Industry and community leaders celebrated at 2017 Alumni Awards

Sarah-Grace Williams

Chancellor Professor Peter Shergold with Sarah-Grace Williams, winner of the 2017 Chancellor's Leadership Alumni Award

Musical leaders, Silicon Valley creatives and medical entrepreneurs were among the Western Sydney University graduates honoured at the 2017 Alumni Awards.

Held at the Parramatta City campus, the awards paid tribute to the achievements of graduates, and demonstrated the transformational power of education.

The 2017 Chancellor's Leadership Alumni Award was presented to the Founding Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Metropolitan Orchestra, Maestra Sarah-Grace Williams, who was recently listed amongst '10 of the Best Women Conductors' by Limelight magazine.

With a focus on community outreach, Sarah and her husband, fellow Western Alumnus Mr Bevan Rigato, present innovative orchestral productions and regularly perform to audiences of newly arrived migrants and refugees.

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alumni Award winner Dr Trung Qui Li left Vietnam to study at Western Sydney University, before returning to his home country to build Vietnam's second largest fast food chain, Pho24.

The Young Alumni Award was presented to Silicon Valley based graduate Luke Martin, now the Creative Director at Facebook.

Among other award winners was School of Medicine PhD graduate Dr Sameer Dixit, who pioneered South Asia's first biomedical research institute, the Centre for Molecular Dynamics in Nepal. Sameer was presented with the International Alumni of the Year Award.

Chancellor Professor Peter Shergold AC says Western Sydney University's more than 170,000 graduates are the University's international ambassadors.

"Alumni act as role models for current and future students, with their journeys inspiring others to achieve their dreams," says Professor Shergold.

"Together, the 2017 Alumni Award recipients and their journeys represent a powerful statement of impact at Western."

"Many credit the quality of education and their academic guidance they received during their studies as they now strive to achieve social and industry change."

The full list of Western Sydney University Alumni Award recipients are listed below.


25 May 2017

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer

International Alumni Leadership

Professor Syed Ziaur Rahman
Doctor of Philosophy – Medicine, 2015
Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Aligarh Muslim University

With Professor Syed (Zia) Rahman’s family background, his destiny always lay in human health. Zia is a scion of one of the great Unani physician dynasties, with roots dating to the twelfth century. His forebears fled Iran during the Changezi massacres (1219-1258) perpetrated by Genghis Khan and his famously bloodthirsty Mongol warlords. Up to 15 million Iranian civilians lost their lives in this period – an estimated 90 per cent of the country’s population. Zia’s ancestors escaped to India, and with them, the centuries old tradition of Unani medicine. His family is the custodian of manuscripts that date to the tenth century, and that have now been declared a national treasure by the Indian Government.

Zia’s family helped found the practice of Unani in India where it became, along with Ayurveda, one of the twin pillars of traditional medicine practiced across the subcontinent for centuries, and remains widely used to this day. In rural India particularly (where up to 80 per cent of Indians reside) Unani is a frontline treatment regime. Today, Zia combines a world and nation leading role as a custodian of Unani’s ancient knowledge with an illustrious research and teaching career in pharmacology, where his global impact includes his pioneering work to eliminate animal exploitation in medical teaching, exploring the contemporary potential of traditional medicine, and founding a new field of research into the environmental impacts of pharmacology. Professor Rahman was awarded a PhD in Pharmacology from WSU in 2015.

Zia’s contribution to international society is in the field of human health and sits across community service and professional achievement.

A selection of his many achievements are summarised below.

Scholarly contributions to medical science:

  • Alternatives to animal testing – Zia’s campaigning against animal testing in medical teaching has resulting in practice changes across India. Several Indian States and individual universities have now ceased the practice of experimenting on rats, rabbits and guinea pigs in teaching environments. In 2010, Zia spearheaded the development and introduction of ‘student-friendly simulators’ as a viable alternative to animal testing, which are now being widely used across India. The methodology has been officially endorsed by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Medical Council of India, which recently conducted a national workshop on the subject. India is a pioneer in ending animal testing in medical teaching, with Zia leading the way. He has lectured on ethical alternatives to animal exploitation across India and internationally; including at the World Medical Assembly in Switzerland.
  • Traditional medicine – building the contemporary evidence base around traditional medical approaches is a strong, ongoing focus. His pioneering work to discover the de-addictive properties of Delphinium denudatum – to help morphine and other opiate addicts manage the physical side effects of detoxification is currently being advanced by two of Zia’s MD candidates. He supervised or co-supervised 15 candidates in total.
  • Pharmacovigilance – Zia has been the first to record several new cases of Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs), including nimesulide-induced hepatitis in children and amantadine- and lansoprazole- induced skin reactions in adults. Within this sphere, he is also interested in the environmental impacts of therapeutic drugs, where once again, his work is ground breaking. Zia coined the term ‘pharmacoenvironmentology’. He is closely associated with India’s Society of Pharmacovigilance, currently serving as its National Secretary. Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Science, India Along with other family members, Zia founded ‘Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine & Sciences’ in 2000 – combining their personal collections in to more extensive holdings to create what is inarguably the world’s best example of its type. Located between Delhi and Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the Academy houses an ancient collection dating from the tenth century, comprised of over 900 manuscripts including 450 medical manuscripts; 25,000 printed books in languages including Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit, Hindi and English; 15,000 periodicals; hundreds of special magazines; medical conference souvenirs; and specimens of centuries-old medical tools.

Today the Ibn Sina Academy is a major national institution, allowing its visitors a window into medicine across the Middle East and Asia as it has been practiced for centuries. It has recently been awarded ‘Centre of Excellence’ status by the Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. People come from across the world to visit the Academy – students, scholars (including recently, two Fulbrights), researchers, tourists, government officials and others.

Zia has worked in pharmacology for over two decades, with innumerable accomplishments that have raised his profile and that of his profession. As a scholar, he has to his credit:

  • Seven published books and 10 book chapters
  • 160+ articles, research papers, case-reports and editorials in national and international journals
  • Editor roles for 10 periodicals
  • Being an invited lecturer at 45 international conferences and 58 national conferences
  • Organising two international conferences, many national conferences and symposia, and six major academic projects.

Zia’s extensive list of honours and awards include:

  • Servier Young Investigator Award of International Union of Pharmacology (1999)
  • Junior Scientist Award of Safety Pharmacological Society of USA (2006)
  • The African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology Scholarship for Kenya (2003)
  • WHO Fellowships to attend the international conferences in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Four APSN and ISN Fellowships
  • An International Postgraduate Research Scholarship for his PhD at WSU. As a visiting scholar, Zia has travelled to the USA, Holland, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Iran, Kenya, Hong Kong, Thailand, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Nepal, Pakistan, Australia, Czech Republic and Austria.

Zia is involved with a total of 33 educational bodies, including the International Medical Sciences Academy, the International Association of Medical Colleges, National Academy of Medical Sciences, International Society for Neurochemistry, Indian Science

Congress Association, Indian Medical Association, Safety Pharmacology Society, Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine, and the Australasian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists – to name a few!

Zia’s work with the International Association of Medical Colleges (IAOMC) provides a particularly keen example of his leadership qualities. The IAOMC seeks to uphold uniform standards and recognition of physicians’ qualifications provided by medical colleges around the world. As its Secretary, his international leadership includes work with medical schools in developing countries to gain accreditation, ensuring its physicians graduate with the right skills to practice medicine and optimally support their patients. He was recently in Tunisia in this capacity, influencing decisions to affect positive, progressive change in pharmacology and physician training is Zia’s passionate life’s work. He is indefatigable and highly effective.

Ms Gaynor Reid
Bachelor of Arts – Applied Communication Studies, 1991
Vice President of Communications, Asia Pacific at Accor

Over the course of her career, Gaynor Reid has built outstanding communications and persuasive skills with key stakeholders at all levels and has managed to elevate the role and perception of communications within the hospitality sector. She has always focused on ensuring that communications is seen as a critical strategic business unit that underpins a company’s reputation and shareholder value rather than as an operational function. As such she spends a lot of time educating senior management about the role corporate communications plays in not just stakeholder engagement but the overall delivery of strategic goals.

As Vice President of Communications for Accor Asia Pacific she has always strived to ensure that the Communications function has a seat at the table of the executive committee and to be a voice for women in the industry. She was only the second woman appointed to the APAC executive board but thanks to her efforts as regional head of the group’s women empowerment program, this number is now five. As part of the APAC Executive Board, she helps to set the strategic goals of the business and ensure that the communications function supports those strategic goals. Working with government agencies such as Tourism Ministers, State Tourism Organisations, airline partners, shareholders, media, hotel owners and investors, she is committed to ensuring that communications is seen as far more than just an adjunct to marketing.

When she started with Accor, the PR function was focused on media events, the distribution of press releases and media familiarisation programs, but she wanted to expand the team’s influence and reach.

Today the function encompasses internal and external communications, government relations, influencer and partner engagement, reputation, crisis management and stakeholder relations. In addition, thanks to a strong social conscience and desire to give back, she brought the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) function under communications because she wanted to bring a strong voice to the group’s CSR programs and ensure that its efforts as a corporate citizen would truly benefit the communities in which Accor operates.

One of her first initiatives in this space was to localise the group’s efforts more and bring together the disjointed efforts of the group’s multiple hotels into regionally appropriate umbrella activities. Previously the group’s CSR efforts were largely focused on tree planting activities but Gaynor advocated to ensure the efforts would be more regional and more rooted in the local needs of each community in which Accor operates.

Now Asia Pacific’s CSR efforts are focused on respecting and speaking to local rather than global challenges. For example, in Australia, the group works with Indigenous communities to provide job training and helps regenerate the Great Barrier Reef; in Thailand they work to train disadvantaged youth who would otherwise end up in sex trafficking or domestic labour; and in India they work with disadvantaged women because women are not given the same opportunities as men.

Her leadership in CSR has been recognised several times with Awards including the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Grand Award for Driving the Change Towards Sustainable Tourism 2017. She also leads the Women @ Accor Generation program, an empowerment and mentoring program for women across APAC which has as its goal equal representation, pay and opportunities for women within the organisation. In addition to personally mentoring several colleagues, she is responsible for organising quarterly events that help women within the group to find their voice, build their confidence and put their hand up for leadership positions.

As a strong role model within Accor she was the most requested person to have as a mentor in the entire organisation (for 2016 and 2017) and she gives much of her spare time to assisting women within the group to improve their communications skills and confidence. Thanks to her efforts in Singapore, Accor recently won the United Nations’ He for She @ Work award 2018 in recognition of the group’s numerous efforts to ensure equal representation and remuneration for women and Gaynor happily accepted the award on behalf of the group and her team.

In addition, she volunteers one weekend per month with Image Mission, helping disadvantaged youth and women improve their communications skills to prepare them for job interviews and has conducted fundraising for the Mission.

Gaynor has won and been nominated for numerous awards over the years including PR of the Year from the Australian Society of Travel Writers and HM Magazine. She is also nominated as Communicator of the Year

2018 by the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW), to be decided in August in 2018 in Bangkok. As a Communications leader, she understands she has a responsibility to drive the perception of communications ever higher. She takes very seriously her role as an advisor to the Chairman and the Board but also to each business unit to ensure that her team can truly influence the group’s overall decision-making and performance.

Miss Stephanie Wheeler
Bachelor of Nursing (Advanced), 2015
Registered Nurse and Technical Officer for Health Security
World Health Organization (Cambodia Country Office)

“Are you a doctor?” It’s always one of the first questions I am asked. As a young, female, non-doctor, I am often an anomaly in the meeting rooms of the Cambodian Ministry of Health. At first, I would try to explain or justify my place at the table; often feeling inadequate and out of place. In time, however, I could see that what I brought as a Registered Nurse was vital and valuable, and began to enjoy the inevitable asking of this question as an opportunity to espouse the importance of engaging the nursing perspective in the public health space. I am proud to develop strategies, discuss policy, contribute to evidence base, lead projects, coordinate partners, advocate for equity, provide recommendations, conduct supervision, mentor students and build capacity as a Registered Nurse in the field of international public health.

