Supporting a career change to teaching

Transitioning from a career in business development to teaching was one of the most challenging, yet ultimately rewarding, experiences that donor Nina Wei has had in life.

“I didn’t have much support when re-starting my career as a teacher 10 years ago,” she said. “As a mother of two young children, going into pre-service training meant financial stress, as well as physical and mental challenges."

But the bold move ultimately paid off, and Nina has passionately thrown herself into a second career in education.

“You need to face the lows, consciously train yourself to be resilient, and learn the skills of empathy, before bouncing back to a better, more confident version of yourself,” Nina added. “Then, you can be the role model for the young people under your leadership.”

To reward the courage and risk involved in a career change, and to show appreciation for the devotion to education that mature teaching candidates from diverse backgrounds bring to teaching, Nina generously established the Wei Family Education Scholarship, which provides recipients with up to $20,000 over two years.

Nina wanted specifically to support students who are making a career change to become new teachers who would fuel innovation and reform in the sector, based on their own life experiences and careers.

Inspiring students to fulfil their potential

Fittingly, innovation has driven the career of Dionne Lew, the 2022 recipient of the Wei Family Education Scholarship, who spent 30 years forging an extensive career in strategic communications.

Dionne Lew

Dionne Lew, inaugural recipient of the Wei Family Education Scholarship.

For much of her career, Dionne was at the forefront of change, from transitioning organisations to digital and social media long before they were a widely accepted form of communication, to starting a consultancy advising on the importance of social media for business.

“I did this as I was passionate about educating leaders about the game-changing impact of new communications – of which they were largely unaware – even though it meant a significant reduction in salary.”

After spending over three years out of the workforce managing an illness, she has returned to study the Master of Teaching, while continuing to manage her illness.

I am absolutely delighted to receive the Wei Family Education Scholarship. The scholarship will enable me to return to study full time as a mature-aged student after an enforced break from the workforce. Dionne Lew

“I wish to become a secondary teacher with a focus on developing the highest potential of students as whole people rather than just academically.”

It’s an approach Dionne embraces in her own life. As well as pursuing her communications career, she wrote a pioneering textbook on the impact of online networks on society and has contributed literary writing to magazines and anthologies. More recently, she has taken up painting.

“Over a lifetime, I have developed valuable skills and experience and want to inspire young people to develop a lifelong love of learning, and to achieve their highest potential as whole people.”

She also sees the Master of Teaching as having a transformative impact on her life outside of the classroom. As a writer and painter, she will use the critical thinking, analytical and communications skills she learns in the degree to deepen her writing and artistic practice.

It’s all in keeping with her philosophical approach to education, which is to develop all aspects of a person, not just their academic prowess.

I am passionate about education as a gateway to many of life’s opportunities. I am honoured to receive this support. Dionne Lew

Assistance can encourage career switch

Nina, a Melbourne Graduate School of Education alum, made her career change in 2013.

Originally from Beijing, she came to Australia working in business development but, following a divorce, shifted tack to undertake the Master of Teaching (Secondary). She completed the course over three years while working as a teacher as part of the degree’s internship program.

Nina WeiDonor Nina Wei.

Nina understands that for many, a career change is often out of reach due to loss of income and the costs associated with studying. That fact provided the motivation for establishing her scholarship so as to support people like herself to pursue their dreams.

I wanted to establish the scholarship to show recognition and support for people who are brave enough to take on those challenges, and it also feels like a late acknowledgement of my own courage. Nina Wei

“More importantly, it is to show my appreciation of people who are willing to bring diverse expertise into this craft and enrich its philosophy.”

For Nina, teaching enables her to embrace two key passions: sharing stories and forging authentic connections with people.

“My teaching philosophies are deeply rooted in my personal and cultural context. I could bring my life stories into the classroom, making me an enthusiastic advocate for promoting student resilience and bravery in taking on new challenges.”

Supporting innovation in teaching

Teaching has often traditionally been seen as a conservative profession, where change happens slowly. But Nina said the experience of the last few years of the pandemic have demonstrated that teachers can be quick to innovate, with digital engagement, student-focused learning, cultural sensitivities and mental health awareness all becoming increasingly important.

With the Wei Family Education Scholarship, Nina wants to support those who have the courage and flexibility to bring innovative thinking to teaching. And while a mid-career change can be challenging, she says that for those who are patient, the results are deeply rewarding.

“Attracting people with a broad range of prior experiences, skill sets and cultural perspectives is crucial for moulding the future education landscape.”