Aayushi Khillan, 19, has won the Youth Champion Award in the prestigious 2020 Melbourne Awards.
She was felicitated for her work in the health and education fields to support the Melbourne community during COVID-19.
A scholarship-winning BioMed student at the University of Melbourne, Aayushi was also one of the youngest awardees recently in the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Australian Asians 2020. She was recognised for her work in the education sector.
Before this, she became the youngest Australian ever selected for a governmental board when she was appointed to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) at the age of 18.
Clearly, the young lady has many firsts to her name. And yet, like another South Asian who has recently been in the news, she is determined to ensure that she is not the last.
“I do really live by Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris’ words,” Aayushi told Indian Link. “I may be the first to do a lot of things, but I certainly do not wish to be the last. I want to empower more young people to do even better than I am so they can create an even better world and I plan to continue my work by supporting and empowering others.”
Aayushi Khillan’s innate gumption and willingness to push for a change has always held her in good stead, whether she is out to win validation in a boardroom or shining light on issues that affect her fellow millennials.
Aayushi considers her appointment to the VCAA Board as one of her best learning opportunities that have significantly broadened her horizons, developing her skills to a point where her input was both recognised and valued.
“In High School, we learn how to be leaders amongst our peers. VCAA, however, helped me to grow as a person and be a strong leader among leaders,” revealed Aayushi.
The VCAA is a statutory authority primarily accountable to the Minister for Education and the Minister for Training and Skills, serving both government and non-government schools. It develops and implements the curriculum and assessment from Early Learning to VCE.
Aayushi’s experience there provided a more nuanced understanding of resources available to Victorian schools.
“My role is to act as a conduit between the students and the Board,” she explained. “I can speak directly to students to establish what challenges and struggles they are facing, what changes are required and to see if the changes made are sufficient and effective.”
In this COVID-dominated year, the VCAA implemented measures like reduced content for Year 12 students, delayed exams, ongoing support and online modules for teachers and more considerations for students.
Besides her work with VCAA, Aayushi contributed to health and education as the executive officer for Bodyworks, a not-for-profit organisation. She visited primary schools to engage and motivate children and teach them about health. She is currently also involved in a committee that will introduce a pandemic module in alignment with the school curriculum.
“I am passionate for school curriculums to focus on life skills to prepare students for the real world, by providing them with strategies to survive a pandemic as well as deal with mental health issues that may follow.”
Aayushi lists technology overload, isolation from friends and inactivity as the biggest challenges young people have faced during the pandemic.
“Health has been so unpredictable during this time that it is crucial that the next generation is prepared and equipped to prevent future pandemics,” she explained.
She herself has taken pains to be organised, planning in advance and taking time out, at least once a week, to relax and pursue her interest in photography.
“2020 has been a tough year for all of us and I also had a lot to balance. I struggled with university work, meetings, tutoring and it was not easy, however, I am so passionate and happy with what I do that it never felt like a burden,” she said with characteristic enthusiasm.
Aayushi credits her father Dr Raj Khillan for providing her with the inspiration to achieve and her mother Dr Preeti Khillan for providing her stability. She was grateful to both for their ongoing encouragement, and to her younger sister for being a source of inspiration and innovation.
“But really, participation has always been the key,” she mused. “I would highly recommend that young people work in team settings, volunteer, join university clubs and share insights if they aspire to be leaders or change-makers.”