I am currently working with Cambodian Ministry of Health colleagues to restructure their incident management system in order to provide a predictable, scalable and efficient mechanism through which they can respond to emergencies. Recently I was in the forests of the remote far north-eastern provinces tracking down migrant workers at risk of malaria to better understand the changing epidemiology of the disease and revise the program’s implementation strategy for malaria elimination.

I am the Health Cluster Co-Lead for Cambodia, coordinating multiple partners and creating natural disaster contingency plans that engage the entire humanitarian sector and the national government coordination mechanism, chaired by the Prime Minister. I designed a training course to develop capacity of quarantine officers at airports and seaports around the country to screen for and respond to diseases of international concern. I developed a Business Continuity Plan for the World Health Organization (WHO) office to minimise impact to staff, premises and operations during crises, including initiating a new emergency response framework training curriculum with staff from the global and regional office which will now be replicated worldwide. We are not ‘just’ nurses. We are powerful agents of change, highly trusted by our communities and integral advocates in the drive to achieve health for all. I watch my clinical nursing colleagues on the wards with admiration and gratitude for performing the hardest job with excellence, commitment, grit and joy.

But I also hope that the way that I have chosen to forge my career would encourage other new graduates, and those desiring career change, to consider the public health field. As the largest component of the health workforce, nurses must be present at all levels of healthcare and health decision-making.

In the same way that a ward team cannot work without its nurses, we need more nurses pushing to take their place at the high levels of policy and strategy development and enforcement. We bring a whole-person, whole-of-society approach to problem- solving that is invaluable in the increasingly complex context in which we consider health. As the world becomes simultaneously larger and smaller, disease is no longer simply pathology; it is an intensely political, social, economic, cultural and securitised process that requires a collaborative and nuanced response. I liken it to my previous work as a perioperative nurse.

Although in emergency surgeries the pressure was high and the clinical situation complex, there was always an over-arching feeling of peace and trust in the operating room. Every person on the team knew their role, could perform it with excellence and knew that their colleagues would do likewise. Even the best surgeons knew they could not do it alone. As I sit at the table with some of the best public health minds,

I know we do so as a team who values the strength of each member; each doctor, nurse, pharmacist, midwife, scientist, epidemiologist and allied health worker is needed to help each of us be our best and work our best for the benefit of people who will never have the opportunity to sit at this table.

I am honoured to do what I do as a nurse and hope that it opens other nurses’ eyes to the opportunities that we have to be change-makers in society.

I graduated from Western Sydney University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Nursing (Advanced) with Distinction and the 2/5 Australian General Hospital Award in Nursing for highest academic performance in the cohort. In addition, I was honoured to have my hard work recognised with the Gilder Nursing Scholarship in 2013, inclusion on the Dean’s Merit List for both 2013 and 2014, and to have received the Dean’s Medal in 2014 for academic achievement.

Following this, I have also completed a Master of International Public Health. I am currently working in public health emergency preparedness and response at the WHO in Cambodia. I was selected for this role in the first deployment of the Australian Government’s new Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security where I not only have the opportunity to promote and support national capacity development in the detection and risk assessment of, and response to emerging infectious diseases, but also to represent my country as an Australian Volunteer.

Hawkesbury Alumni

Mr David Goodfellow  
Master of Applied Science (Agriculture and Rural Development), 1995
Chief Executive Officer, AustOn

David (Dave) Goodfellow didn’t fancy going straight to university when he finished Year 12. Dave always loved the land – he’s fifth generation sheep and wool farming stock. He went jackarooing instead, where learnt an invaluable life lesson via the tale of two country men. Both were in their early 50s. One had left school at 14 and become a fencer. Dave fenced with him for a time. It’s back-breaking work under a punishing sun in the summer and rain, freezing temperatures and gale force winds come winter. This guy was still fencing in his early 50s. It didn’t look the sort of life Dave wanted for himself. The other guy, around the same age, owned the farm – managing staff, making smart, strategic decisions and enjoying the fruits of his substantial success. The latter was tertiary qualified. The former was not.

Young Dave, never slow on the uptake, understood that education makes all the difference. He enrolled at WSU Hawkesbury and the rest, as they say, is history. Dave paid his own way through university shearing sheep and running the Hawkesbury campus bar. He had almost 30 other students working for him, revealing a talent for managing people and also, making money. Dave’s managerial philosophy is simple – if you do the right thing by your employees, they’ll do the right thing by you.

And the Hawkesbury bar was a goldmine waiting to be tapped. It just took someone entrepreneurial, smart and energetic, which is Dave to a tee. The friendships he made survive to this day. A group of 15 alumni get together each year – they’ve just had their thirtieth year reunion. Dave reckons at least half, himself included, married their Hawkesbury girlfriends. Dave’s professional life is marked by his ability to lead collegial loyal teams, along with demonstrated major successes in building agricultural investment portfolios, delivering greater prosperity to his clients nationally and internationally.

In his earliest career teaching agricultural science and as a farm consultant, while simultaneously earning ever higher tertiary qualifications. In 1991, Dave was approached to lecture at Orange Agricultural College. He was only 24 at the time – not much older than many of his students. He says he managed this by never socialising with them past midnight. What he doesn’t say is that he also earned their respect with his obvious skills as a leader, teacher and communicator. At this time, Dave also completed his Master’s degree, part-time back at WSU.

In 1994, he took a lectureship at Victoria’s Marcus Oldham Agricultural College, where he taught farm business subjects. This role he combined with an MBA – an experience that helped expand his knowledge and thinking beyond agriculture, into aligned industries such as manufacturing, transport and retail. He also studied at Harvard, became a Financial Services Licensee and a member of the Sydney Futures Exchange.

By the mid-90s, Dave had become a farming consultant, helping farmers manage their way through some of their darkest hours – droughts, recession, ownership uncertainty (in light of the WIK decision), the Asian crisis, plummeting wheat and wool prices, and as Dave remembers all too well, ‘banks behaving poorly’. Dave was an expert witness against the banks, having seen firsthand the human cost of bank foreclosures.

The Farm Debt Mediation Act was established at this time and the banks, fearful of further negative publicity, hired Dave as a consultant. At Mutual Trust, turning millions into billions working for the Baillieu family, Dave helped build the financial institution on behalf of a family comprised of 175 members. As the company’s CEO he shaped the overall strategy that took the company’s value from millions to billions, buying 28 farms that represented a $450M investment in agriculture. He also built a productive, collegial team so that the company became known for ‘doing a good job and being a nice place to work’. This is as important to Dave as the returns he achieves for his clients and he passionately believes the two go hand-in-hand.

At Macquarie Bank’s Paraway Pastoral Company by 2008, Macquarie Bank had bought a couple of farms and was wondering about how to ‘corporatise agriculture’. Headhunting Dave was their first step – a wise move as it turns out. By the time he left five years later, Paraway had become one of Australia’s top agricultural banking companies, attracting investors from around Australia and internationally, making huge returns for its clients and as Dave proudly recalls, becoming the industry’s employer of choice. Dave never lost a single station manager.

Leaving the best job in rural Australia to take up the most challenging by 2011, Elders was in big trouble. They tasked Dave with the invidious job of stopping the company from imploding completely. In Dave’s indomitable style, and in just three years, he got the banks back onside, achieved the lowest staff turnover in over a decade, built its profit base exponentially and then fell victim to corporate politics.

When he was passed over for the top job for the Chair of Elders’ board, Dave left to pursue greener pastures. Which took him all the way to China. Engaging with China much earlier than most, Dave travelled to China not long after its markets opened up – stitching together five lucrative deals before realising that’s not the way things work in China, and being forced to choose just one – that being RIFA. He bemoans the lack of local investment in Australian agriculture and pragmatically concludes that if Australians are unwilling to invest, and others can and will, then they certainly should.

As Dave puts it, “Australia has not been increasing its capacity at the same rate as many countries have been developing their agricultural resources – from Africa to South America and the United States. While others have made some massive investments to lift food production, we’ve tended to wait for the emerging markets to come to us and hope they pay more for what we produce. To some degree our agriculture sector complacency has been typified by the lack of government investment in research and regional infrastructure to commit to the industry’s future.”

At RIFA, Dave set out to build and operate an efficient supply chain in Australia’s beef cattle industry to service China’s rapidly growing demand for beef. As CEO, Dave provided credible local representation and vast knowledge of the Australian agricultural industry. Working within the Commonwealth after three and a half highly successful years, Dave left this role in late 2017 to join a Canadian pension fund that is investing in Australian agriculture. The fund represents ‘mum and dad’ savings and with Dave’s assistance, is pursuing opportunities in almond farming in the Riverina and also avocado farming which as Dave says ‘is going gangbusters’. Dave’s goal is to develop another large agribusiness (it’s already worth $380m) that provides exciting career opportunities for enthusiastic young agriculturalists.

Dave also regularly features as a key-note speaker at industry conferences, particularly in the agriculture and agribusiness industries. He is quietly, without fanfare, Australian agriculture’s go to business guru, a seriously good guy, great boss, and credit to WSU Hawkesbury.

Mr Matthew Linnegar
Bachelor of Applied Science (Systems Agriculture), 1993
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Rural Leadership Foundation

Studying agricultural subjects at his sports-mad, arch-conservative Catholic boys’ school, Matthew (Matt) Linnegar somehow convinced the principal to turn over a football field for use as an agricultural plot. Admittedly the school had four ovals and thus arguably, one to spare – but as a vignette from Matt’s teenage years it speaks to his immense powers of persuasion, big picture thinking and lifelong enthusiasm for all things agricultural.

Matt has always straddled the city and country, bringing the two together in inspired ways. It is the site of his life’s work and special brilliance. Matt grew up in the Sydney suburbs but his passion for the land runs deep. Both sets of his grandparents were farmers – one in the green pastures of northern coastal New South Wales; the other in the Riverina’s parched open plains. He loved both. Matt was ten years old the first time he rode a horse, and not much older when he started taking the train to one of his grandparents’ farms every chance he got.

The long Summer holidays were his annual immersion into a world he felt he truly belonged. He understood young that his future lay in farming. Matt’s journey exemplifies everything WSU Hawkesbury seeks to achieve. His leadership career is entirely in service of rural, regional and remote Australia. Its key themes are nurturing the next generation of Australia’s agricultural leaders; debunking the myth of the great city country divide (which Matt dismisses as tosh); and helping better position Australia’s agricultural sector to meet the challenges of an industry transformed by globalisation, technology, climate change and cultural shift.

Matt is all about ‘breaking down the deficit discourse’ in Australian agriculture – accentuating the positive and seizing the myriad opportunities he believes are there for the taking if we are smart, strategic and decisive. He believes that the issues and concerns of country and city Australia are one and the same, with greater understanding and collaboration being to the advantage of both. And that great leaders are central to our success.

Matt’s specific claims towards the Hawkesbury Award selection criterion include the impact of his current work supporting rural leadership – swelling the ranks of Australia’s rural leaders, building diversity, encouraging excellence and rigorous evidence-based thinking. Matt is passionately committed to the fast-tracked development of leadership talent in rural Australia.

Today this finds expression via his position as CEO of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation. Matt completed the organisation’s prestigious Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) himself in 2001, joining Australian Foundation as Chief Executive in 2014; the first alumnus ever to hold the role. As Matt explains, the ARLP aims to “produce a network of informed, capable and ethical leaders who are able to work collaboratively to advance the interests of rural Australia”. The organisation has a long history in helping Australians from all corners of our country, in all walks of life – farmers, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders, health professionals, educators and others to develop their leadership capacity.

