2021 Westpac Future Leaders Scholar, Jake Louthean, is a proud Noongar man who grew up on Menang Country. He recently completed a Master of Social Policy at the University of Melbourne to support and guide his work as an Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer in Albany, Western Australia.
We spoke with Jake recently about his experiences as a Westpac Scholar and the learnings he’s taking into the community as he seeks to empower Indigenous youth through educational opportunities of their own.
Growing up with a single mum of non-Indigenous decent, Jake has often found conversations about cultural identity hard to grapple with. Although much of his family’s history was lost over the years, over time he’s built a deep connection to Country and community through the relationships he’s forged with his Elders.
“In connecting with the community, I learnt very quickly that I come from some of the most resilient cultures and peoples in the history of humanity. I come from peoples who are proud and brilliant, who are community-focussed and who care deeply for nature and Country.”
“And I understand now that I am a product of this.”
What he found particularly heartening was how quickly he was accepted into the community.
“What was ever present, was a great pride everyone had in my family history and an acceptance from the Indigenous community around me. Not once did I feel that I was the odd one out, I was wholeheartedly embraced.”
Welcomed with open arms, this catalysed Jake’s decision to dedicate his career to giving back to the people that had received him so positively. He felt he had a duty and responsibility to help others feel that same strength of connection, and so his journey begun with the Department of Education.
Employed as an Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer based in Albany, Western Australia, Jake was soon exposed to the numerous challenges facing First Nations people. He witnessed firsthand the disconnect between Indigenous students and the school community and felt impassioned to develop grassroots programs that would work to close the socioeconomic gap and drive policy change.
On the hunt for solutions, Jake decided to apply for a Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship to pursue postgraduate study at the University of Melbourne. He hoped that completing a Master of Social Policy would broaden his thinking and enable him to find new ways to elevate his people.
“Interestingly, as I've worked through my master’s degree, I’ve found myself questioning all the ‘solutions’ that I initially thought I had. It’s really challenged me to think beyond accepted constructs, to question convention and explore alternative beliefs.”
And being a Westpac Future Leaders Scholar has really supported that process.
“The scholarship has allowed me the time and space to fully immerse myself in this realm of thought. To step away from my role as an educator and to question even my most foundational beliefs.”
Opportunities like the Leadership Development Residential as part of the scholarship have also enabled Jake to build a foundation as a leader, establish friendships and reflect on his journey.
Though he feels he’s now walking away with more questions than ever, the scholarship’s magnitude has given him a chance to pull at threads and unravel things before a clearer, better path forward is revealed.
“As I use this period to reflect and explore, I’m unwavering in my desire to help empower Indigenous youth in finding their place, in developing their own identities, and I understand that education is the key, perhaps just not as the Western world sees it.”
Part of that is encouraging other First Nations students to apply for programs like the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship.
“I know it's easy to look at the resumes of past scholars and marvel at just how accomplished they all are - I know I certainly felt this way. However, it's important to remember to believe in yourself and your vision and trust that the ideas you have are worthy of funding and support.”
He also expressed how important it is to come as you are.
“Be willing to show your true colours. Be willing to open up and expose your heart and soul to the selectors.”
“Westpac aren’t looking for people who can write a killer application or people with perfect academic resumes. They are looking for people who are genuinely interested in something bigger than themselves, people who are willing to be vulnerable and honest and true. They aren't looking for perfect, because no true leader is perfect.”
Applications are now open for the Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship. Find out how you could receive up to $120,000 to support your studies or research at one of nine universities across Australia while gaining access to bespoke leadership and mentoring opportunities.
If you’d like to learn more about his experiences or are looking for advice on the scholarship application process, connect with Jake on LinkedIn.
Published 11 August 2023