The ripple effect

Audi Magazine catches up with new Country Education Foundation CEO, Juliet Petersen.

Issues outside our big cities are diverse, yet with the Country Education Foundation’s newly appointed CEO, Juliet Petersen, says helping rural and regional youth gain access to education, training and jobs, remains the number one priority. 

Felicity Bonello

Pip Farquharson and Lovleah

20 March, 2020

Each foundation knows what works for their students and their community

Stepping out of her three-year tenure as Country Education Foundation of Australia (CEF) Partnerships and Committee Liaison and into the role of CEO, Juliet Petersen understands how partnerships vary and how they’re diversified to achieve the best outcomes for students and create the biggest impact. Her intimate knowledge of the way CEF’s local foundation volunteers and the national organisation operate, has given her the perfect platform to springboard into this new role.

“Each foundation knows what works for their students and their community but we know there are three main challenges. There’s the financial challenge, with close to 60 percent of country kids wishing to undertake tertiary study needing to move away from home and the cost incurred is significant. Then there is also the social displacement of moving away from their networks and family, and finally, there’s the anxiety around the change, the move, the choice, the university, the course. It’s an exciting step for some, but for others it’s just something they won’t consider without the right support networks around them. That’s where CEF local foundations play such a crucial role in mentoring and support, reassurance and guidance, and of course financially,” Juliet explains. 

We know that young people in regional and remote Australia aspire to pursue education after high school at almost half the rate of metropolitan students (ACER, 2010); and almost 13 per cent of parents in these areas don’t expect their children to go onto further education (Koshy et al., 2017). 

Country Australia is reliant on the rural economy as well as tourism, and so often, due to environmental disasters such as drought and bushfires, as well as the sheer scope of Australia’s geography, parents struggle to send their kids off to further education. But that’s where the Country Education Foundation of Australia (CEF) comes to the fore. 

This national not-for-profit works collaboratively with rural and regional communities to establish their own local education foundations. These foundations are run by community volunteers all with one thing in common – a passion for seeing rural and regional youth succeed. They raise funds to provide grants to local school leavers who need a helping hand in the transition to further education or jobs.

“From what began in the early 1990s around a kitchen table in Boorowa to what it is today 26 years later, CEF has grown into 44 local foundations working across six states and territories with over 400 dedicated volunteers that have provided close to 11 million dollars in financial support to nearly 5500 students. Many of the young students CEF support are the first in their family to go on to education after school, essentially creating a generational shift towards understanding the value of education and aspiration. Last year alone, CEF received 1000 applications and gave out 496 grants. But CEF provides a lot more than just grants. We also support and mentor students throughout their studies or apprenticeships. For most students, this community support is just as important as the financial assistance. It’s about knowing that their community is backing them and believes in their aspirations,” says Juliet.  

From what began in the early 1990s around a kitchen table in Boorowa to what it is today 26 years later, CEF has grown into 44 local foundations across six states and territories

The Audi community certainly believes in CEF’s vision and the goals of those students they support

Of course, there is a process involved. Grant seekers apply to their local foundation and amongst a succinct criterion, need to demonstrate passion, determination and the fact that they face financial challenges. 

“These kids need to prove to their community that they’re going to make something of themselves,” says Juliet. “Because it’s done at a local level, there’s an intimate knowledge of how hard each student works and their levels of determination, and grants are awarded accordingly.”

The Audi community certainly believes in CEF’s vision and the goals of those students they support, recently granting Audi Foundation  – CEF Scholarships to another four deserving CEF students. In addition to their local grant, each recipient receives a scholarship from the Audi Foundation which helps cover the cost of textbooks, rent and other essentials.

The 2020 Audi Foundation Scholarship beneficiaries are Isabella James Corsaro from Shoalhaven NSW, Cecily Ducksbury from Harden NSW, Paige Klingner from Clare Valley SA and Ben Cribb from Paroo QLD.

Isabella is studying to become a science teacher at the University of Canberra, while Cecily is in her final year of Nutrition Dietetics (Honors) (Dean Scholars) at the University of Wollongong,  

Paige is studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in evolution and genetics at University of Adelaide and Ben is studying Engineering with the plan to major in aeronautics at the Queensland University of Technology.

To support future students, CEF recently launched ‘Aspirational Influencers', a new program that aims to identify a number of CEF alumni willing to go back to their communities to talk at schools and mentor other CEF alumni still at university. 

Juliet says, “Peer to peer support helps to work through the concerns of younger students and how they manage to get through the system; many are facing similar financial challenges so it’s just having someone who’s gone before them – but not too far before them - and helping them navigate their way through.”

Validating the incredible work they’re doing, at the time of our interview the CEF national office had just celebrated the launched of a building premises that was gifted to the foundation by an anonymous donor. 

“Just knowing that there’s a shared vision and belief in the work we do is what’s so important,” says Juliet. “A gift like this allows us to expand our presence into new areas and continue to support more young students from country areas, which is really what we consistently endeavour to achieve.”

CEF recently launched ‘Aspirational Influencers’ – a new program that sees alumni go back to their communities to talk to schools and mentor those CEF students in university