The story of education as a life-changing and career-boosting experience, is not an uncommon one. But every so often, a captivating journey of real impact and transformation is shared, and this was the case when Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) participant, Kushla Wilson, was invited by QUT to be a guest presenter to the next cohort of this popular, national program.
Kushla, a Correctional Officer with the Department for Correctional Services, South Australian State Government, graduated from the PSMP in 2018. Having established her career through experience, and on-the-job training, Kushla said “I never gave tertiary studying a thought until almost three decades later when I participated in the PSMP at aged 44.”
Making the decision to study at a later stage in life opens a whole new world of opportunity for participants, who in turn bring so much value, experience, and wisdom to a classroom.
For Kushla, after a twenty-one-year career in Correctional Services, she decided to gain formal qualifications to reinforce the job that she was performing. Whilst supported by her employer with internal training programs and opportunities, it wasn’t until a discussion with her line manager at the time, did she explore the option to undertake the PSMP – a much bigger commitment than she anticipated.
“Those day one PSMP feelings were another ball game for me.”
If anyone tells you postgraduate study is a breeze, they’re not doing it right. For mature students, the challenge of juggling study and assignments with everyday life (family, relationships, raising children, marriage, divorce, and of course work), can be overwhelming at times. For Kushla, the gravity of what she had committed to was all too real: “I was scared that I’d bitten off more than I could chew and that I was about to fall flat on my face in an embarrassing public way. Probably best described as imposter syndrome; I just didn’t belong there.”
Kushla shared her story in the hope it would help others considering taking the daunting leap into university study, in particular, PSMP. She offered two critical factors to consider when those negative thoughts start to surface:
- Your agency, department, and manager have supported you to attend the program. They’re running a highly scrutinised public service department, and they make decisions daily based on risk – and they’ve backed you, so trust them.
- QUT accepted you into the program based on your application and capability. They too make decisions based on risk, to ensure strong and successful cohorts – and they’ve backed you, so trust them.
“You’ll hear, you’ll read, you’ll talk, and you’ll play.”
No one style of learning is better than another, and the PSMP covers many different styles. “You simply couldn’t not learn”, said Kushla. The program caters to participants from all backgrounds and takes into consideration the different life experiences and levels of education of each learner. Kushla shared her insights and advice for newcomers to the program, and the benefits of the various learning formats provided.
- The written text provided is full of references that direct you towards experts, and additional information if you need more to embed what you are trying to absorb.
- You’ll be encouraged to listen to podcasts and audio recordings. They became my go-to travel activity, as I tuned in during my commute to and from work.
- Your classroom experience (which may be virtual or face-to-face) will include engaging exercises that teach you to use the many tools shared, and you’ll explore the many theories you’ll be exposed to in workgroup activities.
- Assignment support starts in the classroom. We were provided with very clear expectations for each assignment. They were well defined, so you weren’t left guessing where to start and what to do. My facilitators offered the group their email for after-hours contact too.
- Everything I needed was there at a click of a few buttons; access to very easy-to-navigate QUT electronic systems; folders with specific unit information, timetables to keep you on track; and a resource library.
- You’ll hear from guest speakers from a huge variety of backgrounds and expertise, all keen to share their real-life stories with tangible examples linking to the theories you are being taught. All were open to Q&A to help the group relate the information to their own work environments.
- And finally, another great resource that shouldn’t be overlooked is the ability to connect with each other. In each classroom, you’re presented the opportunity to dissect the discussion and help each other grasp the concepts.
“I was able to test and trial some of the theories I had learned, on-the-job.”
The PSMP culminates in a workplace project, which for Kushla wasn’t just an assignment – it had an incredible impact on the lives of prisoners in Adelaide Women’s Prison. Her project was focused on the ‘Development of a therapeutic community treatment approach delivered within a structured living unit environment’. It was a project she was already scheduled to deliver on, however, her learnings through the program assisted her to expand her thinking and identify the ‘what-ifs’.
Kushla’s project eventually resulted in the opening of a new accommodation unit, based on a different but proven operating model. This resulted in a more positive living experience for prisoners, who openly shared how it had assisted them to serve their sentence with an improved mindset. “I thoroughly enjoyed the Workplace Project unit, as I reaped the rewards from my efforts. I was able to undertake it ‘on-the-job’ so was able to test and trial some of the theories I had learned.”
“You’ll gain confidence just by doing. You’ll figure it out along the way.”
Kushla’s parting advice to anyone considering undertaking the PSMP, or enrolling in postgraduate study more generally, is to:
- Trust other’s confidence in you and believe in yourself. Always step into life’s challenges.
- You never know who you are inspiring by doing this.
- Undertaking this program, whilst working and most likely engaged in family commitments, is challenging but it is also stimulating and life-altering. The “WOW, I did it” feeling is so worth the effort.
To read more about Kushla’s personal and professional experience in the PSMP, visit the QUTeX blog.
The Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) is a nationally recognised and dynamic study option delivered by QUT, catering specifically for mid-level managers in the Australian public service and non-Government organisations. Learn more.