The Conversations on Engaging and Retaining First-in-Family Learners in Higher Education on Friday 25th November at the University of Wollongong was the finale for this OLT Fellowship – and what a great day it was!

We began planning the forum in earnest in March and drew on what we’d done the previous year for the first national FiF forum. The focus of this would be ‘Conversations’. Fostering these conversations included providing opportunities to showcase best practice in the form of Lightening Presentations – 15 minutes to strut their stuff.

We also invited a number of well-known speakers – each with a different perspective on supporting, engaging and retaining FiF students. We wanted it to be a mix of research findings, best practice and take-home strategies to cater for a broad audience.

The day began beautifully with a Welcome to Country spoken in language by Jodi Edwards, which she then wove into the theme of conversations. This set the tone for the day. 99 people attended on the Friday and there were 30 universities represented, from all states and territories (except NT), as well as from New Zealand. Attendees stated a range of roles including academics and professional roles including advisors, managers, directors, career counsellors/welfare officers, equity practitioners, librarians, student support, project managers/officers, as well as students and research fellows.

The forum had a stellar lineup of speakers – including New Zealand colleague, Dr ‘Ema Wolfgramm-Foliaki from Auckland University, who provided a glimpse into the international context of first-in-family (or FIFU) with particular focus on the experiences of students from Indigenous backgrounds.

The team from South Australia – Professor Sharron King, Associate Professor Ben McCann and Dr Ann Luzeckyj – gave a combined presentation on findings from their NCSEHE funded study on FiF students across a range of disciplines.

Next Dr Cathy Stone, 2016 Equity Fellow (NCSEHE) brought to the forum perspectives of the FiF online learner – the particular challenges to retention, but also the resilience and success of students.

Finally, Kara King from Charles Sturt University, who is a champion of FiF students, presented inspiring stories captured beautifully on video. She and her team had travelled thousands of kilometres to engage with students and their families.

FiF National Forum Speakers L to R: Dr ‘Ema Wolfgramm-Foliaki, Ms Kara King, Dr Cathy Stone, Dr Ann Luzeckyj, Professor Sharron King, Associate Professor Ben McCann



From my perspective it was great to observe how quickly people engaged in ‘talanoa’ (telling stories) during the first session, which allowed an experience of the culturally appropriate methodologies used in ‘Ema’s work. This spilled over into the refreshment breaks with the ten Lightening Presentations providing more inspiration for sharing practices. In all, for me it was a very satisfying, but exhausting, day. I’d like to finish with a glimpse of how others experienced the day (from survey comments):

Really impressed by how much you managed to fit into the day, the high quality of the presentations, the excellent organisation and the collegial vibe

I had the chance to hear what different institutions were doing to better cater for the needs of FiF students and to hear from researchers about their findings and future directions. Great to be around people who recognise student concerns and want to do something about it.

Validating, loved the conversational tone of the event…. Warm welcome and hosting, guests felt valued. Motivating, engaging, inspirational speakers. Diversity of presentations.  Thoughtful and considered engagement for those whom attended.

Thanks for your support through this journey,


Project Team Member: Dr Janine Delahunty

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