An OWL finds a new roost at UNE

Published 06 February 2018

Angelika Heurich was almost 57, happily ensconced on the Gold Coast and intent on becoming a counsellor when she enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Welfare degree. Five years later, the grandmother of eight has swapped the bright city lights for the rural community of Uralla to undertake a PhD at the University of New England. And she couldn’t be happier.

“I had been on the Gold Coast for 35 years, but here I am now living in a lovely cottage, with my own office on the UNE campus; I just love it,” Angelika said.

Her PhD will involve a series of detailed interviews with prominent Australian women to explore the influence and impact they have, politically and socially.

“Current research blames gender bias for women not having a greater role in politics, but I also want to examine why women outside politics may feel reluctant to take on political roles, and how they go about creating social change,” Angelika said. “What empowers and restricts women? What drives them, and what are the issues they are most passionate about? These are the questions I hope to answer.”

They are topics dear to Angelika’s own heart. She grew up in a patriarchal family and postponed her own professional ambitions to raise a family.

“I always intended to pursue higher education, to become a teacher, but married early and family life became too complex,” she said. “I had a thirst for knowledge, but I put it on hold. Now, my social welfare degree has led me down a new path – to pursue academic work, public speaking, writing and even membership of the PhD OWLS, an online community of Older, Wise Learners.”

Although she says she hates the cold, Angelika fell in love with the UNE campus and the nearby town of Uralla in the depths of a New England winter. Within months she had moved from a population of 650,000 to just 2,750. “I am proof that it’s never too late to take up tertiary study and that it can take you in all sorts of amazing new directions,” she said. “It’s been magic the way it has evolved.”

Angelika credits her supervisor Dr Jo Coghlan, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, for re-igniting her passion for learning. Dr Coghlan supervised Angelika’s honours thesis and Angelika followed her to UNE. “She is an amazing mentor, who has helped me to see that all kinds of research could come from this PhD, talks at conferences and even a book, to ensure that the voices of these amazing women are shared with a wider audience,” Angelika said.