November 2020

It’s hard to believe that students finished their semester 2 exams yesterday. It’s another milestone in this extraordinary year. Once again, I’d like to thank every one of you for your amazing efforts to keep teaching, learning and research going so brilliantly since March. Whenever I have a chance to speak with students, they’re always keen to tell me how much they value the way their teachers and our support staff have gone above and beyond to help them study online during COVID-19. Once again, thank you.

I hope those of you who live in metropolitan Melbourne have enjoyed the opportunity to venture further afield following the lifting of the 5km travel restrictions and re-opening of the retail and hospitality sectors last week. Whether you’ve been able to catch up with friends and family, visit your local café, or head to a nursery to get some seedlings to plant before spring comes to a close, I hope you’ve enjoyed the chance to get out and about.

As I write, the weather is improving by the day and it’s hoped that the restrictions on travel between metropolitan and regional areas will be lifted very soon, so there’s a sense of optimism in the air. There have also been some terrific achievements by our staff since my last blog, and I’d like to mention a few of them.


Translating research online

Congratulations to Pam Snow and Tanya Serry from the School of Education, who have seen more than 800 teachers enrol in a new online short course they developed through their Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab that aims to overhaul the way children are taught to read. It’s a great example of university research informing practice, in this case by taking the science behind reading and language into the classroom.

Pam and Tanya are following hot on the heels of Geraldine Kennett, director of our MBA program, who has had more than 12,000 registrants in her Leaders in Lockdown program. This program supports businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19 by providing a free online leadership development program run by La Trobe academics with MBA alumni who are volunteering their time. Some participants have subsequently enrolled in the MBA, and Geraldine is also migrating the program content into smaller modules in preparation to run similar programs in 2021. It’s a great story and I think we can learn a lot from the way that Geraldine has responded so effectively to urgent community needs.


La Trobe luminaries

Congratulations to Professor Hylton Menz on being awarded a prestigious fellowship with the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS). What a terrific achievement to be the first podiatrist and first La Trobe academic honoured with an AAHMS fellowship. We can be doubly proud of Hylton because he also did his undergraduate degree at La Trobe, achieving First Class Honours and winning the University Medal!

Some of our other emerging leaders have also been recognised recently. I was really pleased to see Ani Desai, who runs our Centre for Technology Infusion, named as a Victorian Young Tall Poppy for 2020 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science. Ani’s award is richly deserved, as he has worked very hard to develop technological solutions for real-world problems by using a unique approach that delivers “field ready” technology projects for government and industry. For example, Ani led work on Victoria’s first fully autonomous shuttle bus deployment and is creating the technology for Australia’s first zero-emission house.

I was also inspired to read Dylan Langley’s story in La Trobe News last week. I can only imagine how hard it is to experience homelessness and mental illness, so it was incredible to see how Dylan has overcome big challenges in his life and gone on to be shortlisted for the 2021 Victorian Young Australian of the Year Award. Our occupational therapy students are certainly privileged to have such an incredible lecturer.

Our pharmacy students in Bendigo are also reaping the benefits of having one of our local alumni, Jason Buccheri, return to lecture at La Trobe. It was great to see Jason featured in the Bendigo Advertiser after being awarded an Advance Higher Education Fellowship in recognition of his teaching success.


Leading research

It was really pleasing to see La Trobe research recognised in The Australian Research Magazine supplement published by The Australian in late September. Not only were we named as the national leaders for research in Sex and Sexuality, Developmental Biology and Embryology, and Proteomics, Peptides and Amino Acids; but David Greening, Jennie Pryce, Richard Heersmink and Anthony Lyons were also named as national leaders in their fields. Dinh Phan from the La Trobe Business School was named as one of the nation’s Rising Research Stars, and Cheryl Dissanayake from the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) was named as both the global and Australian Research Field Leader for Development Disabilities.

And while we are on OTARC, in October Senator Hollie Hughes delivered a wonderful tribute in the Australian Parliament to Olga and the work done by Cheryl and her team at OTARC, which is well worth reading.

