Helen Sham-Ho Prize winner overcame the odds to graduate

17 Jun 2019

Rachel Pearson, winner of the Helen Sham-Ho prize, receiving her certificate from Mr Ian Tam

For Rachel Pearson, graduating from UNSW Arts & Social Sciences in 2018 with a Bachelor of Social Work was a huge achievement – it was 16 years in the making.

She started at UNSW back in 2002 but, due to ill health, had to withdraw after one semester. It’s a testament to her love of learning and dedication to study that, after suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome for seven years, she returned to UNSW in 2011 to take up where she left off.

Ms Pearson’s tremendous efforts and hard work were recognised at the Faculty’s annual awards and prizes ceremony on 6 June, when she was awarded the Helen Sham-Ho Prize for best performance for Bachelor of Social Work.

“I am honoured to receive this prize, as it’s recognition of the opportunities I had while at UNSW and the successes I was able to achieve. I am very grateful to the donor Helen Sham-Ho and her family for making this prize possible – it allows me to share my achievements with my family, who supported me throughout this long journey” she said.

Ms Pearson credited the unfailing support of her family as well as UNSW School of Social Sciences academics in helping her to succeed.

“During my time at UNSW, the encouragement I received from teaching staff motivated me to challenge myself, think originally and dream big. I believe the UNSW Social Work program is of extremely high quality, and it has made me a well-rounded social worker,” she said.

Ms Pearson now works at the Hornsby Child & Youth Mental Health Service where, she said, she has a very rewarding, but often intense, job dealing with the needs of children from ages 0 to 18.

Donor of the prize Dr Helen Sham-Ho OAM is Australia’s first Chinese-born parliamentarian and former New South Wales Legislative Council member. Dr Sham-Ho is a strong proponent of education and has been sponsoring Australian university prizes for more than 20 years.

“I want to help students who might be disadvantaged and struggling at university; I struggled when I started out.”

Dr Sham-Ho said one of the best things about being awarded a university prize for a student is that it will make them stand out and above their peers.

“When it comes to getting a job, the prize will help you get that position, even if there are many applicants. It can be the difference between making the shortlist and getting the job.

“Students need to be encouraged to be high achievers. And if they receive an academic prize, it will open many doors for them and encourage them to go even further.”

Read the full list of UNSW Arts & Social Sciences Awards and Prizes (PDF) 2019.