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Alumni awards celebrate stories of impact


Jessica Nelson
29 November 2021

Five outstanding Southern Cross University alumni have been recognised in the 2021 Impact Awards. From world records and climate activism, to public service, environmental rehabilitation and youth mental health, each of our award recipients has a story of impact to share.

Alumnus of the Year is Lisa Blair, a three-time world record-holding ocean sailor, environmentalist, keynote speaker, teacher and published writer. 

Lisa set her first world record in 2017 when she sailed solo around Antarctica with one stop. She continued to set new records when she sailed solo non-stop and unassisted around Australia, becoming the fastest monohull to do the trip and the first woman in history to complete the voyage. She is about to set sail for Antarctica where she is seeking to break yet another world record, circumnavigating the icy continent at record speed.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Visual Art and Bachelor of Education from Southern Cross University, Lisa has a talent for combining creativity with an engaging, educational message. Her 50-foot yacht is wrapped in a colourful design of post-it note messages from the community about environmental action. Her goal is to inspire individuals that they have the power to create change, it just starts with one small action.

Lisa credits her time studying at Southern Cross University with connecting her to the right network of people. “At Southern Cross University you're not just another number, you're really part of that community. My friends at uni, they all helped me grow into the person I am today and without that experience I don't think I would be sitting here accepting this award or having set three world records.”

Lord Howe Island is listed as a world heritage property for its biodiversity, its spectacular scenic amenity and its underwater natural features.

I'm Hank Bauer, I oversee the island’s conservation program. This is Sue, my lovely wife. I’m Sue Bauer and I’m largely driving the island-scale weed eradication program and threatened species conservation program.

When we arrived on the island 14 years ago the place was covered in weeds and the environment was struggling from a lot of instances under pressure from rodents. There's been an ecological renaissance since the rodent eradication program. The wood hen population has gone from an average of 200 to over 600 in one year.

Lord Howe delivers in bucket loads in conservation outcomes. Being an island you can do eradications the pests can't come back in, providing you have good enough biosecurity.

Being a world heritage property we are able to attract reliable funding to deliver these programs working and living in the local community.

We both met at Southern Cross University. I went there because I have an inherent interest in rainforest ecology and the University is located in the place formerly known as the ‘Big Scrub’ so I went there to find out about how to manage the environment and more how island in sub-tropical island oceanic rainforest was the perfect fit to transfer my skills and experience over here.

We're also really fortunate to hook up with some pioneers in rainforest ecology on the North Coast. We were founding members of the Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare Group and did a lot of work on the North Coast learning about rainforest ecology and rainforest restoration and we got to transfer those skills here.

Having a responsibility for an island-scale program it was a bit daunting, but it was like no we know what to do.

Looking back at when we're at university the field trips were really important to relate the stuff you learn in the class to actually field skills. I think Lord Howe essentially it's providing a flagship, an environmental flagship to how an environment can be managed and protected. Limited pollution, sustainable land use planning, alternative energy, managing the environment.

I’m not leaving. I haven't told you that, I’m here to stay.

Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Tyrone Carlin said the University has a proud history of celebrating the impact of its alumni on industry and community, from those who are established in their careers to those who are just getting started.

“Each year we are overwhelmed by the calibre of our award submissions and 2021 has been no exception. I am inspired by every one of them,” he said.

“A special congratulations must go to this year’s Alumni Impact Award winners and their incredible diversity of achievements. From climate action and conservation to suicide prevention and community building through agribusiness, each story has been truly uplifting.”

The other award recipients are:

Young Alumnus of the Year – Nic Brown

As CEO of Batyr, a not-for-profit youth mental health organisation, Young Alumnus of the Year Nic Brown is striving to reduce the stigma around mental ill health and provide young people with the support they need.

“We lose nine lives to suicide every single day so the impact that that has on this country and on communities and on individuals is immense. I don’t think it’s talked about enough and I don’t think we’re doing enough to solve that problem, so I want to be a part of solving that problem,” Nic said.

“Our programs have now reached close to 300,000 young people through face to face programs and maintained important measures around attitudes toward seeking help.”

International Alumnus of the Year – Neelkamal Darbari

International Alumnus of the Year Neelkamal Darbari has created a lasting impact in the lives of individuals, communities and industries across India, dedicating almost 35 years of service to the Government of India and State Government of Rajasthan.

In her current position as Manager Director of the Small Farmers Agribusinesses Consortium under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Neelkamal is working to improve the economic outcomes of farmers in India. She has introduced successful initiatives such as the farmer producer organisation agribusiness model and the National Agriculture Market Electronic Trading (e-Nam) platform.

Completing her MBA at Southern Cross University in Lismore in 1996, Neelkamal was honoured to be recognised for achievements as an alumnus so many years later. “To be remembered after 20 to 30 years by my alma mater gives a real sense of validation that my work and my career has had a long-term impact. I am hugely indebted to Southern Cross University. As the Aussies would say, I’m stoked.”

Early Career Alumnus of the Year – Dr Cooper Schouten

Early Career Alumnus of the Year Dr Cooper Schouten is carving out a road less travelled in international development and agricultural research, from the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

A Southern Cross University environmental science and PhD graduate as well as a professional beekeeper, Cooper manages dozens of projects in the Indo-Pacific region for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and is also the project manager for the University’s Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods research group.

“My studies at Southern Cross University really opened my eyes to a career where I can not only work to help people out of poverty in our neighbouring countries, and create research that can have outcomes for our industry here in Australia, but it's also enabling me to achieve my aspirations and help other people to be able to achieve theirs as well,” he said.

Community Impact Award – Hank and Sue Bower

Hank and Sue Bower have been managing pest and weed eradication programs on Lord Howe Island for the past 14 years. Their work has sparked an 'ecological renaissance' on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed island and a model of how a fragile environment can be successfully managed to ensure it thrives for generations to come.

“It’s an environmental flagship in many ways, showing how you can successfully manage and protect an environment with good flora and fauna management and working with the community,” says Sue, who oversees the weed eradication and threatened species programs.

The Community Impact Award recipients met at Southern Cross University, where they both studied applied science in the 1990s.

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Media contact: Jessica Nelson, media office at Southern Cross University, 0417 288 794 or