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Bearded young man standing under sandstone pillars in UQ Great Court

Kieren shows there is more than one pathway to success

UQ people
Published 17 Apr, 2024  ·  4 mins

Gudjuul and Wik Mungkan man, Kieren Marr has always gravitated towards community initiatives, showing his natural flair for making connections. Throughout his professional career, Kieren has shown that he doesn’t shy away from a new experience and that he makes the most of any journey. 

Growing up in Charters Towers and Cairns alongside his three younger siblings, Kieren has always been supported by family and involved in his surrounding community. His main supporter, his mum Jocelyn, hoped he would pursue university after high school. However, much to her dismay and despite his academic success at the time, Kieren had other interests sparked by “a good mate’s” aspiration to join the armed forces, leading him to enlist in the Australian Army in April 2009.  

Comically, Kieren recalled undergoing aptitude testing alongside his friend, who would later join the military, but not until 2022, after Kieren had already served 12 years. Kieren added that his decision to pursue a military career was influenced not only by his friend but also by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in his community and family who have served and continue to serve in the armed forces. 

Although Jocelyn had initial reservations, she embraced her son's chosen path. As Kieren recounted, smiling, “at first she absolutely hated the idea of me joining the army ... once she got my professional photos from my time at basic training it was hung on our wall at home and it wasn’t a small frame mind you, so eventually she thought it was great.” 

Black and white military portrait
Kieren Marr, Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps Australian Army, 25 April 2015. Photograph by Belinda Mason from Serving Country Exhibition.

In 2016, Kieren worked in a special Indigenous recruiting team where he says he experienced a “corporate environment” for the first time and was able to harness his natural talent for community outreach and engagement. This professional transition not only opened new avenues for Kieren but also facilitated significant connections. During his time on the recruiting road, he crossed paths with Raqual Nutley, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit (ATSISU) Manager at The University of Queensland (UQ), and Robyn Donnelly, the ATSISU Outreach and Engagement Team Leader. Unbeknownst to him, this encounter would help pave the way for a rewarding career in higher education.  

By 2019, Kieren was posted at The Soldier Recovery Center (SRC) at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane, aiding programs that rehabilitate soldiers back into their workspace or prepare them for medical discharge.  

As he said, this experience “was a bit of an eye-opening space” that expanded his interest in helping others and led to investigating higher education pathways. 

It was in September 2022, that Kieren eagerly accepted a Senior Outreach and Engagement Officer position with the ATSISU at UQ, alongside Raqual and Robyn. While fulfilling his desire to work within the community, Kieren initially found transitioning to “a civilian” role challenging, admitting it was a significant adjustment that left him feeling on edge. Despite the difficulty of leaving behind the tight-knit community of Defence for the broader realm of higher education, he gradually adapted and flourished professionally and personally. 

He reflected on his transformation, saying that “moving on to UQ was challenging and I had some bad days but, ultimately, the support, the team, all of the staff in the Division since I’ve been here have been amazing ... after a while I found myself calming down ... I didn’t have to get my haircut and I didn’t have to shave, that was the best part.” 

No matter how large or small the team, or how remote or central the workplace, Kieren continues to find his place and thrive in relationship-building roles. In 2023, he started as Principal Indigenous Employment Advisor for the UQ Indigenous Engagement Division, where he continues to support others and make connections around campus and in the broader community. 

“I got really lucky with an amazing workplace; the higher education sector wasn’t somewhere I thought I’d end up but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and feel as though I can go pretty far here,” he said. 

And though Jocelyn will always be proud of her son, she’ll be excited to know that he hopes to begin his master's in business administration (MBA) at UQ, thus completing a university degree after all.  

As Kieren suggests, “you don’t have to have it all worked out” to get where you want to go.  

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