Pursuing a Master of Counselling, Sasha Miloslavskaya was led by more than just academic excellence – it was the quest for an inclusive and warm community that drove her. In her endeavour to juggle full-time work commitments with study, Sasha found the perfect fit at Excelsia College. The appeal was found in weekend classes and face-to-face learning within a relational and human-centered course, marking the commencement of her academic journey.


‘Being at Excelsia felt like home. I really enjoyed being both a student and a staff member. Excelsia has a wonderful atmosphere; one always feels supported, heard, and loved. The spirit of Excelsia is that of generosity, kindness, inclusiveness, and possibility. I have made friends for life and met many like-minded people, amongst both students and staff. I miss Excelsia dearly and look forward to the opportunity to give back in any way I can, when I can.’


When describing Excelsia, Sasha uses the words ‘future, love, and friendship’, emphasising the unique qualities of Excelsia College, including smaller class sizes and the different journeys each student undertakes. Studying counselling encourages individuals to assess not only others but also themselves, fostering vulnerability – a lesson Sasha holds tightly. ‘The most important thing I have learned was that it’s okay to ask for help. I have also learned that it is important to have the right support – people you can depend on in your life. And last, but not least, I learned the value of friendship and treating people with kindness.’


Since graduating, Sasha has established a private practice and founded HERE4U Counselling & Psychotherapy, dedicated to helping those in need of guidance and support, particularly from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Identifying as a CALD therapist, Sasha purposefully offers a sliding scale to assist those less fortunate and takes pro-bono cases when appropriate.


It is evident that Sasha has a genuine passion for meaningful work. ‘I would love to find a rewarding job where people are what matters, and a person-centered approach leads the way. My dream is to have a rewarding job helping children and young people learn about who they are and how they can feel safe and regulated in everyday life,’ she explains.


Reflecting on her time at Excelsia, Sasha finds it challenging to pinpoint one defining moment, given her roles as a student, employee, and counselling intern. ‘My experience at Excelsia was so important, so valuable, and so fulfilling. I have belonged to the Excelsia family in different capacities, and within all these roles, I have always felt loved and supported. I feel like I want to give a special mention to the student lounge area – for such a small college, Excelsia went out of its way to make students feel relaxed, at ease, and able to balance work and play.’


Excelsia thrives on making sure our students feel at home and supported, so why not explore our Graduate Diploma of Counselling and Master of Counselling and start your journey today? *hyperlink the courses*


Caption: Excelsia’s spirit, rooted in generosity, kindness, inclusiveness, and boundless possibilities, became the drive for Sasha’s pursuit of a Master of Counselling. Now, as a dedicated therapist and founder of HERE4U Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sasha extends her passion for meaningful work, focusing on aiding culturally diverse communities. Her commitment to offering a helping hand is a testament to her time at Excelsia.

Excelsia college News | Sasha Miloslavskaya’s Inspiring Journey at Excelsia College

Luke Edward Smith undertook a diverse educational journey at Excelsia College, commencing with a Bachelor of Theology in 2004. However, midway through his studies, he transitioned to a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama) and successfully graduated in 2007. 


Expressing initial uncertainty about his path, Luke shares, ‘I was drawn to theology but wasn’t entirely sure where it would lead. Having enjoyed drama in high school, the unique blend of creative arts at Excelsia intrigued me. I harboured a hope of getting involved artistically at some point, and Excelsia seemed like the perfect place for that to happen organically.’ 


Describing his time at Excelsia College, Luke characterises it as a blend of ‘faith, fun, and growth.’ The Student Centre and grassy knoll served as a central hub for students, fostering a sense of community and belonging. ‘It was always a very welcoming and inclusive place to study, with everyone being encouraging and supportive. The Gathering was also a great place to see the other departments do their thing.’ 


Luke fondly recalls the late-night rehearsals and show preparations as the highlights of his college days. ‘There was something exciting about knowing we were about to open a production and being in the car park late, chatting before we went home. The creative excitement and nerves and that feeling of having come together and created something with like-minded people.’ 


