In years to come, expect to hear the name Jessica Smith a lot more as a leader and inspiration for Indigenous youth. Jessica is the newly named national NAIDOC Youth of the Year for her work and commitment to helping young people achieve their potential.
A QUT graduate, Jessica is driven by the desire to see recognition of the brilliance and talents of young Indigenous people, and is a living role model for young women, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Jessica works as the Indigenous Support Teacher at Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane.
Although she was a stand-out in high school, winning both the drama and film and television subject awards in Year 12, as well as her college's Creative and Performing Arts Shield, Jessica had to overcome many obstacles to gain her education including severe illness, teenage single parenthood and poverty.
She emerged from QUT with first class honours in her Bachelor of Education (Secondary) degree and a distinction in Bachelor of Creative Industries (Drama) and began teaching.
"I took a contract in a primary school teaching creative arts twice a week and I loved it, but one reason I became a teacher was to help kids and I didn't feel I could do enough in my part-time role there," said Jessica, who names director of QUT's Stronger Smarter Institute Dr Chris Sarra as her role model.
"I want to see more young Indigenous doctors, lawyers and teachers getting on with it, playing a big part in Australian society while also maintaining our culture and identity.
"I try to let kids know that even when life isn't easy, and no matter what your history or past, if you put your mind to something and keep working hard towards it, you will get it done. Our Indigenous youth need more young role models, especially in the media and in education."
Jessica saw a job as an Indigenous support officer at Lourdes Hill College advertised when she was finishing her contract as a creative arts teacher at a primary school.
"It sounded like somewhere I could make a difference although it wasn't a teaching role," she said.
"I applied and they said they would shape the job to my qualifications. I help embed Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum, organise whole-school events for Reconciliation Week and Close the Gap Day and NAIDOC Week, but mainly I work with our Indigenous girls in a mentor and support role."
"Our school had made big steps in Indigenous education before my time. Now that I am a part of Lourdes Hill College, I am passionate about supporting and encouraging the Indigenous girls in my care. But more, I spread the message that Indigenous history and culture is every Australian's history.
"We need to keep our Indigenous culture alive in the students we have. We need to remember where we have come from, but more than that, we need to work together in creating a just and equal future for all Australians, especially our first peoples."
Jessica is now studying a PhD in Visual Arts (Indigenous Photography) at Griffith University. She hopes to portray Indigenous youth as vibrant and inspiring people.
"I want to make beautiful images - Indigenous youth are the most amazing people."
Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.