Top students celebrated at Bendigo TAFE

A rural nurse, an advocate for multicultural services and a former refugee have been recognised amongst Bendigo TAFE’s top students.

More than 40 awards were presented at Bendigo TAFE’s annual Industry Excellence Awards ceremony last night.

Bendigo TAFE CEO Sally Curtain said the ceremony was an opportunity to recognise the achievements, hard work and commitment of students and their educators. 

“Our award winners and nominees have demonstrated excellence and dedication within their respective fields, and many of them have overcome person challenges to do so,” Ms Curtain said.

“But they have not achieved these results alone, our teachers and staff have supported these truly remarkable individuals through the course of their education.”

With Bendigo TAFE also celebrating 150 years of tertiary education in Bendigo this year, Ms Curtain said the awards reflect the critical role of TAFE as a long-standing provider of skills and training within the community.

“With a long and rich history in this thriving community, Bendigo TAFE has helped to create opportunities for the region through high-quality training,” Ms Curtain said.

“We work closely with industry partners and the Victorian Government to ensure training at Bendigo TAFE is aligned to current and future industry and local needs.

“The achievements of this year’s award winners are testament to the important role of TAFE and the positive impact of vocational education and training within our community.”

Bendigo TAFE’s overall Student of the Year Award was presented to two students, including Diploma of Nursing (HLT54121) graduate Taylah Firmer and Diploma of Community Services (CHC52015) graduate Pinar Teker.

Taylah Firmer transitioned into the health sector after working for some time in retail.

“I chose to do nursing as I wanted to help people through some of their most vulnerable moments in life,” Taylah said.

Pursuing a new path wasn’t easy for Taylah. Rural living meant that Taylah travelled almost two hours each way to campus and clinical placements, all while juggling responsibility as a guardian for her younger brother.

A new challenge emerged during the Victorian floods in October last year, which left Taylah without a car and with a damaged house.

“It was such a scary time. The community around me lost their homes, livelihood and farms. Bendigo TAFE was in direct communication with me every day to ensure my safety, check if I needed help with assignments, as well as facilitate alternatives to campus learning so I wouldn’t fall behind,” she said,

“With daily support from my TAFE teachers, I was able to adapt to remote learning and complete all required work to go on my final placement.”

Currently working in two rural hospitals as an enrolled nurse, Taylah said her newfound career has changed her life for the better.

“Being exposed to the invaluable mentorship and education not only from our TAFE teachers, but clinical support nurses on placements, has impacted and truly inspired me,” said Taylah, who has also applied for a dual bachelor’s degree in paramedicine and nursing.

“Nursing is a profession that constantly challenges you, educates you, provides you with diversity, rewards, flexibility and keeps you on your toes, and to me that is very important when considering what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

An advocate for multicultural services, Pinar Teker’s personal experience as a mature-age migrant to Australia and survivor of domestic violence led her onto the path of community services.

“It took me quite a long time to get back on my feet and along the way I met quite a few people who shared the same challenges,” she said.

“When you look at our experiences, there seems to have been a lack of communication and connection with the community, as well as misunderstandings. I would like to be a part of a path that reduces these barriers, so that we have happy and productive people in our community.”

Family was a key motivator throughout Pinar’s diploma studies, with supportive classmates also an important part of her journey.   

“As a single mother of two dependent children, working part-time and studying was not so easy, yet my children have always been my reason to get up every morning,” she said.

“I do not see myself as a special person in any way. Most of my classmates had equally challenging times. We always supported each other when needed.”

Armed with new skills and a qualification, Pinar is currently employed as a Redress Advocate with Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, working to reduce barriers to service accessibility experienced by people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

“I started working as a Job Mentor and supported people from CALD communities to gain employment. Now, I work as a Redress Advocate and I would like to carry that approach and do my best for people who apply to the Redress Scheme,” she said.

“When I first decided to study community services, all I had in my mind was to help people, particularly migrant women.

“I am able to help people now. I am able to apply my life experience in a positive and productive way. I am happy now and I hope I can make others happy.”

