As a child living in idyllic Mission Beach in North Queensland with her close-knit family, Kathryn Dorante didn’t really know what she wanted to do when she grew up. But she knew it would involve empowering her people.
Now, after five years at QUT, four years as a paid intern, and two amazing international trips, the Torres Strait Islander woman is closing in on her ambition to become a human rights lawyer.
A double degree is hard work but, for Kat, the rewards have already been plenty.
“I originally chose a double degree for employability, and QUT had a great reputation for both law and business, as well as work integrated learning,” she said.
“I always felt like I’d chosen the right degree but, as I’ve progressed through it, my decision has made even more sense.
“I wanted real world learning and overseas experiences that would help shape my future and I’ve had two amazing international opportunities through uni.
“I was one of 10 law students chosen to represent QUT at a UN Peace Summit in Bangkok earlier this year in February and it really opened my eyes to global human rights issues.
“And in 2018 I did an exchange semester at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, with the help of a bursary from QUT, which also counted as credit toward my degree.
“I think one of the major benefits of going overseas is the ability to expand your world view and learn from other countries. It is an opportunity to see how other people live and what they value. There is so much beauty in the world and it really is a privilege to be able to travel so frequently.”
After graduating from Tully State High School in North Queensland in 2014, Kat took a gap year and worked at a sky dive centre at beautiful Mission Beach before applying to QUT.
“I was quite academic at school and when I was in Year 11 I did work experience at the District Court in Cairns – that was my inspiration to study law,” she said.
“I remember a judge reminding me of a harsh reality: that too often the Indigenous person in the courtroom is the defendant, and there needed to be more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the other side of the bench. This inspired me to pursue law because I feel passionate about empowering and advocating for my people.”
Leaving Mission Beach and her family to move to Brisbane was a tough decision, but Kat was drawn to QUT because of the reputation of her Bachelor of Business (Economics)/Bachelor of Laws (Honours) double degree – and the university’s Oodgeroo Unit which supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
“They were really instrumental in helping me make the transition to university and supporting me throughout my degree,” she said.
“I only knew a few people in Brisbane when I first moved. So it was great to have the Oodgeroo Unit welcome me. I’ve made most of friends through that unit and it’s a really important place at QUT for a lot of Indigenous students.
“I’ve also worked as a student ambassador for the Oodgeroo Unit since 2018 and as a student ambassador for QUT’s Explore Uni program since 2017. Both roles mean I get to do school visits and host campus visits and provide advice at expos and events. I get to talk to school students about my own experiences and all the great things that uni can offer and the benefits of doing a degree.
“During high school I didn’t know what pathways were available to me as an Indigenous student, so I definitely think QUT’s programs are really helpful to potential students.”
Now that Kat is on the home straight of her own degree, she’s hoping to merge her global aspirations with the workplace experience she’s already gained in Brisbane.
“In 2016 I started a paid legal internship with Gadens, which was facilitated through QUT and CareerTrackers, an organisation that connects Indigenous students with corporate partners,” she said.
“It has given me four years of really beneficial experience. I currently work in the property and construction law team but have also been able to rotate throughout numerous other teams in the firm.
“I’m finding there’s plenty of cross-over between work and uni. I’m using the skills and knowledge I’ve gained at QUT at work – such as my property law subject that helped me gain a deeper understanding of the work I complete in the office. And work has given me skills like professional writing that I’ve been able to use with my uni assignments.”
Kat is also co-chair of Gadens’ Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group in Brisbane.
On top of the commitments of a double degree and part-time jobs, Kat contributes to QUT and the wider community through roles as a member of the QUT Business School Equity Committee, a student representative on the QUT Alumni Board, and a student representative on the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland
She was awarded the Laurie Cowled Indigenous Scholarship for 2019 and 2020, and last year won a QUT Student Leadership Excellence Award.
She has also been named the Queensland Law Society’s First Nations Legal Student of the Year for 2020.
Away from her studies and work, Kat loves to hike and play rugby league.
She also regularly returns home to visit her parents at Mission Beach, where her mum is a primary school teacher and her dad is a boilermaker in the mines.
“My siblings are both in Brisbane now as well – my older brother works at Westpac and my younger sister is studying Communications (Journalism) at QUT,” she said.
“My mum, dad, sister and brother are the best people I know. They are incredibly hard-working, humble and courageous and inspire me every day to be the best version of myself that I can be.”
In her spare time, Kat also volunteers with the First Hike Project – an organisation which arranges hikes and camping experiences for newly arrived, young refugees and asylum seekers.
“I definitely see myself working in human rights law in the future, whether that be in academia or a firm,” Kat said.
“I want to keep travelling and would love to one day work overseas or in a role that has a global focus.”
** The QUT Virtual Open Day will be held online on August 29 and 30 to provide prospective students with information about studying at QUT next year. Register online here for your chance to win a MacBook Air.
** QUT’s Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Laws (Honours) is one of the university’s most popular double degrees because of the variety of options it offers to graduates. The strong combination of business and law skills provides a broad base of commercial knowledge for careers in law or business environments.
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