March 2022

3 March 2022

It’s not often that I feel joy – it’s an emotion usually in very short supply for a Vice-Chancellor – but I’ll confess to several joyful moments over the last week: seeing so many excited students at our Sports Stadium at Bundoora for Welcome Fest, and the sight of the Agora once again bustling with students and staff. I’ve heard reports of similar joyful scenes at our other campuses (more below). I’m especially pleased for our vendors and small traders on campus who have had a tough time over the last two years – so if you can afford to buy a salad or coffee when you’re at work, please show your support for them.

In another sign of things returning to normal, international students have been returning to Australia over the last few months, with over 1,000 of them coming to La Trobe. This is more than double our forecast for the whole of this year. More than 100 of these students will study at the Bendigo campus, increasing the proportion of our international students who are in Bendigo from 1 to 10 per cent.

Congratulations to Stacey Farraway’s team, who have worked hard and held themselves accountable for their recruitment work; and to everyone else who has played a role in achieving this result.

This terrific news is one of many great stories from around our campuses in the last month or so, and I’m delighted to share some more recent achievements with you in this month’s blog.

Welcome to La Trobe

We held Welcome Festivals for new students on every campus last week.

The Melbourne campus hosted 3,000 students at the Sports Park for a great day connecting students with our clubs and societies, student support services, the UniLodge team and student associations. Students enjoyed plenty of giveaways and live music.

At Bendigo, 500 students enjoyed a sunny day back on campus with many events that included a warm welcome from the Mayor of the City of Greater Bendigo. Other regional campuses hosted their own events and all were well attended.

Bec Eaton and her team have done an amazing job in organising our orientation program so that new students can access information online and in person. I know many staff have been involved but I’d especially like to congratulate the Student Events and Engagement teams led by Danielle Mengel and Marnie Long. They all demonstrated the cultural quality of care – for our students, staff, and our partners. Orientation is so important in creating a positive first impression of the University – well done to all involved.

We’ve also received funding from the Victorian Government’s International Education Resilience Fund that will allow us to provide our international students with extra support including learning support, opportunities to connect with mentors and industry projects, and financial and wellbeing programs. It will be great to expand our support for international students who have faced so many challenges during the pandemic.

Regional ready

I visited our Bendigo and Shepparton campuses last month where there were some exciting developments.

In Bendigo, Chris Stoltz has been leading an initiative to bring the University and local manufacturers closer together to foster industry-led research and facilitate student placements. I met the CEO of Ceramic Oxide Fabricators, a Bendigo-based company that manufactures ceramic products for science and industry, visited defence manufacturer Thales’ Bendigo factory and smallgoods producer Don KR in Castlemaine. It was great to hear from each of them about the very positive impact that our researchers and students are having on the future competitiveness of their businesses. This is a great example of our connectedness to our local communities, and of our innovative approaches to building industry collaborations. Congratulations to Chris and Bendigo colleagues.

A highlight of my day in Shepparton was the announcement of our $10.5 million Shepparton campus redevelopment. I’m very grateful to the Federal Government for their $5 million commitment toward the project and was pleased that local member Damian Drum could join me for the announcement.

The redevelopment will include additional clinical teaching spaces, an expanded library, modern study areas, and a flexible space for community events. Importantly, the project will help us to address forecast workforce shortages in health and education across the Goulburn Valley region – we’ll be doubling the current clinical learning area where nursing students train in a simulated hospital environment.

Another great regional initiative is Mishel McMahon’s appointment as Aboriginal Rural Health Coordinator in the La Trobe Rural Health School. Mishel is well known to our community, having been with La Trobe since 2006. She will work across our Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Mildura and Shepparton campuses on mentoring and professional development, community engagement, workforce training and development initiatives. It’s terrific to have Mishel continue her association with La Trobe in this important new role.

I’ll be visiting the Albury-Wodonga and Mildura campuses in March and look forward to seeing some of you during my visits.

Winning teachers

What an amazing performance by the La Trobe teaching scholars who received five Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning at the Australian Awards for University Teaching.

Well done to La Trobe’s winners who were recognised for their exceptional leadership and commitment to teaching excellence: Dana Wong, Daswin De Silva, Kate Ashman, Laura Whitburn, Di Hughes, Rod Green, Lloyd White, Heath McGowan, Anita Zacharias, Aaron McDonald, Louise Lexis, Brianna Julien, Jason Brown, Caroline Taylor, Jarrod Church, Jency Thomas and Chris van der Poel. We are very proud of your achievements and so pleased to share in your success!

La Trobe was one of only four universities nationally to receive five citations and received the most of any Victorian university. This is the highest number of citations ever awarded to La Trobe. Congratulations to Nicki Lee on her outstanding leadership of the divisions that support learning and teaching across La Trobe.

There’s also a huge support effort behind the scenes to support our award applications – well done to Liz Branigan, Helen Enright, Lisa Cary, Karin Moses, Ying Yu and Bree Wellington on all your hard work.

On the right path

It was great to be back on the Melbourne campus in February for a sod turning event with Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and Minister for Solar Homes, and Darebin mayor Lina Messina.

The event marked the next stage in construction of the 1.9 km shared pathway that will link Plenty Road and Polaris at the north of the campus with the Sports Park and Darebin Creek to the south. Once completed in June, we’ll see walkers, joggers and cyclists sharing the path and coming onto campus to use our facilities.

Better late than never

All of us have enjoyed reconnecting over the last couple of months and making up for some events that we’ve had to cancel during the pandemic. In that spirit, it was wonderful to be with Chancellor John Brumby on 24 February to finally honour our 2020 distinguished alumni award winners. We’ve had to reschedule the event several times – but it was worth the wait to feel the love in the room at the dinner.

As I said on the night, there was something “very La Trobe” about all of those we honoured, as they have all dedicated their professional lives to addressing real world problems and making a difference. We are so proud of all of them.

Well done to Stephen May and everyone in our Alumni and Advancement team for making it such a terrific occasion and, as always, thanks to Tory Dillon and our University Events team for delivering a seamless event to honour our distinguished alumni.

A portrait of the podcasters as ancient Romans

I’m a huge fan of the Emperors of Rome podcast. Rhiannon Evans and Matt Smith have a special talent for illuminating the life and times of the rulers of ancient Rome. They’ve built a huge audience since their first episode in 2014 – and their 200th episode will go to air later this year.

Rhiannon and Matt have won many accolades, including topping the iTunes podcast charts in the UK, and thousands of people download their podcasts each month. What greater glory could await them? Well, how about being the subjects of an Archibald prize-winning portrait?

Canberra-based artist Sylvie Cater became so enchanted with Emperors of Rome during COVID-19 lockdowns that she approached Rhiannon and Matt to ask if she could paint them for her Archibald entry. When the leading works are announced in May, I hope the judges will agree with me that it would be a terrific winner.

In closing

While 2022 has started with some joyful moments, there is also the sadness accompanying the TV footage from Ukraine and the terrible floods in Queensland and northern NSW. If you are affected personally by these or any other events happening around the world, please don’t forget that we have staff support available.

Meanwhile, I hope you are enjoying the return to campus, catching up with colleagues and feeling the surge of energy that comes with the arrival of another cohort of students into our wonderful University.