Student / Billy Blue College of Design
When Stephanie Ongarello finished high school she had no idea what she wanted to do. Like, zero idea. In her own words she “adored art,” but didn’t feel like she was good enough to pursue it.
Can you relate?
In fact, studies have shown that Steph is in good company. Take a scroll through the many interviews on this website and you are guaranteed to see a plethora of beginnings that have started this way.
Remember, behind every seemingly successful woman (and their perfectly curated feed) is a zig-zagged story. A narrative filled with I have no fu*king ideas, long days, daydreaming, doubt, some fork-in-the-road moments that serve as a beginning to where they are now.
Stephanie is already an entrepreneur in her own right, selling her goods through her online store and working while studying. We met Stephanie at The Cool Career Conference in March this year. It was there, in between panel discussions that she met with the team at Billy Blue College of Design and that chance encounter has changed the course of her life.
Remember, everyone starts somewhere, why not start now?
Let’s jump straight in Stephanie, take us back to the very beginning.
Hi Cool Career! Well, currently I am living with my wonderful partner in a little flat in Armadale in Victoria. It’s such a great area. Right now, I’m obsessed with design – since beginning my studies at Billy Blue I see it EVERYWHERE.
The Instagram accounts I particularly love at the moment include Jasmine Dowling (her Instagram is possibly my all-time fave), Saasha Burns, Smack Bang Designs, Rachel Castle (I want EVERYTHING she makes) and The Local Project (can’t resist some architectural porn!).
I am also eagerly waiting for the next Your Creative Start podcast episode (Jaharn Giles has NAILED her guest interviews so far and I’ve learnt so much!) and I always jump at the chance to buy/arrange/gift some flowers! I’ve been obsessed forever.
Ummm, ok, so we virtually follow the exact same people! What do you want to be, or do career wise right now? Has that changed since finishing high school?
Oh my goodness, it has changed so much! When I finished high school, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do.
I adored art but didn’t feel like I was good enough to do anything with it/got no encouragement to pursue it at school (don’t let ANYONE let you think this. It’s taken me years to get over it). I did the typical,
‘I guess I’ll do Arts’, did that for a year and a half at Monash University and just floated through as many subjects as I could before realising I had no idea what I was doing and dropped out.
My beautiful Aunty actually had a big chat with me and helped me work out what I could do that would let me pursue art because it was still niggling at me, which lead me to a Bachelor of Education/Visual Art at Monash.
I never really thought I wanted to teach, but I loved it for the first few years of my career, however I fell out of love with it due to the stress of paperwork, reporting, classroom management etc, etc. What I loved at the start of my career (making and sharing art every day) really fizzled out by the third year, and I knew I had to change direction ASAP! My boyfriend saw this in me and has been a massive support in me studying a Diploma of Graphic Design.
Love all the twists and turn Steph, thanks for explaining it all! So, where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Genazzano FCJ College in Kew. I really enjoyed my time there. I am still best of friends with a big group of girls who mostly went to Gen, and I think it fostered a really nice sense of community and family. I also loved sport (I wasn’t that great at anything but I enjoyed it) and I felt I had the opportunity to try it all out. It’s an all-girls school, which I definitely thrived in, and didn’t feel limited or intimidated to not try out ‘boys’ sports or ‘boys’ subjects, which I still think is a huge benefit of single-sex education – for girls at least.
I do wish I’d been exposed to more areas of art and design while I was still at school though, because I had no idea about any careers I could pursue at that stage!
In your opinion, did Genazzano play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I would say Genazzano had a HUGE influence in me going straight to university. It is very much the culture, that you apply for courses and go straight to uni after year 12. I remember being warned that taking a gap year might make me never want to go back to study (which, to be honest, was probably pretty accurate). But it’s certainly an environment where us girls were told that our best chance at a good career was to study further education. I’m a bit of a fence sitter on this one – I think everyone is different and it’s up to everyone individually- what works best for you! Some people just don’t thrive in a structured study environment and I don’t think you should force yourself if it’s not for you.
So, did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Or are you doing any now? Tell us about that experience. If no, tell us why?
I did work experience at a law firm whilst at school. I think it was a bit eye-opening, being immersed in a huge corporate environment (I love criminal TV shows and I had a very glamorised idea of what being a lawyer would be like). To be honest, it made me realise that I didn’t want to enter into that big corporate life. Currently, I will start looking for some internships in the graphic design industry so I can start building up some experience before graduating.
Loves Crime TV Shows, a woman after my own heart.