Post-graduation, Luke, along with some peers, founded Twisted Tree Theatre, a venture well-supported by the College and the Head of Drama. Reflecting on this experience, Luke notes, ‘It was incredibly well supported by the College and by the Head of Drama at the time. I think after working at our craft for three years, it was a tremendous stepping stone to producing and exploring work outside of a classroom environment. I think the discipline I learned during our study was really cemented when we were creating theatre together afterwards.’ 


In his current role as an actor in New York City and as actor, director, writer, and producer for Primitive Grace Theater Ensemble, Luke still uses the diverse skills acquired during his Excelsia days. Collaborating with other companies and film productions, he remains active in the performing arts. Luke was credited this year on ‘Playbill’ for his show at the Gene Frankel Theater with his ongoing work at the Actors Studio.  


Luke acknowledges Excelsia’s impact on countless lives and hopes for its enduring spirit. ‘The friendships I made and the training I received will stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope the spirit of the College endures and that the students coming through are able to enjoy their time there as much as I did.’  

Excelsia College News | From Theology to Theatre Luke Edward Smith's Transformative Journey at Excelsia College

In 1999, Excelsia College was the only Christian college in Australia offering graphic design degree courses. Erica Brooks was looking for a learning environment that offered her the ability to earn real world qualifications whilst studying graphic design in a faith-based environment. Enter Excelsia College which ticked all the boxes! For Erica, she got to immerse herself fully in the College experience as she studied on site at Excelsia College’s old Drummoyne campus and lived in student housing in Leichhardt. ‘I have a tonne of fond memories! One of my favourite aspects was just how interdisciplinary we all were. All the departments mixed, we all knew each other, and there were so many opportunities to explore, express and develop different aspects of our creativity without feeling limited to one discipline. It was an enormously creative, collaborative environment’, explains Erica.  Erica uses the words ‘earnest, revolutionary and exceptional’ to describe her experience at Excelsia. ‘The College was earnest in that it was founded on deep, authentic belief. This belief wasn’t just founded in God, but in the idea that creative individuals had a valuable place in Christian ministry – and this permeated college culture.’ Excelsia College’s founders David and Marianna Johnston helped to shape this special culture and still hold a special place in Erica’s heart. ‘This couple had ambitious vision, charismatic leadership, passion, and tenacity. The fact Excelsia exists in Australia is due to the pioneering work they did in this field, creating a place for Christian liberal arts education in Australia where there was no previous tradition or history in the country. What they achieved was so impressive, and the learning environment they built was unique.’  


Excelsia College offered built-in theological components to their art degrees which included a year of Old Testament Survey, a year of New Testament Survey, and a year of Biblical Exegesis. ‘There were historical photos on the walls that charted the journey of Excelsia from its inception to the iteration I experienced. It evolved and developed over the years, and it was cool being part of that history’, says Erica.  As a relatively small Christian liberal arts college, Erica believes the College was exceptional in terms of the quality of teaching staff and calibre of the courses. ‘The lecturers and educators in the arts and design faculty were practitioners with their own successful careers and many also taught at Sydney’s most prestigious design schools.’ Erica continues, ‘Our design training was robust and practical enough for me and many of my classmates to confidently transition into contract work in our final year, which was a great start to professional working life.’ Erica found the human-centred, design thinking approach they were taught in class was applicable in multiple fields and industries, not just graphic design. ‘As part of my design history and theory training, I was introduced to critical thinking for the first time, and it revolutionised how I interacted and engaged with the world.’  During her time at Excelsia, Erica also experienced two big philosophical shifts, including learning to compete with herself instead of with others and embracing play and failure. ‘Coming from the standardised schooling system, I’d been raised to seek and compete for high marks. As I entered my third year of College, I made a conscious decision to leave that practice behind in favour of focusing on doing work I could genuinely say I was proud of – that became the goal. To my immense surprise, high marks were a byproduct. It continues to be a liberatory approach’, reflects Erica. 


