Sophie L’Estrange didn’t even know she was an anomaly until earlier this year, when she discovered she would be the first Indigenous CSU student to graduate from oral health science.
For Ms L’Estrange the desire to work in the health industry struck at a young age, when she reading through a pamphlet in a dentist waiting room and decided that was the career path she wanted to follow.
“I always wanted to do something that would allow me to help people and the idea of dentistry just really appealed to me,” she said.
“I just remember sitting there, scanning through the booklet and deciding that’s what I wanted my career to be.”
Ms L’Estrange admitted this was a strange ambition for a young girl, but then, as the only Indigenous student to graduate from the oral health program at Charles Sturt University, Ms L’Estrange is far from ordinary.
“I actually wasn’t even aware that I was the first Indigenous person in this particular degree to graduate until earlier this year,” she said.
“But I feel so honoured to be recognised in this way and I hope that my story can act as motivation for others within the Indigenous community to believe in themselves and encourage them to chase their dreams. If I can do it, they can too.”
In July Ms L’Estrange was awarded with a Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship, an initiative designed to support Indigenous participation in higher education.
She was also granted the inaugural recipient of the Northparkes Mines Indigenous Scholarship in 2012.
Despite her huge successes at the young age of just 22, Ms L’Estrange was humble about her achievements and said she was able to make it through the difficult periods of her study with the support of her mother and two older sisters.
“I was living at home before I moved to Wagga for the degree and I found it really difficult being away from my mother because we’re very close,” she said.
“But she was so helpful and supportive of me and gave me the motivation I needed to push through the four years of my degree.”
Next year Ms L’Estrange will begin work with the Poche Centre of Indigenous Health in Western NSW, where she will travel to schools in rural and Indigenous communities and teach children about the importance of dental health.
The job seems the perfect fit for Ms L’Estrange, who always hoped she would be able combine her interest of dentistry with her desire to help children and people of Indigenous descent.
“I’m so lucky that I get to walk into a job like this, because it’s really an amalgamation of all the things I’m so passionate about,” she said.