Stu Timms cannot pinpoint why he was recently awarded a substantial two-year Victorian government scholarship. But after hearing his story, we can.
The third-year Bachelor of Human Services and Master of Social Work student was last month named recipient of a Department of Justice and Regulation Disability Scholarship. It’s awarded to a Victorian student studying a justice-related course, and chosen on merit.
Stu has his sights set on working in youth mental health within the justice system. He says rewind a couple of years and it’s a future he would never have imagined.
“My life is looking a lot different to what I thought it would be when I was younger and a lot different from just a few years ago,” he says. “A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to picture myself doing well at uni.”
After secondary college Stu left Bendigo to be part of the BMX scene in Perth. He’d grown up as a sporty kid, with riding and skating a priority. At a Perth beach in December 2009 Stu dove into the surf and hit a sandbank, breaking his neck.
The accident left him quadriplegic and put in him hospital for the next two years.
“My own mental health was pretty crappy after that,” he says. “When I moved back to Bendigo I was pretty lost, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I couldn’t do any of the things I was into before the accident. I was also pretty uncertain of my job prospects and what I’d be able to do for work.”
Stu describes the following two years of life as a spiral of depression and bad decisions. “I was drinking a lot and not doing anything productive. But after a while I just had this light-bulb moment. Something just flipped in my head. I thought, what I’m doing is not helping. It’s not helping me move forward or making my life any better, I’m just going around in circles.”
At 22 Stu began a Certificate Four in Community Services. “I went to TAFE first because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or was physically able to do,” he says. He completed the certificate, then a diploma, which fast-tracked him straight into second year of the La Trobe social work course.
“The difference was massive,” he says. “I always knew uni would be harder than TAFE but I didn’t realise the jump would be so big. I felt quite ill-prepared and it was a big shock. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to get my head around what I had to do, particularly with referencing. The expectations at uni were definitely a lot harder.”
His efforts brought big rewards. Stu is now a top student in his course and is employed at La Trobe as a peer learning advisor. He is part of a team of students posted in the Bendigo library, helping others on campus.
“I find it really rewarding because I’m helping people with a lot of the things I struggled with at the start,” he says. “It’s mainly alleviating some of the anxiety and stress for students around not knowing. That’s helping me as well. I feel more productive, that I have more of a purpose, just being able to help people and have a job.”
His job prospects after uni are also looking good. This week Stu started his first placement, a 70-day part-time role working in the Centrelink social work team.
“That’ll have aspects of mental health work in it as well,” he says. “My own experience of mental health issues is one of the main drivers of getting into the field and I’ve had a few mates with significant issues as well, which has all led me down this path.”
As for the scholarship, Stu says it will make an amazing difference in his life. “It’ll make it a lot easier to get the equipment I need and it will pay for all my uni fees and books,” he says. “It’s just massive.”