ALRP now has a network of almost 900 alumni working individually and collectively to help realise greater possibilities for this country. Key achievements under Matt’s leadership include:

  • restoring the organisation to a sound financial footing and achieving budget surpluses year-on-year
  • doubling public awareness (100 per cent increase) of the Foundation and its programs
  • achieving three times population parity in Indigenous representation in its programs – 10 per cent of its current cohort is Indigenous, with one group of 15 Aboriginal leaders from the Kimberley in Western Australia (who will then mentor other promising leaders in remote Kimberley communities)
  • growing the portfolio of leadership development options to include 11 different offerings that now feature agribusiness, sheep and wine industry programs.

A fresh thinker and highly effective leader for rural, regional and remote Australia, Matt is from the city and the bush. He has deep roots in both, with the understanding that comes from long lived experience. With skills, qualifications and the palpable qualities of a born leader, it makes him a uniquely effective advocate and champion of rural Australia.

Matt has held leadership roles since his earliest career – making a significant impact on every occasion with fresh, progressive thinking, a positive mindset and the evidence-based approaches he acquired at Hawkesbury. For example:

  • At the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Matt managed relationships with multiple, often diametrically opposed stakeholder groups, including environmentalists concerned about the water consumption of rice crops – precipitating an attitudinal shift that saw the Australian Conservation Foundation defend rice farming in its own newsletter!
  • At Murrumbidgee Irrigation – at this once-was government department which as Matt says, “still talked like one,” he oversaw the exponential growth of the organisation and a major change in the way it interacted with its stakeholders. He instigated regular ‘shed meetings’, putting on BBQs and giving farmers the opportunity to interact and share their concerns.
  • At the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, Matt represented the organisation on the international stage while still in his early 20s. He learnt to speak Thai to do so more effectively.
  • From 2011 to 2014, Matt was CEO of the National Farmers’ Federation, landing at the centre of the scandal involving live cattle exports, just as the then Labor government had issued a temporary ban on the export of live cattle. He helped the sector manage its way through the crisis, arguing that the incident demonstrated the need to grow goodwill for farmers in the wider community and to learn from its opponents.

“If you want a lesson on how to force change, Animals Australia did a very good job,” he said at the time. “They took a very long-term, strategic approach. We need to build a reservoir of goodwill in the community to such an extent that the next time something like (anti-live export campaigns) happens, you are not dropping into a pool of emptiness.”

Under Matt’s leadership, membership grew by 25 per cent and reserves increased by 60 per cent, and the NFF created the visionary ‘Blueprint for Australian Agriculture’ – the first industry-wide, industry-driven initiative to establish long-term objectives for the agricultural sector in Australia. It involved consultations with 4,000+ individuals and set out concrete priorities and towards the agricultural sector’s most successful future.

An active community leader in a voluntary capacity, and a farmer himself, Matt is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and a Director of the Carwoola Community Association, Community Leadership Australia and the Gungahlin Eagles Rugby Club.

He participates in Sydney’s annual ‘cook off’, swapping his suit for an apron and serving meals to the homeless. Matt has instigated various corporate social responsibility activities at the organisations he has served, leading his staff by example by volunteering himself.

Ms Cathy McGowan AO MP
Master of Applied Science (Agriculture and Rural Development), 1996
Federal Member for Indi, Parliament of Australia

As one of WSU’s oldest antecedent institutions, Hawkesbury has been producing star performers since the 1890s, but few have shone as brightly as the Federal Member of Indi (Victoria),

Ms Cathy McGowan AO. She is a stand out candidate for this year’s Hawkesbury Alumni Award.

Cathy grew up on a dairy farm in the Indigo Valley, not far from Albury-Wodonga on the Victoria/New South Wales border. Placed near the top-end of what was to become a tribe of 13 McGowan siblings, it could well be said that Cathy was born to lead. With nine sisters, feminism was probably also a fairly natural fit. Especially in the conservative heartland that was rural Australia in 1950s and 60s, where girls never got to own the farm, no matter how much milking they did after school.

Educated in Beechworth and Melbourne, Cathy’s early qualifications are in economics and agriculture. Her first career was as a teacher in Nhill and Wangaratta.

At 27, she bought her own farm, despite dire warnings from male relatives who jeered that she “couldn’t lift a flyblown sheep”. Later she became (somewhat prophetically) an electoral assistant to the then Federal Member for Indi, Ewen Cameron. In the 1980s she joined the Victorian Department of Agriculture, where she consulted with rural communities around Victoria, deepening her appreciation of life on the land. She also established her own rural consulting business, working with communities and farming families on issues such as home and community care, childcare, and cancer care.

Cathy is a former president and founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture, where she lobbied for greater recognition of the economic contribution of rural women’s (unpaid) labour. She has served as Chair of the National Regional Women’s Advisory Council, and is also a researcher, academic and published author. Until she was dragged only half willingly into the national spotlight, Cathy was pursuing a successful career as an international rural consultant. Her work with women in agriculture has taken her across the globe, working with rural communities from Papua New Guinea to Ireland.

In 2004 Cathy was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to the community through raising awareness of and stimulating debate about issues affecting women in regional, rural and remote areas. She was also a recipient of a national Centenary Medal in 2001 and is a Churchill Fellow. Cathy has a Masters in Applied Science in Agricultural and Rural Development from WSU.

The common thread in all Cathy has achieved is a commitment to women and rural communities – in Australia and everywhere – and a born leader standing up for people and places she believes in. Her accomplishments include: ousting Sophie Mirabella in Indi with an inspired grassroots community campaign. In 2013 Cathy ran as an Independent in the federal seat of Indi, famously claiming victory over Sophie Mirabella, with the Liberal Party losing the seat for the first time since the 1930s. To say it was an upset is to understate the affair entirely. Indi had long been a conservative stronghold, but a local movement emerged that felt that that Mirabella was failing to adequately represent her electorate.

They formed a grassroots organisation called ‘Voices for Indi’ and eventually, decided to support an independent candidate, sometime later persuading Cathy McGowan to be it. What set Indi apart from other successful runs by independents is that it was driven by the grassroots, not the candidate. In the past, almost to a one, elected independents either had a big local profile or were established politicians defecting from another party. Cathy’s history is different. It was never about her. She won voter support because people in Indi knew her and trusted her abilities.

Her Order of Australia, foreign trade knowledge, small business expertise, farming background and deep community ties were in stark contrast to helicoptered- in Melbourne lawyer Mirabella. Cathy’s inclusiveness defines her style of activism, and held the key to the success of her campaign. Kitchen table conversations helped shape the agenda, and young supporters chimed in social media savvy and inspired campaigning strategies. Cathy raised almost $120,000 in donations from almost 1,000 individual donors – an extraordinary feat for an independent candidate. Cathy retained Indi at the 2016 election with an increased majority of almost 5 per cent on a two-candidate-preferred basis. True leadership on the national stage. Shortly after winning Indi the first time around, ABC News Breakfast Virginia Trioli put it to Cathy that “you won’t be a kingmaker independent in minority government ... you’ll just be another vote”. Cathy responded, “There is no ‘just’ attached to being a member of parliament.. I will be the member for Indi, a voice for the electorate.” True to her word, Cathy has thrown her considerable abilities behind the job of representing Indi’s some 100,000 citizens.

Examples in this regard include:

  • Her passionate inaugural speech – painting of her family’s roots in Indi dating from the 1860s, Indi’s past, present and vision for the future. With it, Cathy outlined her central progressive thesis – one size does not fit all, and solutions must be shaped hand-in-hand with local communities.
  • In 2014, when the federal government had $100m on offer to fix mobile reception blackspots country area, Cathy helped set up the Indi Telecommunications Action Group to identify local blackspots. Working with Telstra, the federal Department and Victorian State government the Group developed a concrete action plan. It was the only electorate to do so. In the first round, Indi got 30 mobile base stations, enough to fix almost 200 of its approximately 300 identified blackspots. In round two, it got another 8 base stations, and the ability to fix 400 black spots.
  • Cathy has called for federal action to address the conditions of refugees in Australia’s detention centre on Manus Island. As services were withdrawn ahead of its closure, she said in Parliament, “My office is flooded with letters, phone calls, calls of the heart. Of course it’s important to follow the rules – but to lose our heart, to lose our care? … While the law is important, the heart is more important”.
  • She stood up for marriage equality.
  • Cathy has recently begun Parliament House’s first ever volunteer program.

An auspicious leadership career pre-Canberra (which is why the community chose her) In many ways, Cathy has been doing politics all her life. Being strategic and building alliances is what she does best. On the solid basis of her skills learned at Hawkesbury and honed over a long, illustrious leadership career, Cathy has made a difference in myriad ways. It is entirely unsurprising that in Parliament, she is known not only as the ‘queen of nice’ but a good operator who can work with people and get things done.

A proud and effective ambassador for WSU Hawkesbury, of the ten McGowan girls, three are graduates of Hawkesbury. It’s something of a family tradition! In Yackandandah, where Cathy is a founding member of Totally Renewable Yackandandah, a new community project with a clarion environmental call to action, Cathy is working with a sum total of seven other Hawkesbury graduates. She calls them a ‘critical mass’ who together with 100+ other community members, are designing this new project in line with the rigorous experiential learning techniques at Hawkesbury.

The Hawkesbury Alumni Awards will be presented by the Chancellor, Professor Peter Shergold AC, at the Annual Hawkesbury Alumni Luncheon on Friday 14 September.

Tickets to the luncheon are available online.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Community Impact Award

Mr Shane Kennelly
Master of Business Administration, 2008
Managing Director, Kennelly Constructions

Shane Kennelly’s outstanding contribution to the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community in Greater Western Sydney and beyond is of the bricks and mortar variety. It is plainly visible in built environments from Sydney to Darwin and an Indigenous workforce with secure, decently remunerated jobs in construction, with an employer who demonstrably has their best interests at heart. It delivers the well-documented benefits of paid employment in a productive, collegial work environment to individuals employees, with additional benefits flowing to Indigenous families and communities via their economic contributions and ability to act as role models for others. In Australia’s sustained construction boom, it delivers skilled construction workers to a building industry where they are in high demand.

In this context, the idea of an Indigenous-owned, managed and staffed construction company is a no brainer, but it took Shane Kennelly to make it a reality. In doing so, he cements his case for this year’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Community Impact Award. Nowadays, he’s also using his formidable skills and experience, along with the cache and connections mhe has built during his years in construction as an engineer and business owner, to give back to his community in other ways. Shane is an increasingly prominent advocate for Indigenous advancement, champion of the reconciliation movement and via pro bono commitments such as his work with Engineers Without Borders, where he now sits on the Board and steers its projects in remote Aboriginal communities.

Shane Kennelly grew up poor in Brisbane, living in Housing Commission as part of a family that seemed always to be just scraping by with the help of food vouchers and handouts. His maternal grandmother was a member of the Stolen Generation. She and her three sisters were forcibly removed from their family and sent to Cootamundra Girls’ Home. Naturally enough, without any support to deal with the trauma this entailed, it had intergenerational impacts that travelled down the line and meant that anger and conflict were a constant in Shane’s early life. He decided young that this was not the life he wanted for himself. Luckily, Shane had a gift for maths and enthusiasm for study that has allowed him to forge a different path. He took the well-worn route from disadvantage which is education and the rest, as they say, is history. He did well enough in high school (i.e. very well indeed) to do Aeronautical Engineering at Sydney University and pursue a successful engineering career. In 2008, he graduated from WSU with his second degree, a Master of Business. He now has more than 15 years’ experience in senior executive positions, and a solid gold reputation in the construction industry.

Shane is a proud Bundjalung man, a first in family learner and first in family business owner both, with a remarkable backstory about his escape from an inheritance of loss and dispossession and steely determination to do something extraordinary with his life – for himself, and on behalf of other Indigenous Australians.

