Mary Jo Fortuna
In her own words
I came to La Trobe University as a mature age student in 1988 - starting with one subject (sociology) at Shepparton, which at the time, was an extended campus of Bendigo.
At the time I had been editor of our local district's community newspaper since its inception in 1978, and was raising seven children alone (my husband had passed away in 1984) in a small country town. While the newspaper work was rewarding, a community-owned newspaper generally remains viable only by having a staff of volunteers – hence it’s not a lucrative occupation! My previous employment in Melbourne had been in medical laboratories and the new technologies had long since left me behind. My circumstances meant return-to-study options were fairly limited but I was glad to find I could at least commence a course at Shepparton (52 km from home).
After completing the first year of a Bachelor of Arts at Shepparton, I travelled to the Bendigo campus to complete the degree, then completed an honours year, was awarded an APA and commenced a PhD in 1994.
In 1994, Shepparton also came into being as a stand-alone campus where I commenced lecturing in sociology that year. At first only the first year of the degree was offered, but it quickly grew into a full degree program in which I taught all of the sociology and some politics.
As the only Arts staff member on campus, I also became de facto course advisor, dealing with all issues to do with both current and future students - and consequently getting to know most students and their stories very well. Shepparton students were overwhelmingly those who would have had no opportunity to undertake a university degree if it was not available locally. Many were mature age women with young families and, in later years, many were from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Together we explored a wide range of social issues and attempted to come up with answers to all the challenges facing the world!
I continued to teach at both Shepparton and Bendigo campuses and, as both the Shepparton campus and the Arts program grew, as campus faculty coordinator, until 2014.
In the meantime, I had continued in my role as local newspaper editor (mostly late at night!) and, with some other producers of community-owned newspapers across the state, set up the Community Newspapers Association of Victoria (CNAV). The Association was established to support not-for-profit community-owned publications throughout the state, and aims to hold a low cost annual conference and awards dinner for this largely volunteer workforce. I served on the CNAV Committee in executive positions and as conference convenor until 2013, and was awarded life membership of the Association in 2015.
In 2016 I was honoured to be awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to tertiary education and the community.
Today my role as newspaper editor continues (my 40th year!) And since retiring from teaching, I have taken on a social justice role with the North East Central Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society, and represent the region on the Society's State Social Justice and Advocacy Committee.