It was also terrific to see La Trobe so well represented in the Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture, a one-off program that aims to offset the paucity of ARC funding for projects in Australian studies. Congratulations to Katie Holmes, Susan Lawrence and Katherine Ellinghaus, and their teams, who won funding to lead projects that will, respectively, investigate cultures of drought, work with Indigenous communities to consider how access to water and the use of fire have shaped land use over time, and produce a documentary history of Indigenous Australia that applies new methodologies based on collaboration and the privileging of Aboriginal wellbeing and Indigenous perspectives. Numerous other La Trobe researchers are also involved in these important projects.

It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the Innovative Research Universities network, of which La Trobe is a member, comprises only seven universities but received 29 per cent of the national funding pool under this scheme. La Trobe and the other IRU universities stand out for our expertise that helps our nation look at itself critically and which helps all of us to better understand the past – and the present. It was pleasing to see this reinforced once again with Catherine Chamberlain being awarded funding in a unique $2 million round from the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies that privileges First Nations voices in the global response to COVID-19. Cath and her team will use their grant to extend the work of La Trobe’s four-year Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project by using knowledge of trauma to inform best-practice responses to COVID-19.

I was also very proud to see that Clare Wright, Julie Andrews, Richard Broome and other La Trobe academics have been instrumental in the campaign to rename federal electorates after women, including one of Australia’s earliest female Aboriginal activists, Margaret Tucker.


Planning for the future of our regions

Well done to our community planning and development lecturer Melissa Kennedy, who won a prestigious Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) award for her PhD research on rural creative economies. It was the fourth consecutive year that students from La Trobe’s Community Planning and Development Program in Bendigo have won a PIA award.

I’m sure our planning scholars would support the works to install solar carports at Bendigo as part of our Net Zero program. When completed, carports will cover almost 200 parking spaces and add more than 1500 solar panels to our sustainability infrastructure at the campus. Net Zero works are also being undertaken at our campuses in Shepparton, Mildura and Albury-Wodonga, and by the end of 2020 all four regional campuses will have more than 90 per cent of their lighting converted to low-energy LEDs, and a significant proportion of daytime energy use supplied by onsite renewables.

La Trobe’s important role in regional Victoria has also been reinforced with the awarding of $2.7 million to a research team that includes the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research in Albury-Wodonga to undertake clinical trials in regional Victoria for older adults with cancer. The project will help the Centre’s director, Irene Blackberry, and her team, to redress the current lack of access to quality clinical trials in regional Victoria and help to improve health outcomes for regional older Australians.


Upcoming events

It’s been an amazing year for La Trobe’s public scholarship activities, with online events allowing us to reach much bigger audiences than we can within the physical limits set by the number of seats in a lecture theatre. I encourage you to join in some of the final events for the year, including the Bold Thinking event on 10 November that will consider the unsettling topic of COVID-19 and the Pandemic of Denial; the final instalment of Robert Manne’s fantastic 2020 Ideas and Society series on 19 November, A farewell to arts? On the Morrison Government’s University Legislation; and, on 24 November, the Violet Marshman Oration with Magda Szubanski.


GradsFest

While we are planning regional graduations for 2021 as normal from April next year, for 2020 and 2021 cohorts we cannot assume that we will be able do the same for our students at Bundoora.

As a result, our irrepressible University Events manager, Victoria Dillon, is doing everything she can to give our 2020 graduating students from Bundoora the best possible send off to celebrate their achievements in finishing their degrees this year. So, we will host GradsFest during the month of December to give Bundoora graduands and their families the opportunity to come back to campus for academic gowning and to be presented with their testamur. There will also be a companion broadcast that goes to air at 5pm on 22 December, which will be tailored to each of our Schools. You can take part by recording a video message of support for our students.

Please do get involved if you can. Some Victorian universities are only offering in absentia graduation this year, or ceremonies that are held entirely online, so it’s terrific that we are providing a more significant celebration for our graduands. I spent a good part of yesterday filming material for GradsFest with a group of amazing students, and I’m really looking forward to La Trobe showing how much we care by putting on the best event we can. For more information, visit our website.

That’s it for another month at La Trobe. Once again, thank you for everything you’ve done this year and well done on making it to the end of semester 2 exams! I look forward to seeing you at our combined end-of-year celebration and staff awards event in early December. We’ve had an incredible 256 nominations for the staff awards, double the amount from last year, so it’s wonderful that so many of you want to recognise your colleagues for their fantastic efforts this year.  We’ll be sending out invitations soon. Until then, take care and do enjoy the spring weather and the chance to get out with friends and family over the coming weeks.

John