Responding to retention challenges through Indigenous First Year Engagement

Ms Eliza Kitchener1, Ms Emily Sutton2

1Walanga Muru, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia, 2Walanga Muru, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are more than twice as likely to withdraw from university studies in their first year compared to non-Indigenous domestic students. In 2017, Walanga Muru, Macquarie University’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student centre, developed a new and innovative Indigenous first year engagement program. The program focuses on fostering meaningful partnerships between commencing students, the Walanga Muru community and other key stakeholders early in a student’s university journey. The program is a multi-layered approach which combines existing services with new initiatives, including the establishment of First Year Advisors providing mentorship, a Cultural camp, community dinner, social events and individualised preparation sessions.

Building meaningful partnerships and a strong sense of community at the start of a student’s journey has resulted in an increase in first years accessing key resources for success throughout the semester, as well as a strengthened sense of belonging within the university environment. In the first semester of the program, Walanga Muru has increased first year retention rates by 24%. This presentation will discuss the program’s methods of promoting culturally-appropriate relationships for student success and reveals further data that demonstrates the qualitative and quantitative impact of the program on student retention and success.


Eliza Kitchener is the Academic Engagement Coordinator at Walanga Muru, Macquarie University’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander centre. A proud Dharawal woman and Human Sciences- Community Services graduate, Eliza is passionate about promoting and celebrating Indigenous success in tertiary settings.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education. We are focused on: The quality of the student experience Supporting and empowering students to achieve their educational and life goals Enhancing student wellbeing and development Improving student success and persistence Providing outreach to students at-risk Raising institutional student retention rates For more information, please visit the ANZSSA website at

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