International Alumnus of the Year

Sara Shashaani

Can virtual simulations lead to climate-resilient realities? Through the use of learning and prediction software, Dr Sara Shashaani is aiming to develop solutions to challenges posed by climate change.

In recognition of her research into harnessing computing and engineering methodologies to better protect communities vulnerable to climate change, Sara has been named Southern Cross University’s 2023 International Alumnus of the Year.

The use of computer modelling to research climate resilience is underpinned by her Bachelor of Applied Computing, which Sara completed at Southern Cross University in 2010. The degree is now delivered as the Bachelor of Information Technology.

After further graduate studies in industrial engineering, Sara now holds the position of Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University.

Sara’s research interest is driven by concerns that climate shifts will affect coastal ecosystems and critical sectors such as farming and agriculture with widespread impacts.

“Animal farm manure overflows that occur due to increased rain and floods affects water quality, disrupts the food supply chain, and endangers community economy and well-being,” she said.  “Another example is in the renewable energy sector where climate variations can drive ineffective power production, reliability, and costs.

“As the impact of climate change intensifies on agriculture, critical infrastructure and communities, there is a pressing need for more innovative approaches to harness the expanding collections of data.”

One such innovative approach is computer simulations, which can help emulate complex systems such as wind farms, animal lagoons and power grids.

“My aim is to strengthen our utilisation of Big Data, probability and simulation methods to enhance the robustness of both learning-based and physics-based models. This, in turn, should improve the comprehensiveness and accuracy of our predictions regarding the future outcomes of our present decisions.

“By employing these advances, we can aspire to foster climate-informed decision-making across various sectors of our global community.”

Sara said studying the Bachelor of Applied Computing at Southern Cross University pathed the way for her research and academic career.

“I chose to study Applied Computing to enter the world of information technology,” Sara said. “My father was a big influence as he believed that knowing the language of computers would be essential no matter what discipline you’re in. And he turned out to be right about that.

“The degree provided me with a strong foundation in programming and a fundamental understanding of the handling and structuring of large-scale data. These unique skills have consistently informed my career, enabling me to transform my computational tools into user-friendly programs and software accessible to a broader audience.”

Sara said she is deeply grateful to be named the International Alumnus of the Year.

“My wish is that my journey inspires current and future students to explore the educational and research possibilities at Southern Cross University, inspiring them to contemplate how they too can make meaningful contributions to the well-being of our planet and all its ecosystems.

2023 Alumni Impact Award Recipients

Alumnus of the Year, Ben Newton OAM

After graduating from Southern Cross in 2010 with a Bachelor of Psychological Science with Honours, Ben went on to win a gold medal at the 2012 summer Paralympics and was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal in 2014. Ben now works as the Queensland Paralympics High Performance & Development Coach (Wheelchair Rugby) where nurtures talent and inclusivity within the sport.

Learn more about Ben
Ben Newton

Young Alumnus of the Year, Miranda Luby (dual recipient)

Nominated as an award-winning author, journalist, and copywriter, Miranda’s work spans renowned publications to inspiring novels, showcasing her passion for mental health and conservation issues. A role model for young adults, she inspires and empowers through her talks and workshops where her dedication to community service and impactful storytelling shines through.

Learn more about Miranda
Miranda Luby

Young Alumnus of the Year, Dr Cooper Schouten (dual recipient)

Cooper has completed three degrees including a PhD at Southern Cross. He is the Director of Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods research group and oversees several programs promoting education, research and capacity-building within beekeeping industries in Pacific Island partner countries and Australia. He also teaches into the Regenerative Agriculture program at the University.

Learn more about Cooper
Man with bee honeycomb

International Alumnus of the Year, Dr Sara Shashaani

Completing her Bachelor of Applied Computing at Southern Cross in 2010, Sara is an esteemed researcher in climate-induced learning and prediction. As Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University, she aims to contribute to sustainable solutions and support vulnerable communities.

Learn more about Sara
Sara Shashaani

Early Career Alumnus of the Year, Mitch Lavelle

Mitch is a mechanical engineer at Gilmour Space Technologies, leading provider of Australian-made launch vehicles and satellite platforms. The company is on track to launch its Eris rockets and G-class satellite platforms into Low Earth Orbits soon and Mitch is the responsible engineer for the first stage main tank, as well as the entire second stage of the Eris Block 1 vehicle.

Learn more about Mitch

Community Impact Alumnus of the Year, Evangeline Wood

Evangeline recently completed a Bachelor of Laws with Honours and is also a volunteer firefighter and Founder and President of Coolamon Community, a group dedicated to connecting Aboriginal mothers with culturally safe healthcare.​ Evie started Coolamon Community in 2021 and the group has since delivered more than 400 Coolamon cribs to First Nations mothers.

Learn more about Evangeline
Evangeline Wood

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