Box Hill Institute – Free TAFE student success story

David’s story: from IT professional to award-winning horticulture student

Certificate III Horticulture student David (right) accepts the Box Hill Institute Vocational Student of the Year Award presented by the Rotary Club of Camberwell.

After an extensive career as an Information Technology professional, David found a new purpose as an award-winning horticultural student, thanks to Box Hill Institute (BHI) and Free-TAFE.

David always had an interest in horticulture and attributes this passion to his younger years.

“I come from an Italian family and Dad had his own gardening business, so I have great memories of helping him out with that when I was young.”

“Gardening, nature and the environment are things that I use to unwind and relax.”

Having grown tired of office life, David decided to pursue his passion for nature and gardening by volunteering at CERES, an environmental education centre and community garden in Melbourne.

Spurred on by advice from his CERES colleagues and his partner—a BHI graduate in Commercial Cookery—David enrolled in a Certificate III in Horticulture through the Victorian Government’s Free-TAFE program.

“I decided I should get some formal qualifications and everyone I spoke to, including those at CERES, were very positive about BHI and its programs.”

“I learnt about the Free-TAFE initiative from my partner. It assured me as I was returning to formal study for the first time in many years and embarking on something completely new.”

Returning to BHI’s Lilydale Campus as a mature-age student, David found the experience both enriching and invigorating, and he was impressed by the diverse student group and the enthusiasm of the teachers.

“There was a great mix of ages, experience and motivations amongst the students and staff and I have made many friendships from my time there.”

“The teachers have lots of experience and were always approachable and friendly when sharing their knowledge.”

David’s dedication did not go unnoticed by his teachers, and he was nominated for and subsequently won the BHI Vocational Student of the Year.

David’s teacher, Russell Fox, said he was a worthy winner of the award.

“The award was a testament to David’s hard work and his passion for the course as well as his outstanding leadership and communication skills,” said Mr Fox.

“He took pride in guiding younger students through the challenging parts of the course, and his maturity and relationship management skills shone through when leading projects.”

David said the award was, “surprising”, but attributed his success to the staff and students around him.

“Working with other like-minded students and teachers who have a passion for horticulture is what motivated me to make the most of my year at BHI.”

Since graduating, David’s life has taken on a new and fulfilling direction. He continued his involvement with CERES and has additionally established his own small gardening business.

David began a full-time role as a gardener with a local council, a position that aligns perfectly with his passion for horticulture.

Reflecting on his journey, David said, “Gardening, plants and the outdoors have always been a source of relaxation and joy for me.”

“I’m grateful that Box Hill Institute and the Free TAFE initiative provided me with the formal education and the support I needed to turn this passion into a full-time career.”

For more information on Free-TAFE at Box Hill Institute, visit