Other awards presented at the event include:

Apprentice of the Year:

Tia Webb

Tia attended university to learn to be an educator but found herself drawn to the world of beauty and hairdressing. She decided to take on a hairdressing apprenticeship, challenging herself further by competing in the 2022 WorldSkills Australia Central Victorian Regional Competition, clinching a bronze medal.

Tia overcame numerous challenges during her studies, including falling behind on practical training due to pandemic lockdowns in Victoria. Unfazed, Tia teamed up with other Bendigo TAFE students across different levels to practice and complete tasks after restrictions lifted. A change of employers midway through her apprenticeship also disrupted Tia’s training. Tia worked closely with her educators and employer to catch up and eventually completed the Certificate III in Hairdressing (SHB30416) ahead of time.


Aunty Melva Johnson Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year:

Jodii Geddes

"I want to empower, encourage and create passion for our mob to complete a training qualification. If I can do it at my age, so can they.”

Aged 52, Jodii has worked in youth, education and community sectors and embraces several leadership roles, including director for First Australians Media Enterprises and board member for two organisations. Having noticed a lack of First Nations trainers within the sectors she worked in, Jodii chose to enrol in Bendigo TAFE’s Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116) customised for First Nations learners. She wanted to become a trainer so that her mob could choose to be trained by their mob, and she wanted to be able to support other First Nations people to achieve formal qualifications.

Completing the course meant juggling competing priorities, including studying two other courses, work and carer responsibilities for her son and mother. The juggle even meant that she was attending class remotely from her parked car once a week.  

With her training and assessment course close to completion, Jodii is looking forward to further studies and has enrolled in a governance course this year.

Inspirational Student of the Year:

Shee Lay Bell Po

Growing up in a refugee camp, Shee Lay watched her mother help others as a nurse and dreamt of pursuing a career of her own in health.

After moving to Australia at age 11, Shee Lay focused on learning English and completing secondary schooling. During this time, Shee Lay became a young mother but managed to stay on top of her studies, completing the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL).

Upon moving to Bendigo with her family, Shee Lay decided to enrol in the Certificate III in Pathology (HLT37215) at Bendigo TAFE to fulfil her aspirations. English language was once again a barrier, with complex medical terms now a major part of her course. Shee Lay devoted extra time to look up the definition of words, taking the initiative to ask teachers and classmates for help if needed.

Since completing her course, Shee Lay has secured full-time employment as a pathology collector at Melbourne Pathology, a role she achieved after a one-week work placement during her studies. 


Trainee of the Year:

Megan Drew

“I never thought of myself in a business environment when it came to jobs. Now I have all these opportunities ahead of me.”

Having previously struggled in a school environment, Megan chose to pursue the Certificate III in Business (BSB30120) at Bendigo TAFE to challenge herself. Completing her qualification as a trainee employed in childcare administration has enabled Megan to apply skills from TAFE directly within her workplace, enhancing her learning and adding value to her role.

Megan has recently secured a job as a result of her training and is looking forward to building a successful career with her newfound skills.


Full list of awards and sponsors:


·         VETDSS Student of the Year: Carpentry (Bendigo)

Sponsor: Milwaukee Tools

Macie Free

·         VETDSS Student of the Year: Carpentry (Echuca)

Sponsor: Crescent Tools

Zac Marini

·         VETDSS Student of the Year: Electrical

Sponsor: Middy’s Electrical

Lachlan Harris

·         VETDSS Student of the Year: Engineering

Sponsor: Apex Tools

Walter Kervin

·         School-based Apprentice of the Year


Alister Semmler

·         Pre-apprentice of the Year: Electrical

Sponsor: Middy’s Electrical

Jackson Vukovic

·         T.J.B Connor Trust Memorial Award (Engineering)

