From Springvale High School to partner at a global law firm

In the first of a Q&A series with people involved in the Ourschool program, Caroline Milburn, Ourschool’s CEO and co-founder, talks to:

Geoff Mann, lawyer and partner at Ashurst

Geoff is a graduate of Springvale High School, which merged to become Keysborough College. He took part in an Ourschool alumni career pathways session at Keysborough College, and he hosted a Year 10 Keysborough student for work experience at Ashurst’s Melbourne office.

Geoff, what motivated you to accept Ourschool’s invitation to provide a work experience placement? As a school student I was in a similar situation to what many of the Keysborough students would be in – they probably don’t have family or a long family history of working in the law. I had no one that I knew who was a lawyer.

The more information you have, the better decisions you can make moving forward, especially with course selection. It’s a really hard decision to make to commit to doing a long university degree without much information to go on.

A lot of people end up studying law because they get the ATAR that gets them into the course but they don’t have a passion for law. 

The more I can arm people with knowledge about what law is really like, the better it is for them and the better it is for the profession and for the universities. Pumping out law graduates for no real reason isn’t that great.

What appealed to you more generally about getting involved in the alumni program at Keysborough?  I got a lot out of the public school system and it gave me the opportunity to go on to university. I had fantastic teachers. So, anything I could do to support the public school system was a great opportunity to give something back.

I see people coming into the law firm from private school, often from very privileged backgrounds, who’ve had the benefit of a school alumni network that’s operated for many years. Many of the more established Melbourne private schools have that old school tie network.

Ourschool is trying to create something similar, without some of the downsides that come with that, such as nepotism. Law firms are more conscious of those downsides nowadays.

The first law firm I joined, was very conscious of that. They didn’t just want to recruit people from the same schools they went to and they gave me an opportunity.

At that stage, in the late 80s, they were starting to look at people who hadn’t gone to one of the established private schools. The more we can encourage recruiting on merit, the better.

Do you know if many of your office colleagues are state school graduates?  My current firm was a very conservative firm when I joined in 2003. That’s changed over the last 17 years.

I’m still a little bit of an outlier even now. But it’s starting to change with the younger generation coming through and the next generation of partners coming through.

We’re recruiting from universities all over the place, including Deakin, La Trobe, the University of Tasmania and elsewhere. Diversity in the law is improving every year.

Ourschool grows amid hardship

Maryborough Education Centre is the latest school to join the Ourschool alumni program.

Photo: Caroline Milburn, Ourschool CEO and co-founder, met with MEC principal David Sutton last year to discuss how Ourschool could help MEC establish an alumni program.

David Sutton, MEC’s principal, said the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and schools adapting to remote classroom learning, didn’t deter him from subscribing to the Ourschool service.

“A supportive alumni community isn’t something you build overnight – it’s a long-term objective that can deliver lifelong results,” he said.

Mr Sutton said the appointment of the Ourschool alumni coordinator, Wayne Belcher, gave MEC the ability to prepare the groundwork to establish the alumni program.

“The preliminary work of setting up our alumni database and making the preliminary contacts with alumni can happen with the coordinator working from home.  

“And later in the term, we’ll be looking for creative ways to keep students motivated. That’s where our alumni can help us – we can bring them into our online classrooms to enhance student learning.”

Wayne Belcher is MEC’s former careers teacher. His first task will be finding and connecting with former students who attended MEC and MEC’s foundation schools – Maryborough Regional College, Maryborough High School and Maryborough Technical College.

Wayne is well placed to grow the alumni network because he, his family and many of his friends are alumni. Wayne is a former school captain of Maryborough Technical College.

Maryborough has a proud history in the development of public school education. Maryborough High School was one of Victoria’s first high schools. It opened in 1912.

Ourschool is supported by funding partners that include the state government, philanthropic foundations and pro bono supporters.