Today he is the Managing Director of Kennelly Constructions, which he co-founded with his brother Adam in 2010. Kennelly Constructions is a leading Indigenous contractor delivering civil, construction and maintenance support services, with offices in Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin, and major contracts across Eastern and Northern Australia. Depending on the scope and size of its contracts at a given time, Kennelly Constructions employs between 25 and 100 Indigenous construction workers. It provides a wide range of engineering, constructions, maintenance and support services, with diverse capabilities and a proven track record enables across the sectors including:

  • Camps and accommodation
  • Energy and Resources
  • Government
  • Infrastructure
  • Oil and Gas
  • Renewables infrastructure
  • Transport

Kennelly Constructions has an explicit point of difference which is about caring and respecting its employees – it puts its people at the centre of everything it does, which means its employees feel valued and supported, repaying the loyalty the Kennellys show to them with their own, and in spades. Their motto is “we are only as good as our people”. It’s a revolutionary idea but it seems to work! The first two workers they hired are still with them almost a decade later.

Kennelly Constructions is similarly committed to implementing community service programs that make a positive contribution to the communities in which it works. Shane understands his own good fortune and as such, is dedicated to giving back via whatever means possible. At Southern Cross University, Kennelly Constructions provides a scholarship for an Aboriginal person to study Civil Engineering. It is also the inaugural sponsor of the Aboriginal Achievement Award, which is part of the Queensland Young Achiever Awards, acknowledging a young Indigenous person’s extraordinary achievements.

Shane’s great passion, which he lives and breathes on a daily basis, is training and employment for Aboriginal people, as a means to achieve greater prosperity and community pride. He is providing long term sustainable employment opportunities via direct employment and is also helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses grow. His newer concern, First Peoples Recruitment Services, is about matching skilled Indigenous workers to jobs, in a supported, structured program. Shane, as a lifelong devotee of the STEM disciplines, is also driven by a desire to increase the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in STEM, to ensure that they are not further marginalized by technological change. He sits on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Business and Innovation Reference Group for the Queensland Government and the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Advisory Committee for the global engineering consultancy GHD.

Shane says that Kevin Rudd’s apology marked a turning point for Australia, the start of a shift in the endemically racist attitudes that have long held sway. He believes things have changed in the ten years since. That there is more willingness and openness to engage with Aboriginal-led businesses than there was even five years ago, and that opportunities for Indigenous workers are slowly opening up. What Shane doesn’t say is the way he has quietly played a leading role in making this to happen. For him, it’s about having the biggest possible impact as time allows – the accolades don’t much matter. But this one is his due. He is an outstanding candidate for the WSU Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander Community Impact Award.

Mr Christian Lotter
Bachelor of Education (Primary), 2014
Classroom teacher, Department of Education

Christian Lotter is an enthusiastic and highly engaging Aboriginal primary school teacher from Tumut Primary School on the NSW South Coast, who goes above and beyond in his own teaching practices to ensure that all students in his individual class and across his school have opportunities to connect with the Aboriginal culture. Throughout his teaching practices, Christian is committed to building strong and genuine relationships with his local Aboriginal community and Elders, implementing excursions that are focused on Aboriginal culture and history to generate a high level of value and respect resulting in true reconciliation within his classroom.

Regardless of the limited Aboriginal perspectives and culture currently embedded within the Australian education curriculum and syllabus documents, Christian prioritises a balanced approach whereby traditional Aboriginal cultural methods and knowledges are positioned equally with the dominant discourse. Sensitively incorporating integral issues such as pre-colonisation, the Stolen Generations, 1967 Referendum and sharing his own family history and connection to Walgett, La Perouse and South Coast area (Yuin Country), Christian is dedicated to a holistic approach which is recommended by research within the educational field to increase outcomes for Indigenous students.

Establishing personal relationships with every student in his class, Christian has made an incredible impact on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students with many returning to thank him for the influence that he has had whilst in his care. Demonstrating exemplary leadership skills and attitudes, he has consistently provided programs based on Indigenous culture and history including Didgeridoo workshops and performance groups each year, collaborating with National Parks and Wildlife employees to guarantee quality educational programs are delivered. Christian has proven organisational skills through his communication and engagement with his local community, generating and implementing a whole community event which was highly successful and celebrated by the Deputy Mayor and the broader community in 2016.

Whilst many educators struggle with incorporating culturally sensitive and appropriate perspectives in the classroom, Christian demonstrates an exceptional ability to not only embed Indigenous perspectives into his teaching, but he also provides opportunities for colleagues and non-Indigenous staff to partner with him and learn from his knowledge base. In 2017 he constructed a script for the whole school play where all school staff and students were involved. By collaborating with another staff member, Christian initiated a whole school performance which included Aboriginal music and lyrics; his class performed “The Children Came Back” (Briggs, Dewayne Everett Smith and Gurrumul) focusing on the Stolen Generations.

Christian’s mother, a local Aboriginal Elder was invited to contribute to the performance as a demonstration of high levels of respect and who painted every child with traditional symbols and artwork. An Acknowledgement of Country was given and Christian spent hours of his own time, teaching traditional Aboriginal dances (kangaroo, emu, lorikeet, goanna, snake) to all of the children at the school resulting in a standard of excellence that was recognised by all parents, the community and Christian’s superiors. His standard of teaching aligns with the recommended Quality Teaching Frameworks and is elevated by his own connection to culture, his capacity to engage professionally and appropriately with his local Aboriginal community and broader community as well as a distinct positive ability to connect on a personal basis with the parents.

With current low rates of Indigenous staff employed full-time across the Primary Education sector (and particularly Indigenous male positions) I believe that Christian displays the characteristics required to increase the confidence of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students with the education system and curriculum and his positive, caring nature allows the school context to be transformed into the welcoming safe environment that is required when Aboriginal students and their parents are involved and is an example for future Aboriginal educators in the mainstream system. Christian demonstrates the Department of Education’s commitment to Aboriginal Education through the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) and the Partnership Agreement by establishing and maintaining genuine partnerships with the local Aboriginal community and engaging all staff in valuing and implementing Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander perspectives, histories and knowledges in his everyday “business”. His approach to pedagogy and collaboration with staff highlights the Department of Education’s significant motto, that “Aboriginal education is everyone’s business” by allowing numerous opportunities for students, parents, staff and his whole school to engage with local Aboriginal Elders, and culture.

It is vital that successful stories are shared with Aboriginal communities, that students who enter tertiary education with support of their families, can share their success with their families and community. It is essential that Christian’s success is recognised, celebrated and shared with his Aboriginal family and community to demonstrate Western Sydney University’s commitment to ethical and culturally appropriate programs; where the local Aboriginal community can visually see the positive affect that tertiary pathways can have on their children, and their grandchildren.

I wholeheartedly support, endorse and believe that Christian is not only a success story as a graduate of the University, but an example for all educators who wish to `close the gap’ between the educational inequities for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students. I believe that all undergraduate students enrolled in the University particularly, Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander students and those completing the AREP course within the Badanami Institute need to see the success of such programs to further encourage them and to provide an example of what you can achieve through the University’s programs.

Christian does not lead by force and does not position himself higher than any other educator; his connection to Aboriginal cultural values and sincerity would not allow him to disregard his colleague’s participation and contribution to his own success, which is why I believe that Christian deserves to be formally recognised and celebrated. His humble and supportive nature is a characteristic that all educators can look up to and his connection to culture and Country consistently inspires not only his community and his students, but I also find this an inspiration in my own teaching.

Young Alumni

Mr Ahmad Al Rady
Bachelor of Health Science (Honours)/ Master of Podiatric Medicine, 2017
Podiatrist, Royal North Shore Hospital

In a career that’s uniquely his own, WSU Alumni Ahmad Al Rady is a poet/podiatrist. He is also a young community leader, organiser and activist who is finding inspired ways to make use of both professions in a high octane social justice crusade. Ahmad is a man on a mission for the greater common good, a WSU star on the rise, and an outstanding candidate for this year’s Young Alumni Award.

At 25, Ahmad has graced stages around Australia and the globe with his poetry and spoken word performances. He has been described as a “winning mix of charm and eloquence”, wowing audiences with his “beautiful spoken poetry” and the “symmetry of his words”. He co-founded what is now Australia’s largest regular live poetry event, and has established wildly popular programs in Western Sydney high schools to encourage other young literary talents. Since graduating from WSU with a Masters in Podiatry in 2017, Ahmad has opened his own podiatry clinic in Western Sydney and the St George Area, which he is pursuing in tandem with his work within the public health sector at Royal North Shore Hospital, continuing the focus on diabetes-related foot and lower-limb complications that formed the basis of his thesis research. And because Ahmad is someone who clearly likes to keep busy, he has also started a brilliant new social enterprise called ‘Sole Purpose’, in which he is bringing together allied health practitioners, sock and shoe manufacturers and young volunteers in a campaign to do something practical to help Sydney’s homeless – feet first.

Ahmad began writing poetry at university. His first poetry slam was in a pub in Glebe. He didn’t know it at the time, but in paying $15 to get in, he was entering the New South Wales State Finals. He says he was so nervous he just yelled the poem – but still ended up qualifying. He didn’t win but was addicted. He made the one and a half hour commute from Liverpool to Glebe once a week until it occurred to him that he could start something in the Western suburbs.

In early 2013, along with co-founder Sara Mansour, Ahmad launched the now-famous Bankstown Poetry Slam. There were 60 guests on the first night, mostly family and friends. The next month though, it was 150, and the month after that, 200. Nowadays, numbers routinely hover at around 300, making it the biggest ongoing poetry night in the country. This is a substantial accomplishment for literature, poetry and the Western Sydney community, especially its young people.

Other literary accomplishments include:

  • Founding the Grand Poetry Slam, a sort of poetry Olympics held at the State Library of New South Wales in 2015 with over 1,000 young people involved
  • Establishing ‘Stand Tall, Speak Out!’, an inter- schools’ poetry competition which is now Australia’s largest youth spoken word initiative – which Ahmad designed as a way to get high school students to express complex issues such as gender, identity, bullying, family concerns, etc. through poetry.
  • Appearing at the ‘Speaking of Home’ United Arab Emirates tour, the Woodford Folk Festival, Sydney Writers Festival and the ‘Write on the World’ Australian inter-state spoken word tour.
  • Being published in two anthologies of the Bankstown Poetry Slam.

The newly established Sole Purpose will undoubtedly raise his profile and the reputation of his profession. Sole Purpose provides shoes and socks for homeless people, along with anti-fungal creams, specialist advice and free podiatry treatment. Ahmad has got several shoe and sock manufacturers on-board, along with anti-fungal cream supplies and several of his fellow podiatrists. While still in its early days, this is another major accomplishment. Poor foot health correlates strongly with homelessness. Like vets, doctors and hairdressers, podiatrists can make a profound difference in the lives of homeless people.

Ahmad’s leadership qualities have already been formally rewarded in various ways. In 2015, in recognition of his work in the arts and being a role model for diversity, Ahmad was the recipient of the Zest Outstanding Youth Award. He has also won an Australian Muslim Achievement Award for the best artist. He has a growing media profile and is an increasingly sort after speaker and commentator at writers’ festivals and events.

The Bankstown Poetry Slam has taken out the Western Sydney Leadership Prize for “Community Engagement” and the inaugural Pemulwuy Prize, presented by the Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, in front of 500+ delegates at Parramatta at Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue’s `Out There’ Summit. Ahmad has the gift of the gab, clearly, but above and beyond his way with words is a young man with boundless energy for doing good in the world. He has a strong social conscience and is determined to always find ways to ‘give back’ to his community. Ahmad is clever, creative and charismatic, which makes him a natural leader. He will always conceive of inspired ideas and lead movements for positive change.

His work as a poet and with Sole Purpose is all entirely voluntary. Ahmad has probably done more to raise the profile of live ‘slam’ poetry and encourage the participation of young people in this genre than anyone else in Australia – quite the feat considering that when Ahmad arrived in Australia as a nine-year-old from Iran he couldn’t speak a word of English. At primary school, a teacher gave him a Harry Potter book, and a great door to literacy opened before him. He lived in the library and saved every cent so he could to buy books. He adored literature, though also science, and (somewhat incongruously) kickboxing. The kickboxing has gone by the wayside, but the dual passions of literature and science remain as the twin pillars of Ahmad’s life and career. His story is an inspiration to WSU’s alumni community, in that it is a demonstration of all that can be achieved with education, talent and determination.