Sponsor: T.J.B Connor Trust

Bradley Daily



·         Alice Anderson Award

Sponsor: Tradeswomen Australia

Georgia Watson



·         Outstanding Certificate III in Barbering

Sponsor: Kings Domain Barber Shop

Josh Taylor

·         Outstanding Certificate III in Hairdressing

Sponsor: Excellent Edges

Kylie Cook

·         Outstanding Certificate III in Beauty

Sponsors: My Hair and Crown Brush Australia

Georgia Devenish

·         Outstanding Diploma of Beauty Therapy

Sponsors: Algologie, Dermalogica and Lycon

Tullia Bennett

·         Outstanding Diploma of Graphic Design

Sponsor: ArchiTech

Talesha Jones


·         Outstanding Diploma of Nursing

Sponsor: La Trobe University

Marisabel Bonet-Cruz

·         Jan Lorimer Memorial Award

Sponsor: Jan Lorimer Trust

Shee Lay Bell Po



·         Trainee of the Year: Veterinary Nursing

Sponsor: Apiam Animal Health

Nicole Ferreira

·         Bendigo TAFE Trainee of the Year

Sponsor: CVGT

Megan Drew



·         Aunty Melva Johnson Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year

Sponsor: Be.Bendigo

Jodii Geddes

·         Bendigo TAFE Inspirational Student of the Year

Sponsor: Agnico Eagle Fosterville Gold Mine

Shee Lay Bell Po



·         Apprentice of the Year: Agricultural Automotive (Key Client)

Sponsor: AGCO

Mitchell Nicholas

·         Apprentice of the Year: Bakery

Sponsor: Good Loaf Sour Dough Bakery

Georgina Dimitriou

·         Apprentice of the Year: Barbering

Sponsor: Haircare Group

Paul Finna

·         Apprentice of the Year: Bricklaying and Blocklaying

Sponsor: Brick and Block Careers

Ben Case

·         Apprentice of the Year: Construction

Sponsor: Milwaukee Tools

Darcy McKinley

·         Apprentice of the Year: Construction and Industrial

Sponsor: Bendigo TAFE

Darcy McKinley

·         Apprentice of the Year: Electrical

Sponsor: Energy Safe Victoria

Matt Newbold

·         Apprentice of the Year: Engineering (Fabrication)

Sponsor: Ai Group

Warwick Pelly

·         Apprentice of the Year: Engineering (Mechanical) / Jack McPhail Award

Sponsor: McPhail Family Trust

Kyle Nelson

·         Apprentice of the Year: Wall and Floor Tiling

Sponsor: FXD

Clayton Atkins

·         Apprentice of the Year: Hairdressing

Sponsor: Pivot Point

Tia Webb

·         Apprentice of the Year: Heavy Vehicle

Sponsor: Bendigo TAFE

Max A’vard

·         Apprentice of the Year: Landscape Construction

Sponsor: Macdonalds Nursery

Daniel Mummery

·         Apprentice of the Year: Light Vehicle

Sponsor: Bendigo TAFE

Joshua Soutter

·         Apprentice of the Year: Electrical Machine Repair


Jake Sandall

·         Apprentice of the Year: Painting and Decorating

Sponsor: Norton

Kilby Todd

·         Apprentice of the Year: Plumbing

Sponsor: Reece Plumbing

Hugo Ziolkowski

·         Apprentice of the Year: Air-conditioning and Refrigeration

Sponsor: Crescent Tools

Marcus Warn

·         Apprentice of the Year: Wall and Ceiling Lining

Sponsor: Total Tools Bendigo

Thomas Cleary

·         Bendigo TAFE Apprentice of the Year

Sponsor: Bendigo Outdoor Power Equipment

Tia Webb



·         Student of the Year: Animal Studies

Sponsor: Fish and Feathers

Ashlee Polter

·         Student of the Year: Community

Sponsor: La Trobe University

Pinar Teker

·         Student of the Year: Companion Animal Services

Sponsor: Nighthaven Empowered Learning

Jasmine Moule

·         Student of the Year: Construction and Industrial

Sponsor: Bendigo TAFE

Jack Milic

·         Student of the Year: Health

Sponsor: Bendigo Health

Taylah Firmer

·         Student of the Year: Horticulture

Sponsor: Coolabah Turf

Natalie Von Wirtz-Matthews

·         Student of the Year: Laboratory Techniques

Sponsor: MSD Australia

Jacqueline Combe

·         Student of the Year: Veterinary Nursing

Sponsor: ZebraVet

Nadine Robertson

·         Bendigo TAFE Student of the Year

Sponsor: City of Greater Bendigo

Pinar Teker and Taylah Firmer

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