University recognises staff excellence in community engagement

Published 3 December 2018
Associate Professor Adele Wessell and Dr Jo Kijas Associate Professor Adele Wessell and Dr Jo Kijas

Southern Cross University has recognised outstanding staff for innovative and relevant research, quality student learning experiences, and outcomes that help create stronger and more vibrant communities.

The Excellence in Engagement Awards, recently hosted at Southern Cross University Lismore campus, recognised Dr Jo Kijas and Associate Professor Adele Wessell from the School of Social Sciences, who secured the award for Engaged Learning.

Dr Kijas’ work as a public historian and Professor Wessell’s involvement with community engagement in the University led them to introduce the Community History Research Project five years ago.

John Barnes, the President of the New Italy Museum, a long-term community partner said the projects had all added to the attractiveness of New Italy, a community in Northern NSW near Evans Head.

“This unit meets the needs of a range of organisations throughout the North Coast and gives students the opportunity to create historical resources for the community including New Italy which now has a display which is at a professional standard,” he said.

Professor Isaac Santos and his project team from the National Marine Science Centre were recognised for their community-driven water quality research to protect, rehabilitate and manage iconic streams, estuaries and the Solitary Islands Marine Park.

Mr Ben Roach, Vice President (Engagement) said the award recognises research that is defined and driven by a community in response to key societal issues. This  research  emerged  from  community  concerns  about  the  rapid  expansion  of  blueberry farming around  Coffs  Harbour, which has grown more than 400 per cent between 2001 and 2016 in NSW, with 90 per cent of this growth around Coffs Harbour.

Associate Professor Steven Purcell, also from the National Marine Science Centre and his extensive project team nationally and internationally, were recognised for their community impact on Pacific Island fishers through technical capacity building on improved postharvest processing of fishery catches. Along with Japan Liaison Officer Tazuko McLaren OAM and Professor Anne Graham AO, Founding Director of the University’s Centre for Children and Young People (CCYP), taking out the University’s top leadership awards for staff community engagement.

Ms McLaren received her award for enhancing the relationship between Japan and Australia by initiating education and community involvement of all ages with the ultimate aim of world peace. Earlier this year, Tazuko was also awarded a prestigious Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her contributions to education and to Australia-Japan relations.

Meanwhile Professor Anne Graham who received an AO this year in the Queen's Birthday Honours, was awarded the University’s prestigious engagement accolade for her work in promoting the safety and wellbeing of children. Professor Graham is the Founding Director of the University’s Centre for Children and Young People (CCYP), establishing the reputation of Southern Cross University as a key player regionally, nationally and internationally in providing high quality, high impact interdisciplinary research aimed at improving policy and practice in key areas of children and young people's lives.

The Lennox Head resident said she was originally drawn to work in teacher education at the University because of the privilege of helping shape the next generation of teachers and supporting and inspiring them to be authentically child-centred in their own careers. In 13 years she has led more than 60 research projects, including more than $8M in funding from five Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grants and two ARC Discovery grants.

This year all Award recipients received $500 project funding, kindly sponsored by UniSuper

Media contact: Jessica Nelson 0417288794 or