Hatching New Beginning At 60

University of the Sunshine Coast
Sharon Jones never thought “in a million years” she was clever enough to go to uni. Now at 60, she’s hatching a brand new career in animal ecology while living her dream as a TurtleCare volunteer.

Photo credit: Adriana Watson from TurtleCare

South-African born Sharon has had a varied, changeful life so far, but the one consistency has always been her passion for tourism and a genuine love of animals.

So when COVID-19 annihilated her work as a travel agent, she knew it was time to take a bold plunge into the adventure of a lifetime; enrolling in a university degree at the perfect age of 57.

Now 60, Sharon’s in her third year of a Bachelor of Animal Ecology degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC).

“I’d never been to uni before, I never thought in a million years I was clever enough for that, but I had done two TAFE diplomas in travel, tourism and events and was actually applying for a job in England when COVID happened, and then all that changed,” she says.

Having left the workforce early on in her career to dedicate 18 years to raising a family, Sharon was ready to do something just for her.

“I had also gone through some upheaval in my personal life, and was at a crossroads,” she says.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do now? Well, maybe I’ll go and study and pursue my passion,’ so I went and called UniSC to find out how to enroll.”

“It was very daunting, in the beginning. I was full of self-doubt and would often think, ‘What am I doing here… don’t be so stupid Sharon, just go and get a normal job.’ But I stuck with it and persevered and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.”

When Sharon enrolled in the degree, she met with the careers team at UniSC who took into account her diplomas, and her work experience after so many years in the industry. As a result, she got six electives taken off due to Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), which took a whole year off her study requirements.

“I love it… it’s such a great degree and the teaching staff are incredible, and we get to do some amazing field trips, like the one we just did to Heron Island,” she says.

“I’ve made fabulous friends and found people who align with my values, we pull our resources together and just help each other out. That’s the key thing for me.”

“I think at the end of the year when I graduate, I’ll be really sad to be finished… though I envision when I walk across that stage I’m gonna raise my fist and go, ‘YEAH! I did it.'”

During Sharon’s first year of uni, she was introduced to TurtleCare Sunshine Coast, a community-based citizen science program coordinated through Sunshine Coast Council that monitors and protects nesting marine turtles.

“The work they did really spoke to me, so I signed up as a volunteer straightaway,” she says.

“One day, Kate Hofmeister who runs TurtleCare approached me and said, ‘Why don’t you do your student placement through us?’ It was perfect, it felt so natural and I felt I was doing something truly important.”

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