Caroline Milburn, Ourschool’s CEO and co-founder, said the partial school closures had not dimmed the enthusiasm that alumni and teachers felt towards the Ourschool program. During the pandemic, Ourschool alumni coordinators are organising alumni to be guest speakers in online Q&A classrooms.

Ms Milburn said Ourschool had submitted a modest state budget proposal to the Victorian government for the 2020 state budget, seeking funding of $150,000 per year to help continue Ourschool’s work.

“We understand that the state budget is under enormous strain,” Ms Milburn said. “But we hope the government will continue to be a generous supporter of a program that inspires students with relatable role models, builds public school pride and strengthens the school system that the government runs.”

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Ourschool’s response to COVID-19

Caroline Milburn, Ourschool’s CEO, has released the following statement about Ourschool’s response to the coronavirus outbreak:

“These are hard times for schools. More than ever it’s important for students and teachers to feel they belong to a supportive community.

“At Ourschool we’re continuing our work building supportive alumni networks for public high schools and we’re adjusting our program delivery to ensure the health and wellbeing of the people we work with.

“Here’s a brief update on how we’re responding to the coronavirus outbreak:

  • We are following government health advice about social distancing
  • Ourschool staff are working remotely
  • We are rescheduling alumni sessions or planning to convert them to online webinars where possible
  • We are reducing face-to-face meetings to a minimum, using phone, email and other online tools to communicate with alumni, teachers and school leaders
  • We’re continuing to grow and engage with each school’s alumni community via our online communications

“We’re also keeping up to date with government health department advice about the coronavirus.

“Thanks to the personal daily relationships we’ve built with teachers at our partner schools, we’ll continue to liaise closely with them to help them in any way we can.

“If public high schools do close for an extended period, we’ll be in a good position to work closely with them and offer to bring inspirational alumni into the virtual classroom.”

Global recognition for Ourschool

An article about Ourschool was featured recently in a publication by inHive, an international organisation working with partners worldwide to strengthen young people’s access to strong networks and relatable role models. Here is the article:

Australia’s first non-profit alumni program for secondary schools! 
Ourschool, Australia’s only not-for-profit alumni program for state secondary schools transitions from its initial two year pilot to a not-for profit company whose sole purpose is helping public high schools build their alumni networks to benefit students and their school communities.
In supporting this fantastic transition, we celebrate its achievements to date: 
  • Working with nine city, suburban and rural public high schools in Victoria
  • 8000+ students (mainly Years 9-12) have taken part in alumni career pathways sessions
  • 210+ alumni career pathways sessions held by Ourschool
  • 440+ alumni volunteers took part in these sessions
  • 4,600+ alumni connected to their schools and the program
  • 104 student work experience placements offered by alumni
  • three student scholarships established, three fundraising school projects involving alumni
  • Helping another 10 schools start an alumni program via their workshop service
  • Created jobs for young alumni at their old schools

Ourschool links industry with schools at Peter Mac

More than 120 public high school students from regional and Melbourne schools involved in the Ourschool program have gained an insider’s view of what it takes to get a job at one of Australia’s leading cancer research hospitals.

Ourschool founder Caroline Milburn introducing the session in the Peter Mac theatre

The career pathways session at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in North Melbourne was the biggest high school information session the centre’s Radiation Therapy Education team has ever hosted.

Ourschool co-hosted the event with the team, inviting Year 10 and 11 students interested in careers in health and medical science to attend the session.
Peter MacCallum staff from different fields – Radiation Therapy, Clinical Education, Nuclear Medicine Technology, Radiation Oncology, and ICT Program Management – described what they do in a typical day at work and shared their stories about the study and career paths they’ve taken since leaving school.

Hugh Morgan, a Nuclear Medicine Technologist, said he enjoyed giving students an insight into his job and how it helps patients. He said bringing students and practitioners together in a workplace was a practical way to inspire students about future job possibilities.

“This is such a great initiative,” Mr Morgan said. “I only wish I’d been able to attend something similar as a Year 10 or 11 student. Thanks to all the students for listening to us.”