Equally, Ahmad is an inspiration to podiatry students and the podiatrist community at large, as well as other allied health professions. In founding Sole Purpose, Ahmad demonstrates how allied health professionals can support social justice aims via practical projects and campaigns. Ahmad says he feels the same energy and purpose now as when he founded Poetry Slam. Both are inspirational ideas from an inspiring young man who is definitely one to watch.

Ms Emma MacFarlane
Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, 2009
Principal, Coleman Greig Lawyers

I have known Emma Macfarlane for three years through professional connections, and since meeting her I have been in awe of how much she has achieved for herself in her career and how much she has done, and continues to do, for her local community. Emma’s tenacity, achievements and success as I’ve outlined below are all inspiring examples of the way individuals can start with the strong foundations of a quality education and, with the right attitude, quickly build success across many facets of their life.

Emma’s career success and fast career progression has broken a number of records:

A reluctant self-promoter, only when pushed will Emma reveal just how successful she has been in a very short period of time, achieving:

  • One of the fastest promotions from Solicitor to Associate in Marsdens Law Group’s 50-year history;
  • One of the youngest Partners ever appointed in Marsdens Law Group, at age 30;
  • Only the third female Partner in Marsdens Law Group;
  • The youngest of 10 Principals at Coleman Grieg Lawyers; and
  • One of only 62 Law Society Accredited Specialists in Commercial Litigation in New South Wales

Emma studied a Bachelor of Business (Management)/ Bachelor of Laws at WSU from 2002 to 2008.

Emma started her career as a Law Clerk with Marsdens Law Group in 2004. Emma was very deliberate in making the choice to join Marsdens, as it was a firm that was heavily entrenched in her local community from both a business and corporate social responsibility perspective which was, and still remains, critically important to Emma.

Emma worked quickly to establish herself in the firm, which saw her transition quickly from Law Clerk to one of the Partners to working across an entire department with several different Solicitors, Partners and Associates relying upon her.

Admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW on 15 August 2008, Emma then in the position of Solicitor at Marsdens from August 2008. Not for long, however, as she was promoted to Associate of the firm in June 2009 – one of the fastest promotions to Associate in the 50-year history of the firm. Not surprisingly, in June 2011 after only two years as an Associate, Emma was promoted to Senior Associate and it was in this role that Emma was able to start to develop her team of Associates, Solicitors, Law Clerks and administrative support staff with her responsibility spanning the management, professional development and performance of the Commercial Litigation Team in the Campbelltown Office.

Emma consistently exceeded the KPI’s set out for her, which included her performance in management and leadership, the results she and her team delivered for clients and her community involvement – all things Emma is both personally and professionally passionate about. As a result of her performance, at the age of 30, Emma was made Partner of Marsdens. Not only was Emma one of the youngest Partners ever appointed in the firm’s history, she is also only the third female to make that rank.

In 2018, Emma undertook a Specialist Accreditation program with the Law Society of New South Wales. This program is an intensive and rigorous structured peer assessment program which enables solicitors to gain recognition as an expert in a chosen area of practice. In the 2018 course, Emma was one of only two candidates in Commercial Litigation who attained merit status and currently she is one of only 62 Accredited Commercial Litigation Specialists in New South Wales.

During her 14 years at Marsdens, many opportunities had come to Emma to work in firms outside of Western Sydney. The importance of maintaining her connection to the Western Sydney community, however, outweighed these opportunities. In 2018, Emma made the deliberate decision to pursue a role with Coleman Greig Lawyers – a multi-award winning firm considered to be Western Sydney’s leading law firm. Emma started at Coleman Greig as a Principal in February 2018 in the Litigation and Dispute Resolution team and, continuing on her career fast track, is the youngest of 10 Principals.

While pursuing a very successful career, Emma started at an early age to support her local community and remains passionately committed to continuing this support:

  • Current Director of Youth Solutions;
  • A founding and ongoing member of the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research Fundraising Luncheon Committee;
  • Director of the Board of St Patrick’s College for Girls, Campbelltown, 2016-2017;
  • Judging Panellist for the Quota International Public Speaking Competition; and
  • Organiser and Host of a successful quarterly Business Women’s Lunch in the Macarthur.

In 2007, Emma was invited to become a Director on the Youth Solutions Board, which she continues to this day in a volunteering capacity. Youth Solutions develops and maintains drug and alcohol health promotion strategies for young people and has become one of Macarthur’s most recognised not-for-profit organisations. In her role on the Ingham Institute Committee, which was established in 2012, Emma has helped raise over $306,000 for the Institute.

Emma was also a Director on the Board of St Patrick’s College for Girls, Campbelltown, from 2016 to 2017 and only reluctantly stepped down from the Board when her role at Coleman Grieg saw her relocate to Parramatta.

Emma has also been a keen panelist for the Quota International Public Speaking Competition, Ingleburn Club, which also sees her mentor senior high school students from across the Macarthur and Ingleburn regions to help them develop their public speaking skills and confidence.

Since 2012 Emma has organised and hosted luncheons quarterly, attended by a select group of up to 20 business women and are designed to foster better relationships and a strong support network amongst senior business women in the Macarthur and Narellan regions.

Emma has achieved so much in her career at a very early age and I have no doubt her success will continue. Her journey inspires many including young law students (especially young females) and other soon-to-be graduates, to persist to succeed, start early and to see the opportunity and value in the Western Sydney business landscape and its local communities.

Mr Manuel Ventura
Bachelor of Laws (Graduate Entry), 2010
Associate Legal Officer, Special Tribunal for Lebanon

For someone with a passion for international law, working in The Hague is your dream gig. Like Wall Street in New York for stockbrokers or London’s Fleet Street for journalists, it’s a sign that you’ve made it, professionally speaking – you’ve hit the big time.

Today WSU Alumnus Manuel Ventura is living that dream, working in The Hague on some of the world’s biggest international criminal cases concerning some of the most notorious war criminals. From the successful prosecution of Radovan Karadžić, AKA the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ to assisting judges hearing evidence about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, Manuel is working at the frontlines, fighting the good fight for the international rule of law. After something of a rocky start, scholastically speaking, Manuel Ventura is a walking exemplar of the transformative power of tertiary education, combined with talent, determination, mental resilience and a positive can do attitude.

Plum roles like Manuel’s aren’t easy to secure, but his keen interest in international law and the fact that he tailored his degree to this area stood him in good stead. As he says, “I chose subjects in criminal law, space law, human rights law, environmental law – anything and everything that would contribute to my understanding of international law”.

In 2009, Manuel visited The Hague to attend the Harvard World Model United Nations (WorldMUN) Conference. He decided that he wanted to stay, and after sending numerous applications, secured his first position as an intern in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Almost a decade later – albeit with some breaks in between – Manuel is still working in The Hague. This is a significant accomplishment in and of itself, demonstrating the sort of tenacity that will support his ongoing success.

Manuel also has a fast-growing publishing record, including articles in leading academic journals and chapters in authoritative books on international criminal law. He is scheduled to publish two (co)edited books later in 2018. His work has been cited by the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY and in litigation before the International Criminal Court (ICC), including by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. Further, he is an ad hoc lecturer at the Law School of The Hague University of Applied Sciences – teaching terrorism, evidence and international criminal courts and tribunals – and is also an adjunct fellow at the WSU Law School.

Once Manuel found his true passion, he championed the area of international law and threw himself into extra-curricular activities such as representing WSU at the International Humanitarian Law Moot Competition during the 2008 Australian Law Students’ Association Conference and the 2009 Jessup International Law Moot Competition (Australian rounds). Manuel also co-organised the Asia-Pacific Model United Nations Conference in 2006 at WSU’s Parramatta Campus, which over 500 students from universities around Australia attended; was the Head Delegate for the Australian Delegation to the Harvard World MUN Conference in Puebla, Mexico in 2008 (leading a delegation of approximately 40 Australian university students); and participated in the 2009 Harvard WorldMUN Conference in The Hague, The Netherlands. Manuel was also a student editor of the Western Sydney University Law Review (2007), an elected officer of (what was then) the University of Western Sydney Students Association, and Vice President of the University’s United Nations Society.

As a practitioner his career so far has featured numerous highlights including:

  • Assisting in the ICTY Prosecution’s case against Radovan Karadžić
  • Serving President Antonio Cassese – known as one of the fathers of international criminal law – at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
  • Working as a law clerk (associate) to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng of the Constitutional Court of South Africa
  • Being on the Defence team for Kenya’s Deputy President William Samoei Ruto before the ICC
  • Participating – through The Peace and Justice Initiative (a non-governmental organisation of which he is a co-director) – as amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the Constitutional Court of South Africa in cases concerning:
    • The initiation of a criminal investigation for crimes against humanity (torture) allegedly committed in Zimbabwe; and
    • The Sudanese President Al Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Darfur
    • Assisting in the drafting of landmark decisions in international criminal law issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon:
    • Defining terrorism under customary international law
    • Finding that jurisdiction can be exercised over corporations for criminal (contemptuous) conduct

As an academic and advocate, Manuel is demonstrating leadership qualities in the following ways:

  • as a member of the Council of Advisers of the Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression – an initiative of The Planethood Foundation founded by Benjamin Ferencz, the last living former Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and a lifelong advocate of the rule of law in international affairs
  • Co-Director of The Peace and Justice Initiative – an NGO which provides legal expertise and assistance to domestic jurisdictions on matters related to international criminal law speaking at symposiums and seminars – including in South Africa (2015), Senegal (2016) and Ethiopia (2017) – on matters relating to international criminal justice and the African continent
  • training Associate Legal Officers of the Constitutional Court of Indonesia in promoting efficient and effective work practices in 2017
  • in Pakistan, teaching international criminal law to Afghani and Pakistani female law students and recent graduates at the International Islamic University in Islamabad in 2016
  • at Washington University in St Louis in 2015, attending an experts’ meeting on the unlawful use of force and laws of war in the United States, leading to the publication of a book on the subject in 2018
  • in 2012, (co)winning the inaugural Ben Benjamin B. Ferencz Essay Competition prize on the illegal use of force and crimes against humanity.

There are few alumni journeys as inspiring as Manuel’s. After his family fled civil conflict in Peru, Manuel arrived in Australia aged six with not a word of English. He grew up in the public housing flats of Redfern and Waterloo. He was nobody’s scholar at high school. His HSC result was a resoundingly ordinary 67.35 UAI (now ATAR). He wanted to study law, but with 92 as the minimum cut-off ATAR score at that time, he didn’t have a chance. Instead, he scraped into WSU’s Bachelor of Arts, beginning his tertiary studies in the same half-hearted fashion he’d approached high school. But then something shifted – he found the university experience liberating and the subjects genuinely interesting, something he didn’t experience at high school. In his first semester Manuel earned a distinction average and was able to transfer to Law, where he eventually discovered international law and his great professional passion.

For other students who don’t achieve elite-level ATAR scores, Manuel is proof positive that your ATAR isn’t everything. Equally, for the community at large, his is an inspirational story of overcoming early disadvantage to achieve amazing things.

Community Champion

Mrs Faten El Dana OAM
Master of Arts (TESOL), 2008
Head of the Language Department, Al Amanah College

Faten El Dana OAM, is a remarkable lady with many talents and abundant knowledge. Her contribution to the multicultural nature of New South Wales has been one of utmost commendation and inspiration. For over 20 years Faten has dedicated her time and energy to empower individuals and communities through education and awareness.

In 1989, Faten arrived in Australia with hopes to become a registered midwife, a dream which she accomplished at the end of 1992. With a background in nursing from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, and having undertaken several courses in teaching English as a foreign language, she was determined to make her mark in a country she will call home.