Since finishing her studies in 2001, Erica has gone on to have a career that has taken her all over the world, working in design, marketing, startups, event production, film and media production, media analysis, research, communications, and executive management. She now works for a government innovation agency in Aotearoa, New Zealand as an employee experience designer. ‘I utilise participatory design to build a community driven organisational culture focused around wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion’, explains Erica. Whilst Erica’s life has led her outside the Christian faith, she remains grateful for her college education experience. ‘I hope every Excelsia student has educational experiences as formative and rich as my own.’  Excelsia College is proud to foster creativity in its students and is proud of the journeys our graphic design alumni have gone on. If you want to join a life-transforming institution, then Excelsia College is the place for you. Check out our course offerings on our website https://excelsia.edu.au/ 

Excelsia College News | Erica Brooks - A winning combination of faith and creativity

George Zhao studied the Bachelor of Dramatic Art at Excelsia College and graduated in 2015. He’s been determined to pave a way in the acting industry and landed his breakout role as Andrew Law in SBS TV’s drama-comedy series The Family Law in 2016.


He also won the Rising Star Award at the Casting Guild of Australia (CGA) in 2018 and an MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) Best Ensemble Cast for comedy for his role in The Family Law. He’s also acted in the film Runaway Millionaires in 2019.


For George, it was a chance encounter in even finding out about Excelsia College (then Wesley Institute), after coming across the campus during a visit with a chaplain he was working for at the time. After deciding that Excelsia was the right fit for him, George enrolled in the Bachelor of Dramatic Art and was able to develop an in-depth insight into acting within a supportive and caring environment. ‘My lecturers didn’t shy away from the harshness of the industry that I would be going into.’


Through the guidance of his peers and teachers, George undertook a lot of self-discovery. ‘I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Excelsia was the perfect place to cultivate crafts.’ Excelsia College endeavors to know its students by name and not by number and George appreciated this close-knit community. ‘The classes were small and frequent and allowed me to develop strong relationships with my classmates. Eventually I saw my classmates as more than my family; they shared my worries, joys and passions.’


George describes Excelsia as ‘hopeful, community and love’. He continues, ‘The fact that Excelsia still stands as a recognised beacon of creativity and faith is a testament to the passion and care of those working in the institution.’


There’s no doubt George has worked hard to carve out roles for himself as he explains, ‘I am still in the acting industry, but with more bruises, scars and a grizzled adventure beard. Joking. I’m Asian, I couldn’t grow a beard if I paid for it.’ Most recently George starred in Gold Diggers, an ABC show set in Australia during the 1850s where he plays the love interest of the younger sister. He also performed in a one-man show at the Opera House called Yong by Monkey Baa Theatre Company.


If you’re curious about exploring a career in the creative and performing arts industry and want to learn from industry professionals, why not explore our Bachelor of Dramatic Art? You never know the foundations it could set for you like it did for George.

Excelsia College News | George Zhao – Acting his way to the top

Hailey McQueen (nee Barrett) studied her Bachelor of Creative Arts (Theatre Performance) from 2000 to 2002 and graduated in 2003 as valedictorian. Twenty years on and she is still firmly connected with Excelsia College!


Hailey knew she wanted to study acting after finishing school but to pursue her dreams she had to make the move from her hometown on the South Coast of New South Wales. ‘When a family friend recommended the College and after I attended an open day, I knew it was the place for me. I was drawn to the Christian environment, the caring and close-knit community, and the practical and comprehensive outline of the theatre performance course, says Hailey. Hailey describes the experience as ‘nothing short of life changing’ and became inspired by her lecturers who genuinely cared for and championed their students. ‘They created a safe environment for learning and personal development with lashings of grace that made me feel safe and valued. Their masterful example of driven, focused, and dedicated creative process helped me grow and introduced me to new ways of seeing the world. They continue to inspire me as an artist to approach my practice with excellence and empathy,’ explains Hailey.


Finding friendships when you’ve left your family and friends behind are essential and Hailey found deep and defining relationships. ‘Spending three years in close community with people who share a deep affinity with each other is rare and precious. I am so grateful for my classmates and the time we spent creating, laughing, and growing together – they have become family.’ Some of Hailey’s key highlights include naps and chats in the sun on the ‘grassy knoll’ at the College’s Drummoyne campus.


