in his class, and it was just a really great experience. He was such a great educator and person, which was really encouraging.
Having inspirational educators really does simplify things. It makes learning a whole lot easier when you have that relational approach to education and that's what I loved about ANU. It was the ability to sit down with the lecturers, and my peers, and talk as equals. We all brought different experiences to the table and came from different sectors and backgrounds. Back then those relationships were about learning, now they are valuable ongoing connections - unwittingly, we have an established network of people who are going on to be leaders in their fields - so it leaves a legacy, that sort of experience.
University can be a hard slog, but it's about finding a balance. By getting to know your peers outside of the classroom, finding common pursuits, joining the social clubs, and getting involved in whatever was happening on campus, I truly enjoyed the lifestyle that is ANU.
But most importantly, the university wants you to succeed and encourages you to do so with the help on offer.  For me that success started with the support of my sister and The Tjabal Centre, but the bigger picture are the connections that I've made and the life experiences I've gained along the way. Even when juggling work and study, that feeling of being part of a community, part of ANU, is what got me through my master's.
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