Stepping out of the comfort zone

UQ Valedictorian Kiri Rogan's pathway to graduation saw her standing at the crossroads many times.

She shares an insightful personal guide to getting there.

I grew up in the hinterland of Coffs Harbour, a coastal town on the mid north coast of NSW. I was very lucky with my childhood as I had the opportunity to experience features of both the country and the coast. My upbringing was very diverse; it did not subject me to any particular pathway.

I attended John Paul College in Coffs Harbour until year 11, at which time I began my senior studies at Coffs Harbour Senior College, which is based at the Southern Cross University campus.

I was exposed to university lifestyle very early on, and this made the transition to UQ seamless. 

Interestingly, agriculture was not my first choice. In 2015 I commenced a Bachelor of Interior Design. Having had such a diverse upbringing, I had always struggled with defining which direction I should take.

Whilst I always had a passion for design, I also had a long-lived desire to be involved in agriculture. I am a strong believer that the environment you grow up in helps form who you are. My parents own a trade business so I grew up around construction, and as a teenager I developed a strong passion for interior design. I grew up on a small acreage and I have had horses my entire life. Much of my childhood was filled with weekends spent travelling across New South Wales and Queensland in horse riding competitions. In doing this, I gained a passion for rural Australia; the landscapes, the industries, and the people.

On completion of year 12, I took a gap year and moved to Saskatchewan Canada for nine months to work at Spring Hill Ranch, a commercial cattle property.

This was an amazing experience, of which I hold many fond memories.

On returning from Canada, I was still undecided as to whether I should pursue my passion in design or agriculture.

I chose design, but a few weeks into the degree I found myself dwelling on a lost opportunity.

I think one of university's most valuable lessons is the importance of trial and error.

In semester 2 of 2015, I started the Bachelor of Agribusiness, and since then, I have never looked back.

My family has always been very supportive in letting me follow my passion.

Their mantra has always been to ‘do what makes you happy’. University was not something that was forced upon me, but rather a decision I made on my own. I think this has made all the difference, it has allowed me to freely follow whichever journey I chose for myself.

My gap year in Canada set the scene for years of itchy feet.

What I loved most about my experience in Canada was being entirely immersed in another culture; this was the benefit of living and working in the country.

In line with this, my next overseas trip was again a working holiday.

In 2017, during the break between semesters, I lived and worked at Tarara Downs, a sheep and cattle property on the South Island of New Zealand.

At the time, I had a keen interest in wool, an industry I had little prior exposure to. I spent six weeks learning the ins and outs of sheep farming, and also completed work experience with a wool marketing company. I made life-long friends, and I have been back to visit since.

I also travelled to Southeast Asia during the 2017-18 summer break. I spent six weeks backpacking around Vietnam, Laos and northern Thailand.

What I loved most about this trip was seeing and experiencing food and agriculture in a completely different environment. It was eye-opening, confronting, and grounding.

We are very lucky in Australia as we have some of the best food systems in the world.

Too often, we take this for granted.

My experience at University has been a journey of finding out who I am. I didn’t always know that I wanted to study agriculture, but now, I can’t imagine having studied anything else.

Starting the Bachelor of Agribusiness was a very daunting experience for me. Many of my peers had grown up in the industry. I had little experience, but I was very passionate. From day one, I felt my sole purpose at university was to try as many experiences as possible. I wanted to find my niche; the area of agriculture that I was most passionate about. Studying agriculture can be quite overwhelming; the breadth and diversity of job opportunities makes it difficult to comprehend which pathway to take.

Alongside my studies, I have sought out numerous opportunities to gain experiences across different disciplines and in different industries. The combination of all of my experiences, both in my studies and in work experience outside of university, has helped shape who I am and where I want to go.

There have been many highlights during my time at university. In semester 2 of 2018 I had the opportunity to present to a second year Agribusiness class on future opportunities and career pathways. It was a daunting but exhilarating experience to be on the other side of the classroom and to be sharing my own insight. It gave me a whole new appreciation for my lecturers and tutors.

I feel tremendously lucky to have had the opportunity to experience life at both the St Lucia and Gatton campuses. I loved the buzz of St Lucia, frantically trying to find the room for your next class after jamming too many lectures and tutorials into the one day. But I also loved the slower pace of the Gatton campus; the close knit community, chatting to Reggie at the coffee cart (for anyone who has been to Gatton, this will resonate), patting the many dogs walking the pathways.

The most valuable lesson I have learned is to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.

University opens the doors to many opportunities, but these opportunities cease to exist unless we are willing to challenge ourselves and to try new experiences. In today’s world, the only limits we face are those which we inflict upon ourselves. Most of the time this is fear of failure, or fear of the unknown.When we are able to overcome these fears, the possibilities really are endless.

The most valuable advice I can pass on is to do what you feel passionate about, and define yourself by what you love. Have a vision, stick to your values, and work hard to get it.

My next step is a relocation to Sydney to commence a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers in January 2019. Here, I will be working in Innovation & Ventures, on the firm’s Food Trust Platform.

PwC are developing world-first technologies to make food supply chains more transparent.

Through all my experiences at and alongside university, I have developed a strong passion for food and fibre traceability and transparency. As global supply chains become more complex, we are seeing producers and consumers become more disconnected. I am tremendously excited to be able to play a role in bridging the gap between the two, and ultimately helping to support and promote Australian agriculture.

Kiri Rogan graduates as Valedictorian on Thursday, 6 December at UQ's Gatton campus.

UQ's 2018 December graduation schedule is here.