Katrina Johnston hails from a blue-collar, working-class family and dropped out of high school with barely a passing grade in Year 10.
Now with three tertiary degrees, an excelling academic career and a family following in her footsteps, she could most certainly be dubbed the poster child for showcasing just how transformative education can be.
As Associate Lecturer in the School of Access Education at CQUniversity's Bundaberg campus, Mrs Johnston teaches classes in the Skills for Tertiary Education Preparatory Studies (STEPS) program, CQU’s tertiary enabling course where she began.
Now coming full circle, Mrs Johnston is paving the way for students just like her to create new futures for themselves and is setting them up with the necessary knowledge to tackle undergraduate studies with preparedness.
However, she said it wasn’t the future she had initially envisioned.
“Pursuing higher education beyond Year 10 was not conventionally contemplated, and I was convinced I’d never be ‘university material’, as I struggled with my grades in school,” Mrs Johnston said.
“But now I can say that I am a woman who has personally thrived with academia, and along with my own study journey, I’ve been witness to the transformative power of education through my experience as a teacher.
“I’ve seen how STEPS has served as a catalyst to enable individuals to achieve not only their dreams but also to surpass their own expectations, opening doors to previously unimagined possibilities.”
The catalyst began for Mrs Johnston when she was a young mother of two, working at a supermarket, packing shelves, when the realisation struck that she did not want to remain in a cycle of manual, underpaid labour, knowing that there had to be other ways to create a more fulfilling future.
“I was working as best as I knew how to help support my family, but I knew there had to be better ways of utilising my time wisely,” Mrs Johnston reflected.
“I envisioned being able to study while my children were young and in school, where I’d then be able to position myself for a well-paying job once they reached a level of independence that allowed me to re-enter the workforce.”
Now holding a Bachelor of Informatics, Graduate Certificate in Tertiary & Adult Education, and a Master of Information Technology majoring in App Development – all with high-level GPAs – Mrs Johnston has been instilling generational change in the students she teaches as well as within her own family.
Her academic journey has served as testament that in a supportive, thriving educational environment, one can chart onto a successful trajectory.
That single decision to enrol into a university program has unlocked a life of change-making impact and inspiration, with Mrs Johnston’s mother, husband, daughter, brother-in-law and many nieces, nephews and friends have since embarked on their own journeys through STEPS and have subsequently pursued a diverse array of degrees.
“Witnessing these transformative journeys has been profoundly gratifying, and I take great pride in serving as a source of inspiration for those in my sphere,” Mrs Johnston said.
“Notably, my eldest son, who was merely three years old when I commenced my educational endeavours, has now attained an engineering degree and is successfully established within the industry.
The collective growth and achievements of my family have been a source of immense joy, and an awe-inspiring experience as they have unveiled their true potential and progressed towards higher aspirations.”
It was the nurturing support, mentorship, and expertise of the STEPS team that Mrs Johnston said was instrumental in her development as a student – an environment of which Mrs Johnston is passionate in recreating for her own students, fostering growth through rapport from shared experience in overcoming obstacles and barriers to education.
“The connection established with students becomes even more profound when they discern that I, as their instructor, have undergone a similar journey as a mature-aged student, endeavouring to balance familial responsibilities and other commitments while advancing through the STEPS program and ultimately attaining both an undergraduate and Masters degree,” said Mrs Johnston.
“This shared experience fosters a sense of assurance among students, knowing that their struggles and challenges are understood and met with genuine empathy.
“Without my venture into higher education, I might still be in a mundane job, devoid of the fulfilment that this role provides me; and I aspire to extend this empowering journey to others, regardless of the obstacles they may face.
“My personal narrative stands as a testament to the transformative power of education in shaping a more rewarding professional and personal life.”