This month I am thrilled to be talking with Amber Elliott, a true leader in every sense of the word. Amber is values driven, strategic and her passion for developing her team and education in general, just jumps out at you when you meet her in person. Amber is always just the most joyous person to be around, and I’m so grateful we got to have a recent coffee catch up so that now I can share her story with you. Enjoy!
What is your current role and how does it fulfil you?
I'm the Director of Access, Inclusion and Success at Monash University. My team of 16 is enthusiastic and driven, and we look after two key areas of the tertiary student journey.
Beginning with our outreach program, we work with secondary school students from underrepresented areas. We share insights into the world of higher education, with many students being first-in-family to aspire to and/or have the opportunity to go to university.
Once students begin at university, our peer mentoring program matches first-year undergraduate students with a mentoring group to help with the transition to university life. Our Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) program then supports students in a range of units across all disciplines. Finally, we help our students with their transition out of university through our alumni mentoring programs. Building social connections and being guided through the different stages of their uni experience is crucial for our students. And great leadership skill-building for our mentors.
Helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds get their foot in the door at uni and then helping them to stay and nail uni life. I feel fortunate to be in such a rewarding role.
What career decisions and experience led you to where you are today?
I was a secondary school teacher for a little while but found that working at a whole-of-organisation setting where I could make bigger changes through policy/programs, was more satisfying. When working at Deakin University on behind-the-scenes student services such as timetabling and the Handbook, I always linked our day-to-day efforts with the impact we were having on our students' experience. At Monash University, I'm now more able to see the direct cause and effect of the work we do for students.
My team at Deakin were amazing – we had a dedication to continuous quality improvement, weren’t afraid to take risks (anything can be done if it’s a ‘pilot’) and were very caring and supportive of each other. I steered recruitment processes to fill the gaps in our diversity profile which meant we were able to share unique perspectives, improve our tolerances for ‘difference’ and leverage each other’s strengths. It made me feel really good to be part of a microcosm in our little corner of the world. I’m hoping my role at Monash will be able to expand on this approach, from a team and student perspective.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone wanting to end up where you have? Don’t doubt yourself – shush that critical inner-voice. Don’t diminish your contributions. Support your colleagues (particularly if they’re experiencing imposter syndrome!). I have the utmost gratitude for the people who have helped me settle into a new role or attend a new committee (Eli Todorovski, Matt Brett, Alex Gentle, Merrin McCracken), and they have warmly welcomed me. I try to do the same.
Don’t hesitate to voice your opinion in a meeting. When initially invited to sit-in on senior meetings, I was awed by the knowledge and experience of the people in the room (and the cost of the meeting based on their hourly rate!). However, I quickly learned that I knew just as much, if not more, than these people. Navigating egos and putting forward ideas succinctly, with data to outline effort and reward, helps busy people be comfortable in making decisions. And then you’ll be left to get on with things!