March 2024

Welcome to my first staff blog.

7 March 2024

Since joining La Trobe on 5 February, I’ve enjoyed getting to know colleagues, students, and University stakeholders and learning more about the great work happening across our campuses.

I will always remember my first official event at La Trobe – a wonderful Welcome to Country ceremony at the Melbourne campus presided by University Elder Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO.

It was special to be welcomed by Aunty Joy with a ceremony that brought our community together to start the new academic year. Despite a rainy Melbourne morning, it was terrific to see the turnout by the La Trobe community, with some 500 staff registering to attend and making me feel very welcome indeed.

Over the last four weeks, I’ve visited regional campuses and spent time with our communities in Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton, and will be visiting Mildura next week. It’s been invaluable to learn more about the University’s activities and meet with local, State, and Federal government representatives, members of our Regional Advisory Boards, and some of the University’s industry, teaching, and research partners.

The incredibly strong university culture at La Trobe has stood out at every campus. It’s hard not to be inspired by the way our staff really live the La Trobe cultural qualities – as well as the passion you all bring to our work with communities across Victoria.

There was another reminder of why La Trobe is special at our annual Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner held on 28 February. A former refugee turned community advocate, a leading family therapy practitioner, a globally recognised geneticist, and the Australian Government’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer were among the seven remarkable alumni recognised with awards.

Well done to our new Chief Advancement Officer, Margo Powell, and her team in the Alumni and Advancement Office; Tory Dillon and the University Events team; and our fabulous MC on the night, Amalia Di Iorio – the awards dinner was a superb event and a perfect way to celebrate the achievements of some leading alumni.

There has also been a lot happening outside of La Trobe since I commenced as VC, including the annual Universities Australia conference in Canberra and the release of the final report of the Australian Universities Accord Review Panel. The report is over 400 pages and contains 47 recommendations. Minister for Education Jason Clare has described it as “a plan not for one budget, but a blueprint for the next decade and beyond.”

The AUA Report foresees at least 80 per cent of the working age population to have a tertiary education by 2050 in order to meet the workforce needs of an economy reshaped by Industry 4.0. To reach this level will require doubling the number of Commonwealth supported places from around 860,000 today to 1.8 million in 2050; and an ambition of achieving participation parity from students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those from rural, regional, and remote areas.

I think the framing of skills and equity is exactly the right approach – and it certainly resonates with La Trobe’s mission, including our role in regional education. I know that colleagues across La Trobe and in the sector peak bodies are analysing the report in detail. We will keep staff informed of developments over the coming weeks.

As you can see, there’s been a lot happening during my first month at the University. I’d now like to mention a few of the recent achievements and activities from across our campuses.

Shaping the nation

It was brilliant to see the School of Education’s Nexus teacher education program win the Future Builder Award at the inaugural Universities Australia Shaping Australia Awards announced in Canberra last week. There’s a great video about Nexus here. There’s no doubt that the program has delivered extraordinary outcomes and fulfilled the award criterion of “going over and above to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to make a positive impact in the world”. Hearty congratulations to Joanna Barbousas and Miriam Tanti who have developed the Nexus model.

And well done to our colleagues behind two other La Trobe programs that were finalists in the Shaping Australia Awards: the Transforming midwifery care for First Nations women project led by Helen McLachlan; and the La Trobe Eye Clinic led by Connie Koklanis and Kylie Gran.

There was intense competition amongst Australia’s 39 public universities to select just 18 finalists across all the award categories. La Trobe did incredibly well to have three projects chosen as finalists.

Research pirouette

I was pleased to see our partnership with The Australian Ballet profiled in The Age earlier this year. Kay Crossley has led a very effective program with the Ballet’s artistic health team, which is led by physiotherapist Sue Mayes, who is a La Trobe distinguished alumna.

The partnership is a terrific example of our impactful research. It also shows how specialist research can benefit the broader community: the knowledge we’re developing about the strength, agility, and endurance of elite dancer’s ankles and hips is being used to inform development of improved clinical practice for the broader community.

Congratulations to Kay and colleagues in the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre on this public recognition of their work.

Leading women

It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, so it’s fitting that La Trobe women have been at the forefront of our recent accomplishments.

Kate Seear from La Trobe's Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society has been appointed to two important Victorian Government advisory roles on women’s health and women’s pain. It’s pleasing to see that Kate will contribute to the inquiry into women’s pain as Deputy Chair – problems with the diagnosis and treatment of debilitating conditions like endometriosis need to be urgently addressed.

Meanwhile, our Professor of Public Engagement, La Trobe historian Clare Wright, has recently returned from India’s Jaipur Literature Festival, one of the world’s biggest annual literary events. Clare was amongst a handful of Australians invited to the festival, along with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and held sessions on women’s leadership in academia and gender in politics. I’m looking forward to talking with Clare at our all-staff webinar next week.

Finally, our political communication expert Andrea Carson is heading to the University of Oxford to undertake a three-month Visiting Fellowship at Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. I look forward to hearing about the findings of Andrea’s research into electoral disinformation and mechanisms to preserve trust in election integrity.

Art on view

I’m looking forward to seeing the latest façade commission at the La Trobe Art Institute (LAI) during my next visit to Bendigo. Dressings, an installation by Jeremy Eaton and Nicholas Smith, explores the language of screens, concealment, and exposure and is showing until 21 July.

Pliable Planes, an exhibition of works by 12 Australian practitioners who reimagine practices in textiles and fibre art, is also showing at the LAI in View Street, Bendigo. The exhibition runs until 12 May.

Outstanding in their field

Well done to the exceptional La Trobe teaching scholars who were recognised in the Australian Awards for University Teaching with Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. These are the most prestigious national awards recognising exemplary work and leadership to improve the student experience and enhance learning outcomes.

Congratulations to Hosu Ryu, Minh Huynh, David Carey, Matthew Varley, Haresh Suppiah, Paul Gastin, Vipul Patel, and Haider Al Abadi – we all share in your success!

Upcoming events

The first Ideas and Society event for the year is happening at 5pm tomorrow night and will consider what can be done about Australia’s housing crisis. Peter Mares will lead a discussion with Maiy Azize from the advocacy group Everybody’s Home and the ABC’s Alan Kohler, whose recent Quarterly Essay proposes some solutions to the crisis.

I encourage you to get involved in Sustainability Week, a celebration of La Trobe’s commitment to a greener, more sustainable future being held from 18 to 24 March. Workshops and activities are being held across all of our campuses. A full list of events is available here.

In closing

Thanks again to everyone at La Trobe for giving me such a warm welcome during my first month at the University. I look forward to talking with you at our all-staff webinar next Tuesday 12 March. In the meantime, good luck to all those teaching in Semester 1.

With best wishes,