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Accomplished UC alumni awarded distinguished honour

Newsroom staff

16 November 2017: An internationally recognised conservator, a peace activist and advocate for human rights and multicultural issues, and an advanced practice nurse are among the winners of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

The awards recognise the outstanding contributions that University of Canberra alumni are making in their communities and professions, with the nine awards presented at a gala dinner at the National Museum of Australia on 11 November.

The University of Canberra alumni network is made up of more than 82,000 graduates, friends and former staff from the University of Canberra and its predecessor, the Canberra College of Advanced Education.

The Chancellor’s Alumni Award was presented to internationally recognised conservator and educator Nancy Odegaard. Dr Odegaard graduated with a PhD in Applied Science – Natural and Physical Sciences in 1997. Throughout her career she has been a part of momentous occasions in history. In 2007, for example, she was part of a three-member conservation team which analysed the 3.2 million-year-old remains of the renowned early hominid Lucy, discovered in Africa in the 1970s.

She has held numerous leadership positions throughout her career, including as president of the Board of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works, during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Dr Odegaard is currently a Professor of Anthropology and a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Arizona, and is Head of Preservation at the Arizona State Museum.

“My academic days in Australia were brief but profoundly meaningful. I am so pleased to be able to let the University of Canberra know how incredibly important my doctoral degree has been. It is an amazing honour to receive this award,” she said.

“My work as a faculty member at the University of Arizona has been enhanced though my degree from the University of Canberra. The doctorate degree affirmed my approach to conservation as a discipline and opened doors to grant funds, several books, numerous journal publications, invitations to lecture, and to university opportunities that would not have existed otherwise. It has been life changing in many ways.”

Skye Saunders, a passionate advocate for gender equality and a two-time graduate of the University of Canberra, received the Chancellor’s Young Alumni Award.

Dr Saunders graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (2004) and a PhD in Law (2015) with her research – the first of its kind in Australia – uncovering a ‘cultural epidemic’ of sexual harassment in traditionally male-dominated, rural Australian workplaces.

The Victorian Women’s Trust recently produced a short documentary based on her work called Grace Under Fire which has sparked further discussion about the issue around Australia. Dr Saunders is a Senior Law Lecturer at the Australian National University, a regular media commentator on gender equality issues and is working on her second book titled Defying Gravity in the Workplace- Rising Above Sex Discrimination.

“I am inspired by, and inwardly celebrate, Australian women who have the courage to report workplace sexual harassment, particularly where there is a lot at stake in their circumstances, such as small town gossip or fear of losing their job. Having the courage to move so far outside of one’s comfort zone takes strength and guts, but it is critical to broader cultural change,” she said.

“I am deeply honoured to receive this award. It is incredibly special to me because so much of who I am as a person now is wrapped up in the memorable years that I have spent as a student at the University of Canberra, at both undergraduate and post-graduate level.”

The Chancellor’s Award for Contribution to Sport was awarded to leading rowing coach, boat race official and administrator Nick Hunter OAM.

The Bywong local graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sports Studies in 1986, the same year he joined the board of Rowing ACT, and was part of the Australian rowing team that competed at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. He has since coached multiple national crews, including the Australian double-scull at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. In 2014, he was the first Australian appointed to the FISA World Rowing Umpiring Commission, responsible for rowing officials’ education in Oceania and Asia.

He currently works as a Performance Manager at the Australian Institute of Sport and holds fond memories of his time at the University of Canberra.

“The course I was doing was the first dedicated sports studies course in Australia at the time, so there was a real excitement about what we were doing. My degree gave me the skills and knowledge that I have been able to carry, and still carry, to this day,” he said.

“I am on a campaign to change the way the officiating works with athletes and coaches to make it much more empathetic with the athletes they officiate for. I also want to do what I can to support people as they go through their early stages of adulthood in developing good habits of health and physical exercise.”

James Asiimwe made the trip from Africa to the nation’s capital to receive the Chancellor’s Award for Philanthropy. Mr Asiimwe and his wife Miriam are directors of KAVC Foundation which helps vulnerable women and children in Uganda access food, education and generate an income. His work includes securing sponsorship to build a school for 223 vulnerable children to attend and have two meals a day, empowering women with piggery and poultry projects for income generation, training people with disabilities and creating employment opportunities.

The projects are supported by a range of donors including several that have come on board as a result of networks he created while studying a Master of International Development at the University of Canberra, graduating in 2015.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed to receive this award. It has renewed my strength to work harder. It makes me extremely happy to know that the little I do for the community can be recognised and appreciated,” Mr Asiimwe said.

“Having a large number of vulnerable children to help with limited funding is my greatest challenge. My studies and connections at the University of Canberra have done a great deal in overcoming these challenges and helping me secure projects that will solve feeding challenges. In the next few years, most of these challenges will be no more.”

The Chancellor’s Award for Service to the Community was awarded to Diana Abdel-Rahman, a peace activist and advocate for human rights and multicultural issues who has campaigned tirelessly to bring these issues to light.

Ms Abdel-Rahman is President of the Australian Muslim Voice, Chair of the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum and member of the newly formed ACT Multicultural Advisory Board.

She played a key role in establishing multicultural radio in the ACT which now broadcasts in over 40 languages. This led her to run her own radio station for the Muslim community for one month every year. Australian Muslim Voice is dedicated to the arts and culture of Islam.

