GOTAFE student ambassador Amelia Dean, engagement officer Diane Pungitore, communications and engagement coordinator Mary Orgill at the GOTAFE Wallan campus during O-Week.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

GOTAFE students were welcomed onto campus for orientation week last week, signaling the start of the new academic year.

The Wallan campus came alive again with students pouring in on Friday for a day of speeches, games, food and music, which gave them the opportunity to meet their new classmates and teachers.

GOTAFE communications and engagement coordinator Mary Orgill said everyone was excited to be back after a year of remote learning, but lockdowns also provided new online opportunities for students.

“I’ve been at the O-Week here, at Seymour, and at Shepparton this week and it’s just so lovely to see people back on campus and interacting with each other and getting that human contact again, that’s just absolutely amazing,” she said.

“GOTAFE was very quick to pivot to online and now we’ve got a lot of blended courses where we’re offering a lot of it online and then coming in to do some of the hands-on things that are required to complete the course.

“I think the students are just so pleased to be able to get together again, and you can’t really do, say, baking courses unless you’re actually in the commercial kitchen.”

GOTAFE offers more than 130 courses across eight campuses in 11 municipalities, making it the biggest vocational training provider in regional Victoria. It serves about 9000 students each year and employs more than 500 staff.

This year GOTAFE’s nursing and some of its trades courses have seen increased demand and have been oversubscribed this semester, with many enrolments already confirmed for semester two. The courses are mostly taught at the Seymour campus, while Wallan’s focuses are business and leadership, IT and more, including a new pet-grooming course.

Student ambassador Amelia Dean, currently studying her fourth GOTAFE course with plans to soon start a fifth, gave a speech at Wallan’s O-Week to encourage students.

Ms Dean, who lives with a disability, said she ‘really, really struggled in high school’ to the point where it was no longer an option for her.

“My health fell apart and the school didn’t really know how to deal with me,” she said.

She took a year off, then signed up for a course at Seymour GOTAFE after driving past and deciding to wander inside.

“It’s really inclusive, it’s a great place to learn,” she said.

“I haven’t felt a huge gap between teachers, you can just talk to them like they’re human beings and it’s honestly the best experience.”

Ms Orgill said being back on campus also helped teachers and trainers showcase the students’ work within the broader community, which she hoped would in turn help them find employment down the track.

“Obviously regional Victoria is not in a great space for jobs but hopefully we’re giving people the skills to move into the things where there are going to be opportunities in the future, like community services – we just had the mental health report and the aged care [Royal Commission] and the courses that we do around care and community care in both mental health and aged care will definitely help those people, so hopefully’ they’ll be jobs for those people in the future,” she said.