During her time as a student, Hailey was gifted with opportunities to build skills in leadership and creative collaboration. ‘I was encouraged in my spiritual formation and inspired to explore my own unique creative practice in a safe environment. It has allowed me to become a “maker”, to solve problems, make headway on personally meaningful goals, and complete challenging projects with humility and empathy.’ Since graduating, Hailey has worked in a number of roles, from acting across the stage and screen to working as a producer and director for independent shows across Sydney. She is also co-founder and artistic director of Clock and Spiel Productions. For Hailey, however, one of her greatest roles has been lecturing in the drama department at Excelsia for the past 15 years. ‘It’s a privilege to work alongside the students, advocating for them as unique artists and encouraging them in their creative endeavours.


When reflecting on the College turning 40, Hailey’s attention turns to those that have gone before and paved the way for this landmark occasion to be reached, including David Johnston, whose vision for a creative arts college set it all in motion. ‘Their creativity, tenacity and sacrifice in building such a vision, through the highs and lows, is to be honoured and celebrated. We would not have such a life-defining education and community without them. They built a strong community, a family of people who are still cheering each other on today.’


If you want to find out more about our creative and performing arts courses, please visit our website, https://excelsia.edu.au/study/creative-and-performing-arts/

Excelsia College News | Hailey McQueen (nee Barrett) – From student to teacher

Lusi Austin (nee Vuki) is one busy woman. She’s a musician, a scriptwriter, magazine article writer, vintage and retro shop owner, all whilst homeschooling her five children for the past 15 years and sharing about the journey on her website That Homeschool Life. Before all these pursuits, Lusi studied a Bachelor of Creative Arts in Drama at Excelsia College from 1999 to 2001. She was valedictorian and graduated in April 2002. Lusi remembers having a very real faith journey whilst at Excelsia College as she explains, ‘I had met Jesus in a real way only a year or two before I heard about Wesley Institute (now Excelsia College). At that time, I felt that studying in my chosen field whilst still learning about my new faith would be a great thing to combine.’


Amongst Lusi’s highlights during her time studying were the moments spent at the weekly Gathering service. ‘It was an amazing time for collective worship and encouragement. There were so many people in the one room from different faith backgrounds and faith expressions. There was something very sacred about that,’ says Lusi. She also relished her Old Testament and New Testament classes which she says have been formative as she’s continued on with her life and faith post College. ‘We were also blessed to have incredibly gifted lecturers who had lived experiences in our industry. They shared their knowledge with us and I am incredibly grateful to them for the instruction they gave me in the dramatic arts,’ says Lusi.


Lusi also found she developed her holistic wellbeing at the College. ‘Spiritually, I had a solid foundation to stand on. Emotionally, I made some of the most incredible connections with friends, especially in the drama department. At that time, I had also moved out of home for the very first time so it gave me the confidence and opportunity to begin a new chapter of independence for me. I was equipped with knowledge and experiences that were invaluable to me as a young actor.’


College can be a time where students’ eyes are opened to confronting themes and new ideas and this was something Lusi explored in a play performed with her fellow classmates called Back From Nowhere which dealt with teen suicide. This play was toured to schools and the Opera House Studio. She also forged significant friendships with her drama peers, students in other subjects and her lecturers. She also met both her best friend and future husband Brett during those days of College nearly 23 years ago! Lusi was also living in Sydney whilst studying in 2000 at the time of the Sydney Olympics which she says was pretty special.


Fast forward 21 years since graduating and Lusi has written and published a children’s picture book called Jack’s Visit to Cowra, a story designed to inform children about the Cowra prisoner of war (POW) breakout in an accessible and easy to understand way. She is currently working on a novella. Lusi has also released a solo studio-recorded EP called Walking Contradiction. On top of that, she is currently producing a play called Intertwined which she wrote and will direct.


On reflection of the College’s anniversary celebrations, Lusi says, ‘Happy birthday Excelsia College! You keep a lovely little space in my mind and I am grateful for the chance to have attended. I appreciate learning about performance in a small College-style setting. I will always be grateful for those years.’

Excelsia College News | Lusi Austin (nee Vuki) – Lusi Austin (nee Vuki) – A woman that embodies creativity

Ruth Kost decided to enrol in the Bachelor of Music at Excelsia College in 2011 after realising her calling for playing piano. From the get-go, she found Excelsia’s environment very welcoming. ‘I felt like everybody – both staff and students – wanted to help each other succeed,’ explains Ruth.