Nick Hardcastle, a medical physicist, chatted to groups of students interested in his area of medical research. “The students were really switched on and engaged in the session,” he said. “The future is in good hands.”

Students from the following schools attended the event – Geelong High School, Matthew Flinders Girls’ Secondary College, Phoenix College, Ballarat, Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Sunshine College, Keysborough College, Fountain Gate Secondary College and Mt Waverley Secondary College.

Opening corporate doors for public school teenagers

Tracey and Peter at KPMG’s Melbourne office.

Peter Raftopoulos, credit controller at KPMG Australia, is giving back to his community and inspiring young people by taking part in Ourschool.

Peter, an alum of Springvale High School, which is now Keysborough College, recently hosted two Year 10 work experience students from Keysborough College. He also held a seminar at KPMG’s Melbourne office for a Year 11 accounting class from his old school and has returned to Keysborough College to take part in an alumni career pathways session.

This is what Peter, and Tracy, one of the Year 10 students, said about the work experience week:

Peter: “I wanted to provide a work experience placement through the Ourschool alumni program because I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to my school and also to be able to mentor public high school students who really want to come into a Big Four accounting firm in the future after completing their studies.

“I remember as a young person myself, I had an older brother who worked at KPMG, and on occasion after my school day I would catch the train into the city and go to his office, which was so empowering as a young person to see the inner workings of a large firm. So this program is a great opportunity to show other young people, that they too, from a public school, can have the same opportunities as private school students do.

“Even within my workplace at KPMG, there are so many diverse jobs that young people can aspire to, ranging from accountants, consultants, finance and IT support staff, secretaries, even catering staff.

“It’s a wonderful environment and I feel it’s a privilege to be a mentor to these students via the alumni program.”

Tracy: “I wanted to do work experience at KPMG through the alumni program because it felt like it was a good opportunity for my future. I’ve observed and learned about what they do at KPMG. I like the flexibility of the workplace, the flexible working hours and how everyone is so friendly.

“I thought everyone might not be so approachable but it’s the opposite.

“If I didn’t have this opportunity through the alumni program, I probably would have done work experience at a primary school because my mum wanted me to be a teacher. But that wouldn’t have suited me because I’m really interested in business.”

Ourschool’s Nobel prize-winning friend

Excitement about Ourshool is growing, with more than 160 people attending an Ourschool friends’ event at PwC.

Photo: Panel discussion at Ourschool Friends’ event at PwC, Melbourne

The event was held to celebrate Ourschool’s achievements in our first 22 months of existence and to thank our generous supporters.

Our special guest was Nobel Prize winner and scientist, Professor Peter Doherty. Professor Doherty is a proud public high school alum and a strong advocate of the benefits of a public school education.

Professor Doherty took part in a panel discussion with public high school alumni guests who’ve been involved in Ourschool. His fellow panellists were Manisha Blencowe, a lawyer and Princes Hill Secondary College alum, Jenny Liao, a psychologist and Mt Waverley Secondary College alum and Paul Broecker, Assistant Principal of Fountain Gate Secondary College.

The panel was hosted by Shaun Carney, author and journalist, who is a Monteray High School alum.

Our guests spoke about the importance of their public school education and the opportunities that vibrant alumni networks can provide to public high school students and school communities.

Ourschool features in parliament

Thank you to Gary Maas for mentioning Ourschool in his maiden speech to the Victorian parliament.

Video: Gary Maas maiden speech in parliament

Gary is the new MP for Narre Warren South. He’s a Keysborough College alum (Springvale High) who’s been involved in our alumni program at Keysborough, helping to inspire public school students and provide work experience.

Ourschool makes the news

Herald Sun Ourschool Article

A feature article about Ourschool’s work appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper on Saturday 1 December, 2018. If you’re a subscriber to the newspaper, you can read a digital copy of the article by clicking here:  How the old school tie is making its mark in the public system

The newspaper has a solid paywall so non-subscribers can’t access the link. However, the accompanying photo shows the article as it appeared in the newspaper.