July 2015

Welcome to the July edition of 'from the VC's desk', the first since the Chancellor announced that I will serve a second term as Vice-Chancellor, until early 2021.

I am very honoured to have the opportunity to lead the university through our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2017 and beyond. While we have achieved a great deal, there remains much to be done to ensure that La Trobe realises its huge potential, and I'm looking forward to working with colleagues to bring this about.

If you're interested in hearing a bit more on my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead, please take a look at my recent On The Couch interview.

Young La Trobe scientists in world first 

I want to acknowledge the recent success of researchers in the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences (better known to most of us as LIMS). Cell biologist Dr Ivan Poon was the lead author on a fascinating paper recently published in the highly respected journal Nature Communications.

His team has discovered new processes in the death of white "defender" blood cells using time lapse microscopy. While scientists had thought that this was a random process, Ivan and his colleagues have shown it is highly regulated and at one point involves the cell literally exploding.

The media release on this topic prompted strong media interest from around Australia and internationally.  You can hear more from Ivan on this in our new-format Big FAT Ideas series.

I also want to congratulate PhD candidate Georgia Aitken-Smith who was a co-author on the paper and was in her honours year when she undertook the research that formed the basis of the paper. Impressive stuff, and proof of the extremely high calibre of our students.

'Pop Up University' in Warracknabeal

Thanks to Professor Jane Farmer and to all the staff and PhD students who participated in the  successful 'pop up university' in Warracknabeal over the weekend of 13 and 14 June.

The event gave the people of Warracknabeal a unique opportunity to hear from teachers and researchers in areas as diverse as soil quality, social inclusion, literature, Greek myths and population health. Warmest congratulations to all involved.

Sustainability Victoria award

Well done to staff from ICT and I&O who won a Sustainability Victoria 'Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria' award in the 'Resource Recovery and Waste Management' category.

Our staff partnered with the City of Whittlesea, Lalor Primary School and Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries to donate computer equipment that was used to develop small computers known as Raspberry Pi's for use in local schools.

Better Together Alliance

In June, I was delighted to launch the Better Together Alliance Memorandum of Understanding in Shepparton with the State Minister for Training and Skills, the Hon Steve Herbert MP.

Under the MoU, Shepparton High School, McGuire College, Mooroopna Secondary College and Wanganui Park Secondary College have formed an Alliance that has in turn partnered with La Trobe and with GoTAFE. The partnership will enable La Trobe and GoTAFE to work with the new Alliance to develop pathways to tertiary study for young people in the Shepparton region. This will help to lift the currently low participation rates in post-secondary education in the Shepparton region, which will be essential if the Shepparton and Goulburn Valley region is to thrive in the future.

New space for Mildura students

It was a pleasure to be at the opening of the Brian Grogan Student Lounge in Mildura on 16 June. This $1 million extension to the existing building is a major investment to improve the social and informal learning spaces available to our students on the Mildura campus.

Previously, students had to congregate in a narrow hallway with about four couches and enough space for 10 students. The new facility provides a dedicated student lounge that accommodates 60 students and has computer docking spaces and modular furniture that students can move around to suit different uses.  

OTARC continues to lead the way in Autism research

Recently, I had much pleasure, on behalf of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the CEO of Specialist People Foundation, Mr Thorkil Sonne, to establish the Specialisterne Centre Australia at our Melbourne campus.

This partnership, together with our collaboration with Hewlett Packard Australia, provides a unique opportunity to conduct research into Specialisterne's employment methodology for adults living with ASD, and its ensuing impact on their lives.

The MOU will co-locate trainers from Specialist People Foundation with staff at OTARC providing them with access to the latest research outcomes on successful work and transitions for adults with ASD.

This partnership with the Specialist People Foundation is significant because it underpins our tradition of undertaking research that impacts upon the big social issues of our time, including autism, disability and employment.

In other great news for OTARC, I am also pleased to share with the University community that recently, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Assistant Minister for Social Services, visited the Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (ASELCC) at the Melbourne campus at Bundoora to announce $278,000 in funding to conduct research into the transition of children from the six ASELCC sites across Australia into primary schools.

The research will evaluate the transition of children with autism from early intervention settings to primary school and will provide a valuable insight into what makes a successful transition to school for children with autism.

Launch of 'The Martin Presence'

It was my great pleasure to speak at the launch in June of 'The Martin Presence: Jean Martin and the making of social sciences in Australia', co-authored by Peter Beilharz, Trevor Hogan and Sheila Shaver. The book traces the contribution of Jean Martin to the development of sociology and the social sciences in Australia. Jean was, amongst other things, the Foundation Professor of Sociology at La Trobe, and the book includes a fascinating account of the early days at La Trobe.

Jean's enduring impact on La Trobe remains in the shape of the Martin Building, named after Jean and her husband Allan, who was Foundation professor of History at La Trobe. Congratulations to the co-authors for producing such a well-researched and readable account of such an important figure in Australian public life.

In closing thank you to all of you who took part in the recent Employee Opinion survey. Your anonymous feedback is currently being compiled and we look forward to receiving the results. Also, thanks for taking the time to attend our recent all staff briefing sessions across all of our campuses.

I also encourage you to attend today's Ideas and Society event at the John Scott Meeting House on the Melbourne campus.

I will be speaking with Rob about my thoughts on the future shape of Australian universities. I hope to see you there.

Have a great July.