Throughout her time at Excelsia, Ruth loved the opportunities to perform not only her instrument, but also to branch out into ensembles including choir. ‘Being a classical pianist, I would spend most of my time alone practising my instrument and performing solo. Choir was the first time I was able to perform with other musicians and I discovered a love for it.’ Ruth was able to take the ‘Choir Tour’ subject and travelled to Europe where she performed in different countries, as well as a choir competition in Vienna where Excelsia placed second. The choir also performed with the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Bach’s Mass in B Minor). ‘These experiences helped me to develop a deeper understanding and interpretation of music, which I now use to help guide my own students.’ Excelsia also provided Ruth with the opportunity to perform at various locations she had never played before such as the Sydney Opera House and Balmain Presbyterian, as well as prepare and perform in numerous recitals at the College.


Excelsia also helped Ruth feel more comfortable in her Christian faith and in her knowledge that other people share similar beliefs. Her favourite Bible verse is Deuteronomy 31:6 which says, ‘Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’


After graduating from the Bachelor of Music in 2015, Ruth decided to further her studies and began her Master of Music at the College that same year. She wasn’t exactly sure what her end goal was going to be; she just knew she wanted to keep studying music. During her masters, she studied part-time and began teaching piano, which she enjoyed more and more.


Since graduating in 2020, Ruth has gone on to become a full-time piano teacher. Her favourite part of teaching is seeing her students’ joy when they realise they can finally tackle a difficult passage or grasp a technique they hadn’t been able to before. ‘Not only do I get to spend my time working with music, but I also have the privilege of teaching some hilarious kids as well. Kids have such an amazing sense of humour and I try to make my lessons as enjoyable as possible so they will grow to love the piano and music as much as I do.’


Reflecting on the College turning forty, Ruth says, ‘Excelsia has come a long way from when I started back in 2011. In my nine years studying, I have not only seen it grow into a more nurturing community but also improve its quality of education.’


If you want to foster your passion for music and be taught within a supportive learning environment where you can choose to explore more than one instrument and be involved in ensembles, why not consider Excelsia College’s Bachelor of Music or Master of Music?

Excelsia College News | Ruth Kost – On becoming in tune to her passion for music

Want to see someone who’s aiming for the sky? For one Excelsia College alumnus, her career is quite literally getting off the ground! Esther Williams was cast as the lead actress in the Virgin Airlines Bring on Wonderful Campaign in 2022. The effervescent 24-year-old graduated from Excelsia College’s Bachelor of Dramatic Art in 2020 and is picking up momentum as she pursues a career in the performing arts.


‘I decided to study at Excelsia to deepen my techniques in acting. The second I walked into Excelsia College during open day, I remember everyone being super welcoming and I fell in love with the facilities such as the theatre, dressing rooms and costume storage,’ explains Esther.


For Esther, her experience at Excelsia went above and beyond her expectations. ‘It feels more like family and everyone looks out for one another. Some of my dearest friends I’ve made at Excelsia are people I still see frequently to this day. The teachers are exceptional with so much knowledge and care for their students.’


Before studying at Excelsia, Esther found it difficult to trust in herself and her abilities and lacked personal awareness. ‘With the three years of coaching from some of the best acting, voice and movement teachers in Sydney, I was able to break through many shells and discover myself in a completely new way.’ Since graduating, Esther has signed to an agent and has been cast on Netflix series Heartbreak High, as well as in a couple of theatre plays. 


The budding actress’s personal highlight was producing her own show in her third year of studies. ‘I played Miss Pat from The Coloured Museum by George C. Wolfe (one of my favourite monologues to date). It was a magical experience putting something on stage that I was so passionate about and having full control over all aspects of the production. I learned so much,’ she says.


Esther is thankful for her time at Excelsia and for having played a small part in the College’s journey. ‘I have experienced firsthand just how passionate Excelsia is about growing and improving the College every year. They take feedback from their students very seriously. Forty years is a huge milestone and I only see great things happening on top of all that the College has already achieved. Go Excelsia!’


If you want to extend yourself and learn from industry professionals with years of experience behind them, why not consider Excelsia College’s creative and performing arts courses? Like Esther, you never know where you might end up!


Excelsia College News | Esther Williams’ future is looking sky high!

