When Lee Hunt talks about the chemistry and nurturing he’s experienced at UWA, you can be sure he knows what he’s talking about.
A proud advocate for alternative medicines such as cannabis and psilocybin (the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’), Lee has put 20 years as a professional chef partly on hold as he pursues majors at UWA in Agricultural Science and Pharmacology as a mature age student.
As a native Canadian, Lee observed clear changes in social attitudes in his home country towards the use and utility of these plants some 20 years ago. And after working in Australia for many years as a head chef, he revisited his home country in 2018 to witness Canada’s historical legalisation of cannabis, and was torn whether to return there more permanently.
With a mortgage and four beautiful Russian Blue cats back home in Perth, and the COVID-19 pandemic hitting, however, a new chance arose: the Federal Government reduced the costs of various degrees by 62%, including those such as UWA’s major in Agricultural Science, and Lee’s stars aligned.
He decided it was time to become a mature age student and learn more about his passions from the ground up – both how to grow them, and how and why they affect human cognition.
“I was enthused to find that the Agricultural Science program at UWA was one of the best, if not the best, in Australia,” Lee says. “Once I saw the campus, I knew I had made the right decision.”
“Initially I just wanted to learn how to grow them and find work in the horticultural space. It was not until I started my first semester that I realised not only was I passionate about learning I was also passionate about passing on the knowledge.
“At this point I would like to be heavily involved in research, testing and cultivars. I would like to do a PhD and hopefully pass on my knowledge to future students.”
There have been challenges along the way, of course. While the pandemic may have forced the Government’s hand in reducing some education fees, it also forced Lee to make a decision: how could he best combine work to pay his mortgage and study to feed his mind.
“I was accepted into UWA the same week that the hospitality sector re-opened but I wasn’t prepared for how demanding full-time study was going to be,” he recalls.
“I continued working full-time thinking I could juggle both. I found out very quickly that the demands of being a Head Chef did not allow me the time required for study so I decided that I would do my best while squirreling away a financial safety net.”
Lee’s hard work paid off. He gave his employer four weeks’ notice, which left him two weeks to cram for his final exams – something he says he couldn’t have done without UWA’s Study Smarter program.
He has a message for others who are weighing up whether to return to study after a long time in the workforce: “The support that UWA offers makes it possible for anyone to go back to studying,” he says.
“Be prepared to do the hard work, it is not easy. Make sure you are in the right place to give studying your all. It’s taken me a long time to get here, but it’s well worth every struggle I have faced along the way!”
When Lee’s not volunteering at UWA’s glasshouses, he might be seen running from the UWA campus to Jacob’s Ladder, up it, and back to campus again. He also acts as an on-call Rescue Skipper every Saturday for his local Volunteer Marine Rescue – “It gives me an outlet to do something different and contribute to the local community in a positive way” – and has recently taken up sailing and joined his local yacht club.
Find out more about UWA’s majors in Agricultural Science and Pharmacology today.