“Studying at the University of Canberra allowed me to have structure and allowed me to think ahead a little bit and gave me a foresight that I probably wouldn't have had before if I didn't have that degree behind me,” Ms Abdel-Rahman, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 1997, said.

“To be inquisitive, to think about things from a different perspective, to ask the questions, to be not formulated in one particular way, but to really think of the multiple ways you can approach something and I continue to do that today. To receive a Distinguished Alumni Award, for me, just really brings everything right back to where I started, and so it's an absolute honour.”

Since graduating from the University of Canberra with a PhD in environmental design in 2012, Dr Brandon Gien has gone on to impress on the global design stage.

In 2015, the Chief Executive Officer of Good Design Australia was inaugurated as a Senator of the World Design Organization (WDO), the global body for industrial design. Dr Gien was the first Australian to ever hold this position and is the recipient of the Alumni Excellence Award for Arts and Design.

Through his work on the WDO Board of Directors, Dr Gien assisted in the creation of the World Design Impact Prize, which honours design projects aimed at positively impacting on our social, economic, cultural and environmental quality of life. The award is considered as one of the most prestigious in the industry.

Closer to home, Dr Gien chairs the Australian Good Design Awards – the oldest and most prestigious design award program in Australia. He is also a globally recognised industrial designer and sits on a number of creative advisory boards, committees and panels in Australia and around the world.

Dr Gien was based in Sydney while he completed his PhD at the University. He credits the occasional commute to Canberra with helping fill his head with ideas during his studies.

“The long drives between Sydney and Canberra [helped],” Dr Gien said. “I completed my PhD over a six-year period while living and working in Sydney and had to drive down every couple of months to meet with my PhD supervisor. I actually really enjoyed the drive as it gave me the time and space to think about my research outside of my crazy work schedule.”

A driving force with one of the world’s most recognisable brands, Kate Mason is currently Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) at Coca-Cola Amatil and is the 2017 recipient for the Alumni Excellence Award for Business, Government and Law.

Initially headhunted in 2014 to be the Director of Human Resources, Ms Mason was then appointed to the position of CTO in December 2015. In this role, she is charged with fast tracking the Australian Beverages Business strategy – enabling new areas of growth, driving efficiencies across the business, simplifying and streamlining processes, and leading cultural change to build a strong sustainable business.

After graduating from the University of Canberra with a Bachelor of Arts in Secretarial Studies in 1988, Ms Mason embarked on a career across the globe stopping first as a Graduate with Arthur Anderson in Sydney. She worked in global human resources roles for companies such as EMI Records, Austrade, TST Learning and Credit Suisse in London, Singapore, New York and Zurich before arriving at Coca-Cola Amatil.

Ms Mason is an active supporter of women and is currently the President of The Australian Chapter of The International Women’s Forum. Additionally, she is Chairman of NSW Advisory Board for the Starlight Children’s Foundation Australia and is a Board member of the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation, such is her philanthropic nature. Kate is a proud mother of three and cares deeply about impacting the world her children will grow up in.

“What I love about what I do is the diversity of the roles I am privileged to have and the people I work with, the learning and the ability to lead and coach others as we grow together and deliver on our organisation’s strategic goals,” Ms Mason said. “Seeing people that I have had the privilege of leading take on bigger and expanded roles also brings me great excitement and joy.”

Dr William Maiden OAM received the Alumni Excellence Award for Education, Science, Technology and Maths. Dr Maiden has contributed greatly to the education system in Canberra. He was the foundation principal at two schools and was critical in the opening of other new schools.

For many years, Dr Maiden served as a community member and was Deputy Chairperson of the now restructured ACT Non-Government Schools Education Council. He is the current Chair of the ACT Teacher Quality Institute Board. In recognition of his distinguished career and outstanding service to education and professional organisations, he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia earlier this year. Dr Maiden is currently a Professional Associate at the University of Canberra, where he completed a Ph.D. in education in 1996.

“To have been involved in education as a career, and to have had the pleasure of working with so many fine educators across many levels and sectors, has been highly rewarding and satisfying,” Dr Maiden said. “I could never had imagined, when I started out as a teacher, that the professional and academic experiences throughout my working life would have given me such stimulation and enjoyment as well as an abiding interest in education and lifelong learning.”

The ACT’s Nurse of the Year received further recognition on the night, with James Slade announced as the winner of the Alumni Excellence Award for Health.

Mr Slade works as an advanced practice nurse in the haemophilia treatment centre at Canberra Hospital. He also works as part of the haematology team, treating children and adults with lifelong haemophilia-related illnesses along with other haematological malignancies and related conditions.

Earlier this year, he was awarded the 2017 ACT Nurse of the Year award after being nominated by a young patient he helped lead through a new treatment regime. But it isn’t just at work that Mr Slade goes over and above. He is active in the community, attending family camps and social events to act as a link between patients and the services his team provides at Canberra Hospital. He also contributes to the work of the Haemophilia Foundation ACT, the Haemophilia Foundation of Australia and the global haemophilia community.

Mr Slade is also committed to training the next generation of nurses. He has worked as an educator at Canberra Hospital in cancer services and now as a tutor at the University of Canberra, where he obtained a Bachelor of Nursing in 2006.

“What I loved about studying at the University of Canberra was the platform it provided students,” Mr Slade said. “A lot of it is self-directed but that's what you need in tertiary education. You need to be able to be given the foundations for learning, not just spoon-fed the information. UC gives you a solid platform and the tools you need to be able to start teaching and learning yourself, which really does set you right up for whatever else you need to do for the rest of your life.”