As a midwife at Westmead Hospital, Faten developed an understanding of the pressing health issues particularly those pertaining to women from non-English speaking backgrounds. Being a migrant herself, Faten empathised with many and quickly developed a passion for helping migrant women settle in Australia and for improving their awareness about important health issues.

She observed that they were ill-informed about important health issues due to the language barrier. Thus she pursued a Master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, which enabled her to teach new migrants the English language fast-tracked. With her skills and experiences, Faten was determined to instil a sense of empowerment in women through educational opportunities and health awareness programs.

This observation was strengthened by her work in teaching English to migrants. Her role as a health carer and a teacher has paved the way for her to become a leader in the community by presiding over the Muslim Women’s Welfare of Australia (MWWA). MWWA is a non-profit community based organisation committed to empowering Muslim Women through community participation by means of education, religion and social interaction.

As a health educator, Faten runs classes on pregnancy and birth. As a volunteer at 2MFM, a Muslim Community Radio station that broadcasts in Sydney, she presented a weekly radio show dedicated for women’s health.

Faten was also involved in a very successful Swim Safe program initiated by the Department of Sports and Recreation and designed to meet the needs of Muslim women, with more than 150 graduates including Muslim and non-Muslim women some of which were suffering obesity and physical disability. The success of this project resulted in the Department being presented an award by the then Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation which in turn presented Faten with an award in recognition of her contribution.

Faten was appointed as the consultant for the Arabic community for projects designed particularly by the NSW Multicultural Communication Health Service such as breast and ovarian cancer campaigns aimed at the most vulnerable members of the community particularly female refugees and new arrivals. She also promoted the Early Intervention Infoline Telephone service, on the community’s special segment live-to-air program on 2MFM, concerning children with a developmental or an intellectual disability. The success of this campaign won Faten the Inaugural National Ethnic Multicultural Broadcasters award for the best live-to-air program presented by women.

Faten saw it necessary to bring to the community awareness and better understanding of alcohol related issues. She conducted an educational media campaign aimed to provide parents with tools to counteract this problem. Her project was chosen by NSW Health to be featured on the cover of its June 2009 newsletter, and she was invited by the Department to present a paper on this project at its annual conference at Wollongong University, and by Multicultural NSW, at its annual symposium in Parramatta.

During International Hepatitis C week, Faten conducted a forum through her position at MWWA at Liverpool, as well as a media awareness campaign through her work at 2MFM. Out of more than 40 projects implemented by community groups around the states, the Hepatitis Council recommended Faten’s radio project to be covered by the National SBS Radio for the SBS World View program, and she was interviewed for this coverage.

Faten’s ongoing efforts to engage the wider community have made her an Executive position holder at several organisations including Program Manager at 2MFM and Head of the Arabic department at Al Amana College.

However, Faten never ceases to be committed to serving the community. In 2013, Faten’s efforts in producing and presenting the Burial Crisis Project won 2MFM the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA) Excellence in Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasting award. Her continuous hard work, won 2MFM the 2014 CBAA Finalist Award for Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasting for her delivery of a humane and phenomenal community project aimed at assisting migrants, titled ‘Migrants: be informed, don’t be conned’.

The program was a response to the Government’s ‘Don’t be Sorry’ campaign warning ethnic communities about the dangers of people smugglers. For Faten, such projects are important in building bridges and developing communities by generating awareness and making all migrants part of the news and affairs within Australia.

Faten’s media coverage on 2MFM, of the new Australian anti-terror laws, focused on educating the Muslim community about the risks of extremism, and providing them with reassurance on how to deal with repercussions of terror related incidents whilst promoting positive engagement and collaboration between police officials, government agencies and the Muslim community. The campaign titled ‘Together, Standing Against Extremism and Racism’ emerged as a very deserving winner of the 2015 Australian Multicultural Marketing Awards at the Gala Presentation Ceremony at the Sydney Opera House in the category of SBS People’s Choice Award.

The campaign’s success in this category underscores the public’s desire for awareness programs which warn against the damaging effects of extremism, radicalisation and racism as well as its willingness to give recognition to genuine efforts made by members of the Muslim community in tackling these serious social issues. Faten was one of 19 Muslim Australians described as one of the individuals ‘Who Are Owning It Right Now’.

Faten demonstrated excellence and success through her community participation as a volunteer and a community leader, as seen through the rewards and accolades. She will always be a community champion.

Mr Bashar Hanna
Master of Social Science, 2011
Community Liaison Officer Team Leader, Prairiewood High School

At face value, championing community through music seems an unlikely choice for a trained engineer and ex-real estate agent. Until you learn that when Bashar Hanna fled his native Iraq he did so carrying just one possession, his guitar.

Bashar was born in Iraq in 1970, into an educated, intellectual family comprised of architects and engineers. Bashar pursued the latter discipline, graduating from Baghdad’s University of Technology in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science (Building and Construction Engineering), and a Master of Science (Construction Management) in 1995.

He became a civil engineer in Iraq but his job was on a politically sensitive project that was terminated by the repressive regime. Shortly thereafter, he made his way to Jordan and worked in construction management for two years before he migrated to Australia in 1998, seeking “freedom and a better future”. However, what Bashar found was not quite the warm welcome he’d imagined.

He knocked on doors the length of Sydney but could not find one engineering firm that would take him on. His dreams evaporated and he got depressed. He worked a succession of minor jobs before eventually deciding to study at the local TAFE. A course in real estate offered a tenuous link to his former profession and thus, Bashar became Fairfield City’s first Arabic-speaking real estate agent in 2001.

As refugees from Arabic-speaking countries flooded into the area, Bashar became their ‘safe hands’, someone they could trust, who spoke their language and understood their culture. It was a lucrative career at which Bashar easily excelled. His people skills are amazing, and given his background, he was able to value-add with construction expertise. But in his heart of hearts, he always knew he wasn’t a salesperson. Bashar isn’t driven by money. His great loves are community, music and human connection. He’s a people person, not a profit seeker. And so again, Bashar returned to study, this time at Western Sydney University, completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Adult Education in 2007.

In 2008 he joined the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship as a Case Co-ordinator in its Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy Program. For the next three years, Bashar worked with newly-arrived refugees, becoming ever-more painfully aware of their struggles; the language barriers, social exclusion and the culture differences holding them back.

Equally, the profound trauma that many refugees had lived through and the way that these experiences continued to haunt them. How isolated and alienated they were, how lacking the connection to community that Bashar felt sure would help them heal.

With a case load of 100 plus clients and just six months to work with each person, Bashar was frustrated by how little agency he had to make a difference. It was the urge to do more that took him back to WSU where in 2011 he gained a Masters in Social Science. He then joined the Department of Education and Communities, beginning the professional path he remains on today, as the Community Liaison Team Leader at Prairiewood High School – where he is a much-loved colleague, confidant and champion of the migrant and refugee students of the school communities he oversees.

Simultaneously, Bashar has pursued his music. He has combined it with his passion for helping people, this time through the healing connections of shared music and song. Bashar is the Founder of Western Sydney’s legendary Choir of Love. The Choir began as a modest affair at St Therese’s Catholic Church in Fairfield Heights in 2004. In 2009, it went from being a small church-based group to fully independent, attracting people from different Iraqi descents, such as Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs, as well as more recent arrivals. There’s also an offshoot choir group called The Peacemakers Ensemble, that is multi-faith, multi-gender and multicultural.

The two choirs do theatrical performances, participate in festivals and produce educational materials. The Choir of Love and The Peacemakers Ensemble has attracted almost 200 members over the past six years, most of them from refugee backgrounds and many who have suffered the trauma of war. Together, they advocate love and peace through music – with a beautiful combination of voice and instrument; Eastern and Western rhythms and sounds. They sing traditional and contemporary Arabic hymns, English traditional hymns and Iraqi Folkloric songs. Being in the Choir encourages members to learn English and meet people from different backgrounds and cultures, to resettle more successfully and feel included.

Many Choir members have joined suffering severe anxiety and PTSD, but the stories of their transformations are truly heart-warming. Some have returned to study and a few have now finished university courses. Others are in the workforce, and several regularly do public speaking – something they’d never have dreamed of before joining the Choir.

In 2012, the Choir of Love entered a partnership with the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), an organisation that provides counselling and community development support for refugees undergoing trauma. Since then they have initiated a range of joint community projects to attract people from all refugee backgrounds to come and sing for love and peace.

Notably among these is the Song of Peace project that brought together more than 2,000 people in Western Sydney, the Colours of Mesopotamia Festival, the Women of Fairfield production and performances with Opera Australia’s orchestra and conductor. In 2014, Bashar invested his life-savings to open Fairfield’s Arts and Community Development Centre – he founded it and did all the hard yards to get it going in an entirely voluntary capacity.

The Centre expands Bashar’s efforts around what he calls the “social change through creativity” concept. Bashar believes in catharsis and healing through creative journeys; a stance that is vindicated by the evidence-based practice of music and art therapists.

The Centre plays host to a range of arts-based community projects and welcomes people from everywhere. Bashar’s central message is that as humans we can live in both inter-cultural and inter-community harmony and all be happier and stronger for it. In fragmented times such as these, Bashar is a big-hearted hero of his Western Sydney community.

Ms Abul Mayen
Bachelor of Medical Science, 2011
Pharmacist in charge, Coober Pedy Pharmacy

Abul Mayen’s early life in South Sudan is in many ways your typical African refugee story. The terrifying flight from civil war, the interminable wait for resettlement – in her case in Kenya’s sprawling Kakuma Refugee Camp – then, for the lucky ones like Abul and her family, starting again somewhere a long way from home and the arduous work of rebuilding their lives.

However, Abul is not your typical South Sudanese woman. For this she credits her father, who she describes as a ‘learned man’. A graduate of Egypt’s University of Alexandria, he formed his own opinions about the value and role of Abul and her sisters.

As Abul explains, she was “born into a family that considered education as a basic need for both boys and girls. My Dad always told us to not let anybody put a limit on what can you achieve just because you’re a girl”. Many have tried, and all have failed.

Today Abul is a community champion in the truest sense – harnessing her prodigious intellect, energy, spirit and determination to ensure that as many other South Sudanese girls as possible follow her inspirational lead. And she is doing a mighty job. She is helping practically in both Africa and Australia, and all of it is unpaid. Abul is the co-founder and current President of Twic East Girls Scholarship Program (TEGSP). TEGSP’s mission is to fight poverty through girls’ education.

It provides scholarships to girls, first and foremost from Kakuma Camp, for four years of high school education. Girls are taught not only to read and write, but also to be active members of their society. TEGSP positions educated women and girls as vital change agents who will help deliver peace and prosperity to South Sudan. The organisation pays tuition and school fees, transport fees and a small allowance. The girls attend a boarding school outside Kakuma, a learning environment where they can thrive, and avoid child marriages. The first of TEGSP’s inaugural scholarship group are soon to graduate with their high school certificates.

At present, TEGSP supports 12 girls, and hopes to welcome another four this year. They’re also looking to expand activities to include peer support programs. Investing in girls’ education, Abul (along with development professionals across the globe) argues that the surest route from poverty is to “Look at the maternity and child mortality rate”. Educated women are more likely to seek health services during pregnancy, post-partum, and all throughout their children’s upbringing. By investing in girls’ education we reduce child mortality and breed healthy children.

Some educated girls will pursue careers in women’s health and education, which further improves this picture. Women can contribute to their families financially, and generate female graduates in a range of professions like engineers, doctors, politicians, nurses and midwives…the list goes on. I am not an economist by profession, but I believe in a young nation like South Sudan where poverty is disabling, it would be a giant step in the right direction – to recovery and have a more rapid pace of development.

TEGSP now operates in all states and territories of Australia. It is run entirely by volunteers – Sudanese-Australian women and girls who, like Abul, want to share their ‘Australian privileges’ with girls back in the camps they once lived in themselves. It’s personal to them. Camp-life was once their reality.