It was the College’s commitment to delivering a Christian world view through coursework and reflective practice that first attracted Nada Appleby to a Master of Teaching (Secondary) at Excelsia College.


For Nada, the onsite workshops as part of the Master of Teaching (Secondary) course were a key highlight, as was the ability to study remotely with an online community. ‘The flexibility and support were wonderful, and the lecturers were highly relational and approachable and they clearly had a passion for Christian education which was inspiring. I feel so privileged to have met a variety of inspiring educators during my time at Excelsia. The staff were an unbelievable support during placement opportunities and lecturers displayed a gentle, relational approach, which is something I have tried to imitate in my own teaching style,’ she explains.


‘It was wonderful to sit under quality teaching and reflect on educational theories through the lens of the Bible. The course gave me practical, lifelong skills in the area of critical reflection and the skills for bringing a Christian world view through my teaching practice. It is a flexible, relational and welcoming environment.’

Since graduating in 2018, Nada has been working as a secondary teacher at Calderwood Christian School and has enjoyed getting to know students and grow as a teacher. She has a passion for student wellbeing and has undertaken further counselling training to care more effectively for students. ‘I have a heart for pastoral care and in the future would like to support students and their families as they traverse the sometimes difficult terrain that adolescence brings,’ she explains. 

When reflecting on the College turning forty, Nada reflects, ‘This is an incredible milestone! Excelsia should be proud of the way it has supported not just emerging educators but also students in all of their faculty areas.’


If you’re interested in studying education and learning from a Christian world view, why not explore Excelsia College’s Master of Teaching (Secondary)?

Lara Pilcher first began her association with Excelsia College in 1997 when she commenced her Bachelor of Creative Arts in Dance. For Lara, studying at an institution that taught creative arts from a faith-based perspective excited her. From the get-go, she became involved in the community and was able to refine her creative talents, learning from creatives from all over the world. Lara also enjoyed being a student representative of the entire college in her final year of studies.

When reflecting on her studies, Lara explains, ‘The dance degree was vigorous and very full. I further pursued acting and singing and broadened my education after the strong foundation I gained from Excelsia.’ After graduating from Excelsia in 1999, Lara completed a Musical Theatre Certificate II at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and then a master’s in musical theatre at Arts Educational School in London. Now, she’s using her knowledge as a performer and arts advocate and she networks with Christian artists all around the world. She also produces high quality events in Sydney and London and has taught performance masterclasses in Paris, Beijing, and New York. Prior to relocating to London to further pursue performing, Lara ran her own dance studio in Perth. She has also married a man who shares her same passion for the arts as a specialist physiotherapist for artists and the couple have two children.

The creative and performing arts industry is fluid and ever changing, reflective of the number of roles and locations Lara has worked in throughout her twenty-year career. ‘I moved to Melbourne for five years to continue performing and be closer to family. I worked in Australian television, musical theatre and theatre. Then I worked as an associate professor of acting at Bethel Conservatory of The Arts in Redding, California.’ Now, Lara and her family are based in Atlanta, Georgia, working as part of films shooting for Netflix, Marvel and beyond in the region. This year, Lara also started her own self-titled business larabiancapilcher.com, providing coaching and courses for performers.

Undertaking study at a tertiary institution is a stepping stone on one’s journey to pursuing their dream career and for Lara, it’s an experience that she would do all over again! ‘Excelsia College made a huge difference to me. I’m grateful for my three happy years and I smile every time I remember it. I had the time of my life and still have many friends from College; we made lifetime bonds and have so many happy memories. My vision was broadened and passion ignited for the entire world and all the artists and creativity it carries. I believe deeply in faith-based artists and their impact on the professional world of arts,’ says Lara reflectively.

We are proud of Lara and for her drive and ambition to succeed in the competitive creative and performing arts space. She embodies Excelsia’s ethos of being a lifelong learner engaged with and positively impacting the world. ‘I love leading artists and still lead artists today,’ says Lara. It seems Lara has certainly found her calling in life and it will be exciting to see the places she will go!

Excelsia College offers creative and performing arts courses and many of our alumni have gone on to pursue successful careers across areas such as music, drama, performance studies and screen production.

Lara Pilcher | Excelsia College Alumni