Syrian students thrive in STEM with a little help

Siblings escaped a Syria that’s been all but destroyed by civil war and are now on their way to fulfilling careers in STEM fields
Aug 11, 2020
Thriving in STEM
Joe and Julie have come far

A life’s journey is rarely smooth but some more so than others; for brother and sister Joseph and Julie it has been tough but it looks like they’ve made it.

They escaped a Syria that’s been all but destroyed by civil war, gained an education in Australia and are now on their way to fulfilling careers in STEM fields, Joseph is studying engineering and Julie pharmacy.

Neither have shied away from taking on tough courses, Joseph’s Bachelor of Science/Master of Engineering (Mechatronics) at the University of Melbourne is challenging but he’s loving leafy Melbourne Uni.

“My favourite part about Uni is the social life that comes along with it, as it opens many doors for amazing opportunities like volunteering or teamwork for classes and projects.”

Julie’s doing well at her Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours)/ Master of Pharmacy at Monash University and is enjoying the collegiality at the university.

“I really like my Uni, it is very supportive and my degree is quite interactive between students and educators so I am very happy with where I currently am,” she says.

Their study areas reflect long held interests in the STEM fields which underpins their motivation to do well in their coursework.

Joseph says, “I’ve always been a fan of “logic” and throughout my school years I enjoyed Math and Science subjects as they always “made sense” to me. Getting to know more about things and how they worked was always interesting and the more computer-based they were, the more fun. So engineering was the next step that seemed to fit my path in order to be able to design and build my own projects and put them to good use.”

“I have always been interested in general health and medical knowledge, and being on the front line to be able to help people on a daily basis and provide continuous care to my community.

“This is where I got interested in pharmacy, it is an honour to be able to help people this closely and still have so much knowledge and the possibility to further my career and specialise in areas that I really like for example be a specialist in mental health medications or cardiology,” says Julie.

They have a vision for their careers post study with their past experience informing what they want their futures to look like.

Julie says “I love the health sector and medical fields, I have always wanted to be a health professional with a strong knowledge about medications, so pharmacy is my passion and the career I have always wanted to pursue. To me, providing care for my community is my number one priority, having the ability to support and care for people around me is my drive for a good life. Using my degree, I aim to be a hospital pharmacist and an educator to those who will become pharmacists.”

Joseph wants to use his engineering skills to influence society in a positive way with practical innovations.

“I aim to be an engineer so I can become an inventor and be able to develop and create new things that will help improve people’s life quality. Hopefully, with building new technology we would be able to reduce the conflict around the world and spread more peace!” he says.

And while it’s over to the brother and sister to get through the course work their path would have been a lot rockier if there has not been some help extended along the way. Western Chances scholarships and AMES Australia have been instrumental in their success.

Their situation before coming to Australia was difficult. Joseph says, “It was very bad. We were living in war and could not afford to live the way we do now, schools were hard to get to so we missed out on a lot of classes. Life was very difficult and we felt hopeless, but now we are grateful and thankful for being in Australia, working, and living quite an active social life (prior to COVID-19).”

After arriving in Australia Joseph started school in Year 10. He was nominated by a teacher to apply for the Western Chances STEM scholarship (associated with the Toyota Community Trust grants program) even though they weren’t clear about what it was exactly. Joseph told Julie about the scholarship and after experiencing the benefits of it and understanding how valuable it was, she applied for the next round and was accepted.

“Our Western Chances scholarships are more than money. The organisation has provided us with money to cover our study expenses, but we were also provided with so much support in every educational step we make. We got introduced to footy via western chances (Go North Melbourne!) and attended functions where we met so many successful individuals and socialized with amazing people, we also got the opportunity to visit Government House in 2017 which was a great experience,” Joseph says. 

“The Language was a major barrier, it still is difficult and a little uncomfortable studying and communicating in English, but we have definitely come a long way. We received so much help throughout our journey. Firstly, AMES Australia helped us with our language, we had a very basic set of vocabulary and were unable to have a small conversation, AMES helped the whole family to learn the language and how to move around the city.

“We were all over 18 when we arrived in Australia except for Joseph, so he was the only one who skipped English school and went straight to 10th grade, where he had the opportunity to work on his language before he moved up to the grade he is supposed to be in, the 11th grade. Afterwards at Uni, we joined clubs and groups that support students from non-English speaking backgrounds, and now here we are, more than half-way through our degrees and very happy about where we are,” Julie says.

“We try our best to help new arrivals experience the best things about being here. It is very scary to leave one’s country and come to a new place where you do not know anyone or the language, you see people from different backgrounds and cultures, therefore we take part in a camp called ATLAS with an organization called the Lord Somers Camp & Powerhouse, ATLAS is a weekend camp for refugees and immigrants aged between 12 and 17. We volunteer with amazing other people to help those kids settle in and feel welcome in their new community.”