Here in Australia, Abul is also a mentor to young Sudanese-Australian girls, something she does in a voluntary capacity. Her message is direct and unwavering – get involved in your community, get serious about education, get some training, we have access a world class education and all the opportunities that this delivers – don’t squander it.

On this, Abul is eloquent and on point: “Education is your main asset. It is what you have that no one can take away from you. I strongly believe that spending a life solely on domestic duties and God-given roles like childbearing is a pure waste of a precious life.

Women are capable of so much more. By educating girls we broaden their horizons and as a result, improve their contribution to their nation as they pursue different careers. Their talents are not wasted.”

While earning her degree, and stacking supermarket shelves at night to pay her way, Abul also found time to volunteer her time at the Salvation Army and Parramatta Migrant Resource Centre, as a tutor, translator and interpreter. She is tireless and driven by the desire to help, in whatever way she can. She is an accomplished scholar with multiple degrees, and in her professional life is simultaneously pursuing a stellar ‘for good’ career as a pharmacist.

As disrupted and piecemeal as Abul’s early education was, her scholastic abilities have always shone through. In Kakuma, she had a great biology teacher who saw her natural aptitude and encouraged her greatly. Abul has gift for science, she loves it and is preternaturally good at it; chemistry in particular.

Within a few years of arriving in Australia, Abul graduated from Parramatta High School with her HSC, winning the Regional Chemistry Prize in 2008.

She initially wanted to be a doctor, but switched tack to focus on pharmacology because she understands that many of the great public health challenges of places like South Sudan will be solved via pharmaceutical interventions, and thus, it’s an area where she can do a huge amount of good. Today Abul is a registered pharmacist, for the past four months in Coober Pedy, after a stint in Canberra. She holds a Bachelor of Medical Science (majoring in biomedical science) and a Master’s degree in Pharmacy.

After being registered in 2015, Abul took just two years to be promoted to a managerial position. In Coober Pedy, she is the Pharmacist-in-Charge. Here, she is working closely with Aboriginal health services to educate the local Indigenous community about the safe and effective use of pharmaceuticals.

At the same time, and in a voluntary capacity, she is publishing and translating medical and pharmacy- related scientific papers into Dinka, and working with SBS Radio’s Dinka programs to improve understanding of Western medicine among its South Sudanese listening audience. Her next step is a MBA, which she will utilise to do yet more good, for girls in Africa, the South-Sudanese diaspora in Australia, and community more broadly.

For the South Sudanese community of Western Sydney and Australia – particularly its women and girls – Abul Mayen is a clear-sighted and extraordinarily effective advocate and crusader for female empowerment through education. Combined with her professional work this makes her a wonderful role model. Her contribution is all the more remarkable considering that she is still only 27 years old.

Mr Jon O’Mally
Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences – Community Services, 2003
Operations Manager, Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network Ltd

Jon O’Mally is the quietly-spoken, unassuming champion of Australia’s financially vulnerable. When you consider the many people he has saved from financial ruin via his skills as a financial counsellor, consumer advocate and lobbyist, his contribution is hugely significant. In the here and now, and over generations as the capacity he has helped build is passed down through families and communities.

As his many grateful clients will attest, Jon’s efforts are nothing short of heroic. As a financial counsellor to Australia’s most disadvantaged, going above and beyond every single day, Jon is credit to WSU and stand out candidate for this year’s Community Champion Alumni Award.

It’s a sad indictment on human nature that there will always be people who prey on the vulnerable; opportunistic types who’ll stoop to any low to make a quick buck. The scams are legion. Jon’s seen a lot of them over the years. He recounts stories of shysters making back $700+ on an initial $50 loan to people desperate or naïve enough to hand over their banking details; working the same con across an entire community. And the white goods rental company that pocketed $300,000 in just three weeks, going door-to-door in remote Aboriginal communities and signing people up to disreputable contracts. In this case, they were caught and prosecuted, with thanks to Jon and his team at Queensland’s Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN).

Jon says that unscrupulous companies overtly target remote communities in order to exploit easy targets among their disproportionately welfare dependant, poorly educated populations. Post-disaster is another situation where the con artists come out in force. In the wake of Cyclone Yasi, Jon and his team saw financial predators targeting people at their lowest ebb; with their homes destroyed and lives in ruins. There were no financial counsellors on the ground at the time. The Queensland State Government program that employed them had been cut. Jon and his colleagues at ICAN used the opportunity to lobby for its reinstatement.

Unfortunately, the Newman government did not see the value of delivering financial counselling services to Queensland communities. Over a period of three years lobbying the Palaszczuk Government re-funded the program to the value of $25 million for a five-year period. At the time Jon was the President of Financial Counsellors Association of Queensland. Jon has been ICAN’s Operations Manager since 2009. It is a unique service that provides consumer education, advocacy and financial counselling services to Indigenous people – primarily in Queensland but increasingly Australia-wide – with a vision of “Empowering Indigenous Consumers”.

In line with this vision, ICAN provides Indigenous consumers with assistance to alleviate consumer detriment, education to make informed consumer choices and consumer advocacy services to highlight and tackle consumer disadvantage experienced by Indigenous peoples. ICAN’s services are free, independent and confidential. In his ten years at ICAN Jon has spearheaded initiatives including: Yarnin’ Money (with the mob). Yarnin’ Money (with the mob) is a financial literacy course for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Jon co-designed the program with an Indigenous colleague. It’s an engaged, two-way model of training that starts with sharing stories. The course builds financial capability for Indigenous people through narrative approaches – sharing their experiences in small groups and helping to reduce the shame people feel about the perception of being poor financial managers or as the result of having been scammed. Initiatives like `bring your bill day’ help people decipher the various charges and plans and protect their rights as consumers.

‘Manage Your Income Manage Your Life’ is a unique financial and life management program that began as an initiative of the Murdi Paaki (Western NSW) Men’s Group. It helps First Australians manage their money better, gain greater independence and grow in confidence. Jon secured the requisite funding via a major partnership involving corporate, charity and government sources.

Yarnin’ Business is another program, and is designed to help participants explore ways to make money and break long-term cycles of welfare dependency. It provides training and support to help Indigenous people establish social enterprises, aligned to their culture and the remote community context. Indigenous Financial Counsellors Training Programs ICAN is now a Registered Training Organisation, offering courses including a Diploma of Financial Counselling; Financial Literacy Education Skill Set; Professional Supervision for Financial Counsellors; and a Multicultural

Scholarship Program. In this way ICAN is growing a critical mass of Indigenous Financial Counsellors across Queensland and Australia. A ‘train-the-trainer’ model ensures its ongoing, exponential expansion. When the program started in 2012, there were only four qualified financial counsellors in the whole of Australia. In its very first year, ICAN added nine more – trebling that total. Another 40 have now joined their ranks.

Breaking Ground – Indigenous Financial Counselling Mentoring Program Mentoring has been identified as a non-negotiable precondition to the success of trainee financial counsellors. With this as a guiding principle, Breaking Ground matches Indigenous financial counselling students with mentors for the duration of their studies and in their early days as practitioners. Jon has just clocked up his 25th year as a financial counsellor, working always with the most disadvantaged clients and with a strong focus on capacity building. At last count he’d assisted 2,850 individual clients to manage their way through financial difficulties.

Jon pursues his work at ICAN in tandem with various voluntary and leadership positions. His commitment to social justice and to helping the disadvantaged is his primary motivating force. Since his earliest days in financially counselling, he’s also volunteered his time running financial literacy workshops on weekends, as a speaker and presenter, visiting remote communities, putting pressure on policy makers and designing new programs with Indigenous collaborators – a testament to his desire to always do more to help, and all the more impressive given Jon has five kids.

He’s a highly effective lobbyist and media spokesperson – influential at both a state and federal level. Under his leadership, ICAN has become a prominent, increasingly powerful consumer advocacy body. His long-term goal is an ICAN in every state and territory. Jon is a current member on advisory boards and councils for ASIC, Queensland Competition Authority (QCA), Westpac, CBA, Centrelink and the Essential Services Consultative Group QLD. Jon has been on other advisory boards including ACCC, Financial Ombudsman Service and NAB. Jon was the President of Financial Counsellors Association Queensland for nearly three years and also a member of the Representative Council for Financial Counselling Australia. He is currently the Chair for the newly developed Far North QLD Consumer Taskforce.

With a talent for maths and interest in economics, Jon has taken a Bachelor of Business (Economics) from Sydney University and Diploma in Social Science from WSU to forge an illustrious ‘for good’ career that demands greater recognition via this Award.

Professional Excellence

Ms Priscilla Jackman
Bachelor of Teaching (Secondary), 2006
Director/Writer Still Point Turning, Sydney Theatre Company

Priscilla Jackman has contributed significantly to the growth and reach of the theatre industry and profession. She is an example of the best and brightest of Western graduates. She was awarded the Dean’s Medal for her distinction level achievement in the Bachelor of Teaching (Secondary) (2006). As a Western alumna she has become a trailblazer in the theatre industry through her dynamic and innovative contributions that secures success for herself, the University and Australian culture both locally and globally.

Since graduating from the Bachelor of Teaching, Priscilla has taught Drama and English to Secondary students in England (East London) and Australia including at Macarthur Girls High School, Parramatta in Western Sydney. At that school she designed and implemented Drama programs for all Year levels building on the foundation provided by her studies at Western. Prior to studying at Western, Priscilla had already graduated with Distinction from the Bachelor of Theatre Arts (Acting) (USQ, 1999). Later she achieved her Qualified Teacher Status (University of East London, 2010) as well as the Master of Fine Arts, Directing from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA, 2015). On this occasion, Priscilla was acknowledged as an outstanding leader upon graduation by being invited to showcase her exceptional talent to direct a play for the next cohort of NIDA’s graduating acting students (2017).

Priscilla is one of the few NIDA Directing graduates to be honoured with such an invitation as this is often reserved for professional directors with well-established industry careers. Priscilla’s most recent outstanding achievement has been as writer/director of the highly acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company’s (STC) world premier season of the play ‘Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story’ (21 April-26 May 2018). This new Australian play is a poignant portrayal of a powerful woman who is victim to the world’s perception of her as a trans woman.

Priscilla is the only one of her NIDA Director’s course cohort and previous cohorts who has directed and written a show on the main stage of the STC. This achievement also assumes historic significance, as ‘Still Point Turning’ is the final production to be staged on the STC’s Wharf 1 space which has now closed for redevelopment over the next two years. Other notable industry accolades have been the inaugural winner of the Sandra Bates Directing Award at the Ensemble Theatre (2016) and the recipient of the Berlin New Music Opera Award (2017) from The Opera Foundation for Young Australians. This latter award provided her with the opportunity to travel to Berlin to work at the Komische Opera alongside the famous Barrie Kosky.

Priscilla works to promote and facilitate innovation, demonstrates dedication to the theatre industry, and the tenacity to persevere through challenges. This has been foundational in her career. Teaching Drama at Wanstead Performing Arts School in East London, Priscilla faced the challenge by exploring new and contemporary theatre forms. It was at this school where Priscilla was provided with opportunities for leadership and directing plays. This career turning point gave Priscilla a platform for her to start exploring her long-term dream to direct. At each career turn Priscilla has taken the opportunity to innovate, thus contributing significantly to the theatre industry. She does this through a dynamic exploration of the performance space using traditional and 21st century technologies through a hybrid fusion of innovative theatre practice.

In her NIDA-invited director’s position Priscilla initiated, conceived, directed and led the logistical challenges of a new show by adapting a classic Greek myth, Eurydike + Orpheus (2017). This multidisciplinary innovative work of scale combined circus, film and physical performance. Moreover, beyond her artistic vision for creating a new ground-breaking Australian work of scale, Priscilla’s leadership oversaw the historic inaugural interstate co-production between two of Australia’s finest performing arts institutes of excellence, NIDA (NSW) and the National Institute of Circus Art (VIC).