Are you in Uni or College or Tafe? What are you studying and why did you choose that course?
I’m at Billy Blue College of Design. I actually had never heard of it until I went to the Cool Career Conference! All of these boss ladies who spoke seemed to keep saying they went to this mysterious Billy Blue, and all I knew at that moment was that I needed to find out more! Having already done 5 and a half years of uni study, I really wanted to find something shorter that would help to boost me into a new career, so I decided on the Diploma of Graphic Design.
What’s the hardest thing about the course you are in?
Well, I enrolled in four subjects. I thought it was the norm since that what I did at Monash. But the subjects are pretty full on. I’m working part time at my dad’s real estate company and I’m there whenever I’m not in class, so the time management has probably been the hardest part. I’ve also become a little obsessed with nailing all my assignments since being a teacher and knowing what I expected from my students, and I think that has been a little bit taxing on me and those around me also! (I need to learn to relax a little!)
Do you have a part time or full time job?
I’m working part time at Accord Real Estate Services, which is my dad’s business. I’m SUPER lucky to have a gig that lets me work flexible hours and maintain a regular income whilst studying! My dad is great about it – if I need to take an afternoon off to finish an assignment there’s no issues. I’m doing a whole range of things from admin, exec assistant to dad, social media pages and the website, and all sorts of property management related stuff that I never thought I’d end up doing. But it’s a great little office.
I also haven’t mentioned my own business so far (the poor thing hasn’t received nearly enough love from me since starting back at uni) but I’ve actually run my own art, homewares and jewellery business since 2016 called Art by Stephanie Ongarello. I mainly work with resin and watercolour, and make things such as artworks, earrings, salad servers… a whole range of things! It’s been a really fun side hustle and I hope to keep growing it.
Do you miss High School? If yes why? If no, tell us why?
Hmmm, I think I’d have to say no. I am a completely different person to who I was back then. I knew I had enough brains to scrape through and I really regret not working harder, especially in year 12. In saying that, I got a decent ENTER but it does niggle at me, that feeling knowing I could have done better. My ENTER score hasn’t really limited me in anything that I’ve wanted to do since. It got me into Monash University, which made transferring within Monash easy, and it wasn’t a factor for my current Diploma either. At the end of the day, it’s just a number.
Couldn’t agree more, so let’s jump to the present day. What does a day a typical day look like for you in your world? Take us on a day from the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to bed!
A typical day… always begins with COFFEE!
I am a horrendous morning person (my poor boyfriend will attest to that) so I like taking my time to go through my morning routine, eat my porridge whilst watching Sunrise, do my skin routine (it’s one of my current obsessions – if you’re looking for new skincare, The Ordinary will change your life. It’s amazing).
At the moment I’m usually in the office by about 8:45. If I have uni, I like to give myself enough time to fit in a quick gym session between work and uni to maintain my sanity. I enjoy cooking dinners with my boyfriend. Evenings are when I fit in uni homework, and work on making and/or packing any Art by Stephanie Ongarello orders via my website or Etsy store. I always finish the day with a shower and my night-time skin routine, and I’m trying to get back into the reading in bed habit.
Who is your current hero, or someone you look up to?
I am SO lucky in that I have grown up surrounded by amazing women in my family, but my number one will forever be my mum. She ran her own small business from home when we were kids (four of us!) and dad was working full time, and I now finally understand how impressive that actually was. My little sister is smashing it chasing her goals too, and she’s a huge support of my small business. I’ve just been brought up to really support and prioritise family through the examples that I’ve been shown my whole life, and I’m super thankful for that.
What advice would you give girls who are in their final year of high school?
My advice is to work as hard as you bloody can. I didn’t think about it at the time, but you only get one shot. Even if you don’t know what you want to do after school yet, I really think you put yourself in the best position you can if you work hard and open up as many doors and opportunities as you can.
I would also recommend learning how to be kind to yourself and give yourself time out to keep your mental and physical health in check. The earlier you learn to do this, the better!
What inspires you daily?
- Favourite Websites: So late to the game, but I’m finally obsessed with Pinterest. I also visit Castle and Things almost daily because I’m just obsessed with her.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking:@jasminedowling
- Favourite Podcast: Your Creative Start
- Favourite Netflix/ Stan Series: I’m such a goober but I’ve been obsessed with Pretty Little Liars for years.
- Favourite all time book or mag: Harry Potter – any of them.
- Favourite Fashion Brand: Mister Zimi
- Favourite Stationary brand: MiGoals (I can’t live without my daily organiser)