La Trobe congratulates Distinguished Alumni

A world-renowned evolutionary geneticist, the leader of Australia’s first all-female Indigenous fire crew, and a team of health administration experts deployed to fight Wuhan’s COVID-19 outbreak are among the latest La Trobe alumni to receive one of the University’s highest honours.

Following the disruption of last year’s awards ceremony by the global pandemic, La Trobe University is delighted to celebrate its 2020-21 Distinguished Alumni Award winners.

The 2020-21 recipients include esteemed Australian evolutionary geneticist, Laureate Professor Ary Hoffmann AC; philanthropist and activist Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Holmes; financial services executive, Marnie Baker; senior leader in Indigenous health and education, Professor Ian Anderson AO; leader of Australia’s first all-female Indigenous fire crew, Charmaine Sellings; and Quill Award-winning journalist, Tom Cowie, who received the Young Achiever Award.

La Trobe University Chancellor, the Hon. John Brumby AO, said the contributions made by the new cohort of Distinguished Alumni were especially pertinent given the backdrop of COVID-19.

“This pandemic has shown us that we can’t take things for granted and that we must work to make positive change for ourselves, our local communities and our society at large. These alumni are our leading lights – the La Trobe people we look up to with great pride and admiration,” Mr Brumby said.

“To all of our recipients, congratulations. I wish you well as you set out on the journey to shape the future of La Trobe, our nations and the world.”

Each year, the University’s Distinguished Alumni Awards recognise La Trobe alumni who have demonstrated significant accomplishments in their personal and professional life, or for service to their community, state or nation.

In addition to the longstanding Distinguished Alumni awards, a special Chancellor’s Award was also presented for the first time. The inaugural Chancellor’s Award recognised the outstanding collective achievements of 12 Master of Health Administration alumni and staff during the initial response to the COVID outbreak in China in early 2020.

“The Selection Committee was extremely impressed with the group’s united efforts, which provided medical assistance, public health guidance and medical supplies to the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan and its surrounding regions. The Chancellor’s Award recognises their collective accomplishments, as well as their individual contributions to their country, communities and professions,” Mr Brumby said.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is one of the highest honours bestowed by La Trobe University. Throughout the University’s history, only 94 awards have been presented to alumni from a community of more than 225,000 graduates.

2020-21 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients

Laureate Professor Ary Anthony Hoffmann AC is Australia’s leading evolutionary geneticist and a world leader in studies of Wolbachia, a system with the potential to play a critical role in the control of mosquito borne disease. A highly published author and scholar, his impact has been felt across fields as varied as evolution, ecology, sustainability, climate change, pest management and pesticide resistance management. Ary graduated with a PhD in Genetics from La Trobe, later returning to the University as a lecturer and then Chair. Watch Ary's video to learn how he's solving everything from biodiversity loss to the spread of mosquito-borne disease.

Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Holmes is a private philanthropist and activist who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. Bobbie has dedicated her life to promoting peaceful solutions to conflict, environmental sustainability, humane policies for refugees, and the long-term wellbeing of children and their parents. In 2013 she established the Transition to Contemporary Parenthood Program at La Trobe University – the first of its kind in Australia – to investigate the increasingly complex challenges facing parents in the 21st century. Watch Bobbie's video to discover her passion for peace, parenting and the planet.

Marnie Baker is a motivated executive with over 30 years’ experience in the financial services and trustee industry sectors. A proud regional Australian, Marnie joined Sandhurst Trustees while studying at La Trobe in 1989; shortly after, Sandhurst became part of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank group. Marnie has been an Executive of the Bank since 2000 and was appointed Managing Director, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank in 2018. Marnie graduated with a Bachelor of Business and currently sits on the La Trobe Bendigo Regional Advisory Board. Watch Marnie's video to find out which 'sliding' doors moments set her on a path from dairy farm to banking leader.

Professor Ian Anderson AO is a Palawa man from northwest Tasmania who is a senior leader in Indigenous health and education. A trained medical doctor with a PhD in Sociology from La Trobe, Ian's professional background includes over two decades with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, and appointments as Medical Adviser to the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Deputy Secretary of Indigenous Affairs in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Deputy Chief Executive of the National Indigenous Australians Agency. Watch Ian's video to learn how he's transforming Indigenous health in Australia, thanks to the social science expertise he gained at La Trobe.

Charmaine Sellings is the leader of Australia’s first all-female Indigenous fire crew. Based in the remote Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust, Charmaine’s crew have been instrumental in protecting community, family and sacred land over the last two decades, most notably during the 2019/2020 fire disaster and the Black Saturday bushfires. Charmaine is passionate about sharing the ‘blackfellas' ways’ of traditional land and fire management and educating firefighters to recognise culturally significant sites. Charmaine graduated with a Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management from La Trobe. Watch Charmaine's video to discover how she and her fire crew are protecting community and Country.

Tom Cowie is an award-winning journalist who covers general news, politics, business and crime for The Age newspaper. In March 2020, Tom received a Quill Award by the Melbourne Press Club for Feature Writing for ‘Two Guys And The Yiayia Next Door’, a heartbreaking story of two young men and their friendship with their elderly neighbour after losing their mother to domestic violence. It was rare recognition for a journalist at a young age. Tom was one of the first editors of La Trobe’s online student publication, Upstart, and graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism.

2020-21 Chancellor’s Award recipients

Among the La Trobe alumni and staff deployed to the COVID-19 epicentre to apply their expertise were:

  • Dr Hao Wu, CEO of Fangzhuang Community Health Service, who was delegated by the National Health Commission to develop guidelines for community responses to COVID-19.
  • Hospital CEOs who led medical assistance teams and hospital operations to treat patients with severe COVID-19 in Wuhan, including Dr Liemin Ruan, CEO of Ningbo First Hospital; Dr Ligang Wu, CEO of The Second Affiliated Hospital of Qiqihar Medical College; Dr Xiaomin Li, CEO of Lianyungang First People's Hospital; and Dr Yue Zhao, CEO of the People’s Hospital.
  • Medical specialistsincluding Ms Yuan Yao, a highly respected expert in nosocomial infection, who was deployed to the epicentre to manage hospital infection control; Dr Pei Sun, who was deployed to the epicentre as an ENT specialist; and Mr Meng Lingmiao, Vice President of the Fifth Provincial Hospital (Geriatrics) in Heilongjiang, who co-led the medical assistance teams deployed by the Heilongjiang government.
  • Nursing directors including Ms Lei Wang, Ms Hongyan Yang and Ms Feifei Leng, who each led nursing assistance teams to Wuhan.

The Chancellor’s Award also recognised Dr Zhanming Liang (Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University’s Masters of Health Administration program, 2007–2020), who initiated a fundraising effort with the Confucius Institute to deliver $200,000 worth of medical supplies to Wuhan hospitals. Watch our video to meet the La Trobe alumni and staff who rushed to fight COVID-19 in Wuhan, China.