Priscilla currently lectures students in both the Master and Bachelor of Fine Arts courses at NIDA. In an earlier phase of her career when Priscilla was teaching Drama at Macarthur Girls High School (2012-2014) she was inspired by the Deputy Principal Nadene Kennedy

to embark on leadership in the theatre/education profession. It was at this time that Priscilla stepped up to contribute to the field in many roles such as an invited member of the Sydney Theatre Company Education Board; the Riverside Theatre Education Board; the Board of Studies HSC Practical Drama examiner and registered curriculum writer; and, play director for the Department of Education and Communities Arts Unit.

Theatre reviews of Priscilla’s recent acclaimed production of Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story are evidence of its significant positive impact on transgender, gender and identity politics that communities face not only in Western Sydney but globally. By implication, this verbatim theatre production can be linked to the #metoo movement in its revelation of male/female power and privilege.

The relevance of this production is unmistakable in this year of the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras. Priscilla, as writer/director of the show, received personal commendations from the former co-chair of Mardi Gras, Paul Savage, and Michelle Telfer, Director of the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service.

The Pinnacle Foundation endorsed the importance and impact of the work, by inviting young trans representatives from the community to experience the play. Kelly Glanney, Director of the Carmen Rupal Memorial Trust applauded Priscilla’s challenge of writing and directing this show which she states, “brilliantly illuminated the transgender experience for a mainstream cisgender audience and greatly empowered one of the world’s most marginalised and socially isolated communities in the process”.

Professor Iona Novak
Doctor of Philosophy, 2009
Head of Research, Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute, University of Sydney

In an effort to encourage higher-minded pursuits among her children, Iona Novak’s mother (a teacher) imposed a blanket ban on television. Naturally enough, this meant that the Novak siblings watched TV when their parents were out, leaving their viewing unsupervised; as random as the moments they found themselves alone. Which is how Iona came to see the 1980s Australian classic, ‘Annie’s Coming Out’, when she was far too young for a film so gut-wrenchingly sad.

Based on a true story about a girl with cerebral palsy who was locked up in an institution in the mistaken belief she was intellectually disabled, it got Iona at an impressionable age and she decided there and then to dedicate her life to helping kids with cerebral palsy.

Iona has dedicated her life to listening to the voices of misunderstood children and helping however she can. This is how Professor Iona Novak came to be a world leading cerebral palsy researcher, and one of WSU’s proudest alumna. It is a career that has taken her from The Lodge (where she practically had to let herself in) to the White House (and a much more official welcome). She has saved thousands of children and their families from the trauma of cerebral palsy via her research discovery and practice innovations, and her work is far from done.

There is a child born with cerebral palsy every 15 hours. It is the world’s most common motor disability, with a prevalence of 1 in 600 births. Arguably, Iona Novak has had a greater impact in this area than any other individual, now or ever. Today Iona is the Head of Research at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute at the University of Sydney and a leading light in cerebral palsy research around the world. Her major achievements include:

  • Playing a lead role in work that means Australia now has one of the world’s lowest rates of cerebral palsy
  • Raising $27M+ for cerebral palsy research via NHMRC, NGO and philanthropic grants
  • Helping to establish the Australian Cerebral Palsy Register, the largest whole country cerebral palsy register in the world
  • Establishing and leading the Cerebral Palsy Treatment and Cure Summit, which brings together researchers from around the globe to aggregate data and accelerate the rate of research
  • Establishing Xcellerate, an Australian-American Stem Cell Clinical Trials Translation network
  • Recently being the only Australian invited to the US National Institute of Health to advise on cerebral palsy research priorities, and one of two Australians invited to an international think tank on Global Management of Cerebral Palsy in High and Low Resource Countries
  • 165+ invited international keynotes
  • 85+ publications
  • 30+ media interviews

Iona leads a research group called Cerebral Palsy Alliance in Australia, which has systematically reviewed which cerebral palsy interventions work and which do not. The resultant paper is now among the most-cited in the field. A key finding was that the most effective treatments for CP have been developed in the last decade – means that if a practitioner’s original training was completed more than ten years ago, their knowledge would most likely be out-of-date – unless they had taken proactive steps to ensure otherwise. For example, we know that administering magnesium sulphate to women giving birth pre-term significantly reduces the risk of cerebral palsy in their babies. Yet when Iona and her team strategically funded and collaborated on the translation research, Australian hospitals were only using the drug in 2 per cent of cases. Now, usage is over 90 per cent. Achieving this stunning result took a great deal of dedication and tenacity. It involved a major media campaign which achieved 86 different news placements, many of which featured Iona herself.

As a direct result of work such as this there are 115 Australian children a year who do not have cerebral palsy. Its prevalence has dropped from 1 in 400 lives births to 1 in 600, a reduction of 20 per cent. This has saved an estimated $2 billion in costs to the public health budget, as well as untold suffering among the Australian children and families who would otherwise be affected. Another 14 countries have also changed their clinical practice as a result.

From speaking to the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard as an expert advocate for what was to become the NDIS, to the work she does behind the scenes supporting families affected by cerebral palsy, the difference Iona makes each day is profound. It extends locally, nationally and internationally. As Iona says “what’s good for people with cerebral palsy in Australia is good for people with cerebral palsy everywhere”.

Iona is now leading an international alliance to create a series of best practice clinical guidelines for diagnosis and effective interventions for cerebral palsy. Their first guideline teaches clinicians how to make a diagnosis at three months of age, instead of 19 months, which is the Australian average. Consequently, Iona is now leading the world’s largest clinical trial ever conducted in infants to harness early neuroplasticity. The guidelines outline a continuum of options – allowing for differences of support and treatment available in different countries by providing low-cost, low-resource recommendations.

Iona is currently supporting the efforts of UNICEF by co-publishing work on best practice disability care for low to middle income countries.

Uniquely, Iona’s research group gives away 70 per cent of their budget to the brightest minds in the field via a competitive grants program. Iona insists she’s just a shy, quiet type of person who wants to do the right thing. But as she says in her understated way “If we can get these guidelines right, and get to them to the right people at the right time and the training to people in low- to middle-income countries, the trajectory for people with disabilities could be quite different. This field has a momentum behind it that hasn’t been seen before. For me personally, it’s the most exciting time in cerebral palsy research and intervention.” The rate is falling.

Less Australians now have cerebral palsy. When they do, it is less severe – more children walk than ever before. When I began my research career I was told this was not possible. It is one of those points in time where we can say, “The field has changed. And this means more is possible. It’s a collective achievement for the greater good.” Iona is also spearheading new research enquiry into the use of stem cells as a potential cure. Iona and the team are now completing Australia’s first ever human stem cell trial for cerebral palsy.

Ms Kylie Ward
Master of Management, 2000
Chief Executive Officer, Australian College of Nursing (ACN)

“I love what I do because I know that nurses can, and do, make a tremendous difference to the welfare and well-being of societies.”

Kylie Ward grew up in Emu Plains and is a staunch supporter of Western Sydney and an outstanding graduate of the University, obtaining a Diploma of Health Science (Nursing) in 1991 and Masters of Management in 2000. Since then Kylie’s career has flourished, encompassing a spectrum of Executive roles in the health and aged care fields in New South Wales and Victoria, culminating

in her current role as Chief Executive Officer at the Australian College of Nursing (ACN).

After becoming a Registered Nurse in 1991, Kylie’s career quickly progressed in Western Sydney being appointed to a Nurse Unit Manager role after only five years, then After-Hours Senior Nurse Manager at Blacktown Mt Druitt Health, followed by Associate Director of Nursing – Women’s and Children’s Health within ten years. Many successful measures were introduced to improves access for Western Sydney patients including the implementation of Paediatric Ambulatory Care Models at both Blacktown and Mt Druitt sites and the introduction of team midwifery models of care. During this time, she also successfully completed her Master of Management at Western adding to her already strong skillsets.

Since then Kylie has taken on a number of increasingly senior roles in Health Districts across the country including Liverpool Health Service, Northern Sydney Central Coast Health Service, Sydney West Area Health Service (SWAHS) and Southern Health in Victoria. In these roles she was instrumental in leading and implementing change, promoting positive work culture and recognising outstanding nurses and midwives with Nursing and Midwifery Awards events.

In SWAHS Kylie had oversight of a $365million budget and 6,500 staff. Kylie is intimately aware of the significant contribution nurse leaders make to community outcomes, individualised care and patient experiences. Her distinguished career – including nursing with a clinical background in intensive care and aged care, Monash University lecturer and more recently as an expert in transformational leadership, culture and change management – has resulted in Kylie contributing significantly to the growth of the profession through her exceptional skills in organisational design, culture shaping, model of care initiatives and strategy development.

Kylie is and always has been an outstanding advocate of nurses and midwives, working to ensure that they are proportionally represented at the highest levels. In Kylie’s own words, “I understand the relevance of, and support required for, the nursing leadership model and will work to ensure we stay at the forefront of our industry, so that nurses take their rightful place at the table to influence and lead the change that will be required in the delivery of health and aged care in the future. We will continue to provide a great platform for professional connectedness and deliver exceptional education pathways that equip nurses with the skills, knowledge and support to face the evolving challenges within Australia’s health care system.”

Throughout her career, and despite many personal challenges, Kylie has directly contributed to growth and innovation in the profession and implemented changes that positively impacted outcomes for patients while improving systems. With experience across five Local Health Districts, Kylie has initiated reviews of professional and educational governance frameworks to achieve standardisation of workforce reform, registration and credentialing, talent management and succession planning for the nursing and midwifery profession.

She has led committees and been Director or Sponsor on multiple initiatives targeting key health issues such as falls prevention and pressure ulcers, delivering significant achievements in clinical indicators resulting in improved patient outcomes and financial savings. She has secured significant grants to improve services that support community, staff and patients. Kylie is an outstanding advocate of research and continued nursing education and was instrumental in establishing four conjoint professorial positions across three universities at Southern Health, was the inaugural Chair for the Nurse Practitioner Course Advisory Committee at Deakin University and the Chair of the Monash University Southern Health Curriculum Review Committee.

This dedication to industry education is reflected in her appointment as Honorary Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor at Monash, where she contributed her expertise in lecturing and rewriting a Masters of Nursing Leadership and Management curriculum. Kylie has contributed to the education of new nurses, chairing the Bachelor of Nursing External Review Committee for the University of Technology Sydney.

In 2009, leveraging her strong management background, Kylie began her own successful company as a management consultant, specialising in transformation, executive coaching and leadership development. Servicing clients across a range of public and private healthcare settings to increase organisational design, the firm contributed to the culture, leadership and strategy development of a range of health industries. During this time Kylie was an invited keynote and guest speaker at over 80 conferences, fora and ceremonies throughout Australia and internationally. Kylie also represented Australian nursing in Asia-Pacific region for Nursing Informatics.

Kylie has effected positive economic and social change in public health care, improving patient flow and waiting lists, introducing models of care, initiating evidence based projects and supporting the social development of nurses and midwives including establishing nursing opportunities for Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander peoples. She has served on numerous key national and state committees and sponsored projects to improve patient experiences e.g. The National Refugee and Migrant Women’s Committee. Currently, as CEO of the ACN, Kylie works to enhance healthcare by advancing nurse leadership; supporting those who are often overlooked in the medical industry and encouraging them to know their worth.

With her wealth of knowledge and understanding of the significant contribution nurses make to health and aged care, community outcomes and patient experiences, Kylie provides a platform for nurses locally and nationally to connect with politicians to influence health reform. Kylie won the Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award in the Australian Capital Territory for Social Enterprise and Purpose in 2017 for her work. As an alumna, Kylie is a role model for our students and more widely for all nurses and midwives whose goal is to excel and contribute to the betterment of their profession, as well as the health and wellbeing of their community.

Chancellor’s Alumni of the Year

To be announced on the night