November 2022

4 November 2022

Welcome to my November blog.

As if bushfires, COVID and the occasional earthquake weren’t enough, many members of our community have been dealing with the consequences of the recent flooding in central and northern Victoria, especially at our Shepparton campus.

I was in Shepparton last Friday and was touched to hear staff talk about the way in which the Shepparton community has pulled together to support those most in need. Everyone I spoke to has been affected in some way or knows someone who has been. One staff member I chatted with lost a canola crop, while everyone was volunteering or helping their neighbours with supplies of food and medicine.

Several staff in Shepparton volunteered in food vans or helped to prepare care packages. I’m told that Mel Bish from the La Trobe Rural Health School volunteered her nursing skills to help our partners at the Rochester Health Service. When she turned up, she was told that what was needed was help with sandbagging. Unperturbed, Mel rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Well done Mel!

The tail of recovery from these kinds of events is long, especially for vulnerable members of the community. Our head of campus in Shepparton, Elizabeth Capp, joined me in meetings with local Councillors and MPs to discuss how the University might contribute to the recovery. We are working with GOTAFE and the University of Melbourne (who also have a campus in Shepparton) to identify how we can collectively support the community.

Meanwhile, congratulations to all those who have made it through another semester of teaching and exams. While some of you are gearing up for the Summer semester, we’re also looking to the next academic year, and I’m pleased to report that early indications of demand for La Trobe courses through the VTAC system are positive. When timely applications closed at the end of September, we had maintained our market share among Year 12 school leavers and saw an increased share of demand from non-school leaver applicants. This is good news, although overall VTAC numbers are down across the sector for a third year in a row.

Our direct application and international numbers are also looking strong for next year. Our marketing and recruitment teams will continue to work hard to recruit students during the Year 12 change of preference period and our direct application process that runs until March next year.

As usual, I’d now like to mention a few recent achievements and activities from across the University.

Award-winning projects

It’s my great pleasure to announce that La Trobe has won the Employability Award for the School of Education’s innovative Nexus Program in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) Higher Education Awards, announced this morning.

Nexus provides an employment-based pathway into secondary teaching. It mentors and prepares students to teach in low SES, culturally diverse and hard-to-staff schools, especially in regional areas, making a huge impact where teachers are needed most. Warmest congratulations to Joanna Barbousas and everyone in our School of Education on this terrific recognition of their efforts to address teacher shortages in the regions.

I’m also pleased to report that two other La Trobe projects were named as finalists in the AFR awards.

The Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab in the School of Education was a finalist in the Community Engagement category for its work to support teachers to adopt scientific approaches to improve how reading is taught. The SOLAR Lab’s short courses have attracted 6,000 participants since launching in late 2020.

And congratulations to our Albury-Wodonga based historian Jennifer Jones whose unique place-based subject Gone Bush: Australian Identity and Rural Myth was a finalist in the Teaching and Learning Excellence category. Gone Bush was recognised for providing an immersive educational experience and improving educational outcomes for regional students.

What a great way to end the week – well done to everyone involved in these projects!

30 years and going strong

Despite heavy rains and a thunderous, humid atmosphere, we held a terrific event in Albury-Wodonga on 21 October to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Albury-Wodonga campus.

The night was a great success in reconnecting alumni, former colleagues, staff, students and supporters of the campus. The campus has truly opened new horizons for the local community by providing access for people in the region, especially women, to a higher education that would previously have been impossible.

Amongst the many pieces of trivia I learnt on the night was that we awarded Gough Whitlam an Honorary Doctorate of Letters at the first campus graduation ceremony in Albury-Wodonga in 1992.

Congratulations to our head of campus Guin Threlkeld and her fantastic organising team of Amber Hitchins and Tammy Ebert on delivering a wonderful event to mark the anniversary.

An emeriti occasion

It was great to join Sue Dodds and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Dennis Altman last month at our inaugural event to celebrate the contribution of the University’s emeritus researchers and scholars.

We have some 150 emeriti across our Departments and Schools and it was terrific to reconnect with them. Although officially ‘retired’, our emeritus staff continue to make important contributions to their disciplines and to scholarly life across the University. I look forward to catching up with our emeriti as we organise these get togethers more regularly in the future.

On the right path

We were pleased to welcome Lily D’Ambrosio, the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Action, to our Melbourne campus last month for the official opening of the 1.9km shared cycling and pedestrian pathway at the campus, along with our local member Colin Brooks and Darebin Mayor Lina Messina.

The State Government provided $1.3 million for the project, which improves access to the Polaris Shopping Centre and the Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as other pathways and trails, and the local transport network.

I look forward to walking around the path to stretch my legs and clear my mind during lunch breaks over the summer months!

Literary winner

Barbara Minchinton’s terrific book The Women of Little Lon: Sex Workers in Nineteenth-Century Melbourne, published by the La Trobe University Press, won the History Publication Award for the best publication on Victorian history at this year’s Victorian Community History Awards. The book draws on the findings of recent archaeological excavations, rare archival material and family records to tell the stories of sex workers in nineteenth-century Melbourne. Well done to Barbara and our publishing partners at Black Inc.

Healthy research

Three La Trobe researchers won highly competitive NHMRC Investigator grants recently. Well done to Joanne Kemp, Pamali Fonseka and Anne-Marie Laslett who will respectively examine hip osteoarthritis, better drug delivery to treat breast cancer, and alcohol’s harm to those other than the drinker. It was great to see three of our leading women researchers win this prestigious funding.

Ideas worth hearing

Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow Robert Manne has curated an outstanding series of discussions for this year’s Ideas and Society series. The most recent event saw Ross Garnaut in a discussion with La Trobe alumnus and climate scientist Tim Flannery of Garnaut’s latest La Trobe University Press book, The Superpower Transformation: Making Australia’s Zero-Carbon Future.

It followed a wide-ranging discussion in early October between University of Sydney historian James Curran and former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating about Australia’s relations with China and the United States, the AUKUS Treaty and our nation’s defences, the monarchy and Australia’s head of state, and more.

The final Ideas and Society event for 2022 is on 14 November and features another brilliant panel. La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor's Fellow Cathy McGowan will moderate a discussion on the role of the Greens and so-called ‘teal’ independents in the newly-elected Federal Parliament, with Adam Bandt, Max Chandler-Mather, Zoe Daniel, and Simon Holmes a Court. You can register here.

In closing

That’s it for another month at La Trobe. Well done once again to Joanna Barbousas and the team that delivers the Nexus program on their AFR award.

I look forward to seeing you at our Staff Awards ceremony on 6 December when we will recognise more of the great work done by our colleagues this year. There are limited places available for our in-person audience at the Agora Theatre on the Melbourne campus, and you can join online from anywhere. Directly after the award ceremony, we’ll be hosting our respective campus end-of-year celebrations, so it promises to be a great day.