Meet Chanoa - Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities Graduate

Graduating from the  Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities in 2021,  we spoke to alumni Chanoa Cooper  to see how her studies have positively impacted her career and life post graduation.

It really opened my eyes to Aboriginal health...and I feel like it's supported me with opening up different opportunities.

Student Profile - Chanoa Cooper

Please can you tell us about yourself and how you came to studying the Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities at The University of Melbourne, Department of Rural Health?

I’m Chanoa Cooper, I'm from Shepparton and I'm a proud Moiraban, Wiradjuri and Mutti Mutti woman - and Filipino on my mum's side.

I grew up here in Shepparton and have done a lot of different things in my life. I went to Notre Dame College and after school I travelled to a few different countries to teach English in China, travelled to South America and the Pacific Islands to learn about environmental sustainability and permaculture.

After my travels, I ended up coming back home to Shepparton and it was from here that I started working as a Project Officer for Positive Aging and Disability Services at Rumbalara. I was a Project Officer working in the NDIS space, providing community with the access service to get onto NDIS; sourcing funding in the area and looking at various models across our region in the Lodden Mallee, Goulburn Valley and Hume areas.  It was during this role that my executive manager approached me and asked if I wanted to have a go at taking on the Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities - which work was happy to support me with. I guess I felt like everything was working in my favour and thought, why not take up this rare opportunity where work can support me and take that time off to study? So I went for it. It was a proud feeling graduating.

I was very fortunate enough to have really amazing lecturers - Raylene Nixon and Gwenda Freeman. We also had Lisa Bourke involved as well.  They created a really safe space for us; there were no silly questions, they were open to everything and anything and provided constructive feedback to us. They're just wonderful teachers so we were really lucky to have that support.

Chanoa Cooper - Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities student

Chanoa Cooper (second from the right) at the University Department of Rural Health graduation celebration in March 2022. Read more here.

Since your studies, how has the course helped you in your career? Have you been able to apply your learnings within the community?

The Specialist Certificate has actually opened up a lot of different opportunities for me. After completing the course, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Jawun Emerging Leaders Program. There are only 13 or 14 people selected across Australia from different states to attend this program and I believe that studying for the Specialist Certificate was a way for me to get into the program - and it’s such an incredible opportunity. We get to travel to Aboriginal Communities across Australia and learn about the models that are operating in their own communities where you take back your learnings and do a case study on it. I've just come back from a Sydney trip and then in a couple of weeks I’m going to East Kimberley in northern Western Australia. I believe that taking on this course has without a doubt helped me get there.

Whilst working as the Project Officer at Rumbalara, I was also interested in the creative process of graphic design and started thinking about our internal communications. A Communications and Public Relations role soon became available and I thought I’ll have a go at it. I did a trial for about six weeks and ended up getting the job. So I believe that taking on this course helped me get there as well. It's really opened up many pathways for me. It also opened my eyes to Aboriginal Health, learning how the system works in biomedical health, and then applying that knowledge with our holistic approach.

As part of the course, students undertake a project within an Aboriginal community. Can you describe the project you worked on?

Yeah so my project was an elders retreat. At the time, it was during lock down, and I was speaking to the elders in the community who were expressing how much lock down had impacted their mental health. I just thought, okay there’s a major gap here, and we need to look at reconnecting in a cultural and social sense as well. So I did various community consultations and from there developed a retreat around the social and emotional well being of elders, connecting them with kids, for that cultural element, as well as bringing everyone together in unity. I wanted to place it at Morning Glory Resort on Country which is just a beautiful retreat out in the bush and a lovely environment to reconnect. From there, we would run pampering and cultural activities that bring everyone together and give them a safe space to have yarns with each other.

Because of Covid, I haven't been able to deliver the program yet. At the moment it's about meeting with the Positive Aging Disability Services at Rumbalara to see if they have the capacity to run it - with me leading it of course.  We know that there is a need for it and we understand the importance, so we intend to deliver this as soon as we’re able to.

Would you recommend this course to those who may be considering studying it?

I definitely would recommend it to others, for sure. Not only was it a pathway into the Master of Public Health but it was also a way for me to gain new writing skills, learn about the history here in the Goulburn Valley and also learn about politics in such a safe way. I don’t normally have an interest in politics but we were in such a safe space to be able to talk about some of the sort of nitty gritty stuff when it comes to it. I've said so many times to people that it’s helped with my report writing and project management skills - I've definitely improved in that way, it's changed the way I'm constructing my reporting.

It really opened my eyes to Aboriginal health for sure and I feel like it's supported me with opening up different opportunities.

What’s next in terms of goals and career?

I guess right now I’m focusing on this new role as Communications and PR Manager at Rumbalara, trying to fulfill that as best as I can, as well as focusing on the leadership program. I’m continuing to work on the creative process of graphic design. I do hope to one day complete the Graduation Certificate and the Masters in Public Health as a future goal.

Chanoa Cooper Headshot

Chanoa Cooper is now working as Communications Manager at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative  in Shepparton, Victoria.

Congratulations Chanoa on your achievements! 


Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities (SC-EHAC)

The Specialist Certificate in Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities (SC-EHAC) introduces students to health related knowledges from critical social science and Aboriginal cultural perspectives.

In undertaking this course, students will gain advanced understanding of how both Aboriginal and Western knowledges can be applied to the field of health in rural communities as well as community development and project management skills.

To learn more about the course, click below:

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