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What it's like going to uni with your mum

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Mother and son Sharon and Maxwell Swaney were a proud double act graduating this year
with honours in Science from Curtin University.

Maxwell Swaney studied psychology while mum Sharon majored in health promotion.
According to Maxwell, it took a little while for him to come to terms with having a parent
studying at the same time.

“When Mum first told me I was like hey uni is my stomping ground but the truth is it turned
out to be a great experience especially as we both did honours.

“We went through a lot of the same processes despite studying different things.
“It’s definitely brought us closer,” he said.

Sharon agrees.

“Maxwell initially thought uni was his thing and for the first few years we did not see much of
each other on campus while he grew up a bit. But ultimately it was very positive and we
realised we had mutual friends and we understood each other’s journey and pressure.”

“As we both progressed we had much more interesting conversations and Maxwell would
say come and meet my friends.”

Mother and son would meet for coffee and lunch at popular student meeting places Hot Stuff
and Angazi with the bonus that Maxwell would get a free feed.

Sharon had always wanted to go to uni but did not have the opportunity when she was
younger. A year after Maxwell enrolled she decided to go for it.

“I thought I can do it too, it’s not just for young people,” Sharon said.

“It was very challenging but I really enjoyed it and I got on well with all the young people.
“All the years fall away when you are working with people who are passionate. When you
are learning it doesn’t matter about your age,” she said.

Sharon, who had the added challenge of going through a divorce when she was first
enrolled, said Curtin provided a positive focus at a difficult time in her personal life.

Was there rivalry between the two?

“If there was any competition I would lose,” Maxwell laughed. “Mum is on the Vice
Chancellor’s list which each semester recognises the university’s top students across all

“We are not really like that, I think we just want the best for each other,” said Sharon. “I really
admire the way Maxwell balances his life so well.”

Studying in different schools meant there was less chance of taking the same units but
during third year a shared elective saw the duo scrambling to make sure they were not in the
same class.

“The unit was sexology and we both agreed it couldn’t happen. We have a great relationship
but that would have been asking too much,” said Sharon.

While they never took the class together, Maxwell seized the moment and developed a skit
“studying sexology with my mum” which he performed at an Open Mic Comedy competition
at Curtin’s iconic Tavern to an audience that included Sharon.

Maxwell, a 2017 Guild counsellor, said one of the things he loved about Curtin was the
opportunity to represent students.

“Whether it was fighting funding cuts or interacting with other students and hearing their
stories it was a great experience,” he said.

Maxwell is hoping to work as a school psychologist after he completes a post graduate
diploma this year.

Meanwhile Sharon is pursuing new opportunities in health promotion and is the Deputy Chair
of the Immunisation Alliance of WA.

“Studying at Curtin changed the direction of our family’s future. My niece was the first person
in our family to graduate from university and now Maxwell and I have.

“I am really pleased with my achievement but I am twice as proud of my son,” said Sharon.

Read the WA Today article about Maxwell and Sharon here!