Project Firefighter at Parks Victoria / Masters Student
Grew up in Mirboo, in South Gippsland, and now splits her time between Mirboo and Melbourne.
Lauren Cain is following her dreams.
At 24 years-young, she’s a Project Firefighter with Parks Victoria, and she savours every day she gets to work in the great outdoors.
Her love for the environment is only matched by her love for wildlife, so it’s not surprising she truly considers her vocation a labour of love.
But it does present dangers, particularly during Summer.
In January, Lauren was one of hundreds of career and volunteer firefighters who worked tirelessly to stop bushfires raging across parts of Gippsland.
It’s exhausting and often thankless work, but she says it’s equally rewarding and inspiring.
Away from work, Lauren is just as busy undertaking her Masters of Environment through the University of Melbourne.
She has a thirst for knowledge and, since her days as a Country Education Partnership (CEP) Rural Youth Ambassador, she’s also harboured a passion for the advancement of education opportunities for country students.
In her own words, “education should be for everyone (and) not just those who can afford it”.
Which is where we pick up our chat with Lauren Cain, our latest Victorian Rural Inspire Mentor.
Lauren, thanks for your time.
Tell us, what are your thoughts on the support and incentives offered to make tertiary education accessible for country students?
Put simply, I don’t think it’s enough. In particular, I think there needs to be an in-depth rethink of the support extended to rural students, and that must include provisions for housing, study support and welfare networks. Education should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it, and there can be no question that the burden of cost is far greater for students who are coming from rural communities.
Just briefly, can you give us a rundown of your tertiary studies to date?
Sure. I studied a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne majoring in Zoology. I’m currently completing a Masters of Environment, which I should finish at the end of this year. I've enjoyed my time at uni but I’m definitely enjoying my Masters more than my undergrad. I think it's because I’ve got a better idea of what I’m interested in and what I want to do in life, whereas I think I pushed through my undergrad just to get it done; just to get it ‘under my belt'.
At what age did you “realise” what you “wanted to be”?
I’ve always loved the outdoors and animals, so I wanted to have a job that would let me engage with the things I love. I also spent a lot of time at Wilson’s Promontory National Park as a kid, so I wanted to work there too. This led me to want to work in environmental jobs, such as a park ranger.
Take us back to your life growing up, where did you live and what was life like in your community?
Yes, so, I grew up on a beef farm in Mirboo in South Gippsland. I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring paddocks when I was a kid, I loved it. Away from the farm, I played soccer for about 10 years for a local club but I didn’t spend much of my time in the closest town (Mirboo North) except to see friends.
Where did you go to school and did you enjoy it?
I went to school in Mirboo North and did my schooling at Mirboo North Primary School before attending Mirboo North Secondary College. I enjoyed school because I had a good group of friends and I always looked forward to seeing them.
What kind of student were you?
I’d say I was a good student and I did well in most of my classes because I always applied myself. Having said that, I’d describe myself as being good at English and not so good at maths. Maths was always a chore. I spent a lot of time in the library because I loved to read, thus, English was a strength. I also enjoyed PE classes and school athletics.
Did any of your teachers inspire you along the way?
I wouldn’t say my teachers necessarily inspired me, but they certainly encouraged me and helped me to believe I could achieve my goals and for that I am very thankful.
Do you think growing up in a rural area was an advantage or a disadvantage for you?
Oh, I’d definitely say that growing up in rural area is an advantage. I think kids who grow up in the country are more resilient and resourceful than those who are raised in urban settings. And I think the resourcefulness, in particular, shines through in the workplace in adulthood.
So, you’re proud that you grew up rurally?
Yes, for sure. I’m quite proud of my upbringing and I certainly see myself settling in the country.
When you look back on your time in school, particularly as a VCE student, what advice would you offer yourself?
I’d say to keep working hard and not to let setbacks deter you because setbacks are a part of life. You must learn from your mistakes or bad decisions and become a stronger person.
And what advice would you offer to current high school students?
I’d say that there are so many opportunities out there, you must work hard to achieve your goals and then go forth and explore every opportunity available to you. No doubt, you might not always have the most direct pathway to your goal, whether that’s university or something else, but with persistence you will find there are many ways to fulfil your ambitions and you will learn so much along the way.
How do you feel about the pressure placed upon Year 12 school-leavers to achieve a good score and head off to university?
Yes, I think there is a bit of pressure and too much emphasis to get a good score and head straight to university because that’s considered ‘successful’. But I think the greater problem is that students aren’t being made properly aware of all their options once they’ve completed high school and, so, many are left feeling that they don’t have any choice, or they don’t have any prospects. Students need to know that just because they didn’t achieve the score they wanted, or they didn’t know what to study or, perhaps, they didn’t want to study anymore, that there are still many opportunities available to them -- they just need to know where to look.
If you could change anything about our education system, what would it be?
Well, aside from making the system more equitable for country students, I’d say there needs to be less emphasis on tests and greater emphasis on practical skills and life experience.
Lauren, thanks for your time.