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If Nicole Kelly’s story is an inspiring one, that’s because it’s meant to be.
“I take pride in the fact that I am providing my children with a mother who is a role model for the importance of education,” she said.
“I want them to be inspired to work hard to get a good education.
“And I want to tell my story so all the people who have a teenage pregnancy know it doesn’t have to mean the start of an endless cycle of welfare.”
Nicole was a 16-year-old schoolgirl when she became pregnant.
Her partner was just 15: sufficient ingredients for the proverbial recipe for disaster.
But fast forward 13 years and Nicole and her partner, Paul, are now married, have three children and their own home.
Paul works as a tour guide at one of Victoria’s premier Indigenous tourist attractions, Tower Hill, between Warrnambool and Port Fairy.
Nicole, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes not, has had children – Kyle 12, Xavier 7, Aaliyah 4 – worked and studied and now has an Honours degree.
Most recently, she has discovered her newest baby - research and wants to do a PhD.
And for that, she gives much of the credit to Deakin.
“I never believed I could go on to achieve academic success,” she said.
“But from the moment I first started at the Warrnambool campus, everyone at Deakin was so supportive.”
Nicole had come to Deakin via the TAFE system after Kyle’s unexpected arrival had made finishing high school problematic.
“I only had a few units to go to get my VCE, but I just wanted to be at home with Kyle,” she said.
But when Kyle was two, and greatly encouraged to do so by her parents, Nicole began the rest of her education by enrolling at South West TAFE.
There she was awarded the prize for student of the year.
Ever industrious, in between looking after Kyle, Xavier and Aaliyah, Nicole also worked part-time at a kindergarten run by the Warrnambool City Council where she discovered a natural affinity for early childhood education.
That led to her enrolment in Deakin.
“Some of my work colleagues were going to enrol at Deakin Uni to do a degree in early childhood teaching, and they encouraged me to do the same,” Nicole said.
“I was very nervous about going to uni to begin with; I didn’t know if I had what it takes.
“But I had some early good scores, that got my confidence up and by the end of first year I was averaging about 89 per cent.
“I got to do Honours and now I have set my heart on a PhD.
“Completing the Honours has opened my eyes to the world of research, and ignited a passion within me to continue on the research path in order to contribute to the field of early childhood education.”
Deakin’s School of Education is more than happy to help Nicole fulfil that dream.
“Her Honours thesis was of a standard rarely reached,” said her Honours supervisor Terri Redpath.
“It is all the more stunning for her story from her teenage years to this point.
“She has been on a very steep learning curve but has applied herself consistently through TAFE, through her Bachelor of Early Childhood Education (BECE) year and then her Honours.
“She has an amazing work ethic.
“She also epitomises what Deakin and the BECE are all about, particularly for our rural and regional students.
“It is always wonderful to go to her home and to see just how proud her children are of their mother.”
Nicole is now finalising her research topic for her PhD.
“It might be something arising from my honours, or it might be something else,” she said.
“I will be choosing the area of research very carefully because I want it to be something that contributes to early childhood education – and also because it is going to be my new baby for the next few years.”
If you would like to follow in Nicole Kelly's footsteps, click here to find out more information about the BECE.