Southern Cross Matters

"Southern Cross Matters is designed to help us stay in touch with key developments and our achievements as a University community."

Tyrone Carlin
Vice-Chancellor, Southern Cross University

Southern Cross Matters
Professor Tyrone Carlin
Professor Tyrone Carlin, Vice-Chancellor and President

From the Vice-Chancellor

With Term 1 now all but complete, it is opportune to reflect on our progress thus far in 2023 and some key milestones that we have achieved together.

In my introductory remarks in March’s edition of Southern Cross Matters, I mused out aloud as to whether we would achieve an enrolment result that swam against the tide of subdued national demand for university places. At that point, it was simply too early to tell with any confidence whether we had accomplished this. What was clear was that we had left no stone unturned in an effort to do so. What I can now share with you, with the benefit of a few additional weeks during which it has been possible to take stock, is that we have indeed achieved the bold goal that we set for ourselves. 

“It’s fantastic to be named on the list and it’s a great accolade for Southern Cross University as well,” Associate Professor Neumann said. 

“It’s wonderful for researchers to have public recognition for their efforts, and for people to learn more about what we do.”

Associate Professor Neumann’s cutting-edge research observes how children interact with social robots and the impact this has on early learning and language development. In a world of technical advancements, social robots are now capable of conversation and engaging young learners. 

To be precise, we have the privilege of welcoming in excess of 200 more new to Southern Cross University domestic students this year than in the first half of 2022. That is a remarkable achievement. This demand for additional places at our institution is spread widely, and has included measurable increases in courses as diverse as Speech Pathology, Psychological Science, Law, Engineering and Early Childhood. We have also seen very substantial growth in our outstanding Diploma programs, which we know provide a very robust platform from which students can build a successful trajectory into their Bachelors programs and beyond. 

As pleasing as all of this is, I am even more impressed by the energy and creativity that has been displayed by so many across the University to make our students feel welcome, to ensure that they are engaged with and supported in their learning and comfortable to make new friends and embrace new experiences. Our wonderful team of First Year Advisors has made an immediate and positive impact and it has been fantastic to hear just how much students have benefited from the wisdom of other students through a refocused peer tutoring program.

All of these things speak to a practical orientation to our values of excellence, boldness and ownership and as will be evident throughout this edition, that holds true in our work in research, where year by year, a greater and greater number of our colleagues are being recognised as genuine leaders in their chosen fields of expertise. Just think how many young lives will be enhanced through the work of our colleague Michelle Neumann through her passion for understanding learning in young children, as one example drawn out in this month’s edition, and I am sure that you will be inspired.

Week by week, month by month, we are building a better and better institution together. As we continue to focus on the myriad elements of work that piece together to pave our path forward, it helps to maintain perspective, direction and ambition if we constantly remind ourselves of our purpose – to change lives through revolutionary learning and to deliver research with real impact. We have begun this year in a manner wholly consonant with this guiding statement and it is for all of us to ensure that we stay true to this as we proceed throughout the remainder of this year and beyond.

Warmest wishes,

Dr Dylan Poulus at Gold Coast campus
Dr Dylan Poulus at Gold Coast campus

PASER sets the pace with two AIS grants

A new research group within the Faculty of Health has made a flying start to 2023 with not one, but two grants through the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

The grants are for projects within the Physical Activity, Sport and Exercise Research (PASER) theme. They include the first ever funding by the AIS into the growing field of esports.

PASER Lead, Associate Professor Christian Swann, said the grants were significant given competition for AIS funding is always strong, coupled with the fact that PASER formed only last October.

“We are also proud that both grants included early-career researchers who are bringing exciting expertise to the field and building promising track records,” he said.
Dr Dylan Poulus completed his PhD less than two years ago and will lead a $37,000 project investigating the factors associated with success in esports – the competitive playing of video games. Dylan and fellow researcher Dr Kyle Bennett will collaborate with Federation University, UTAS and the University of Groningen in partnership with Guinevere Esports, the biggest investor in esports in Australia. 
“Esports continue to grow exponentially, attracting huge prizemoney, global audiences and fan groups in the millions,” said Dylan.

“We don't know what makes the best gamers in the world, so we will talk to the best coaches, players and team owners to build a model of performance which might then be applied towards Australia's competitive future in esports.”
The second grant is worth $49,500 and will be led by Associate Professor Swann with Associate Professor Chris Stevens and another early-career researcher, Dr Scott Goddard, who completed his PhD at Southern Cross University in 2022. 

They will partner with Athletics Australia, University of Wollongong and the University of Canberra to build a research-based framework for understanding the psychology of optimal performance in elite sprint, power, and endurance athletes.

Mangrove trees at Cape Tribulation credit David Clode on Unsplash
Mangrove trees at Cape Tribulation credit David Clode on Unsplash

Latest global ranking puts Southern Cross in top 450 universities

The University’s environmental sciences expertise is now globally recognised after breaking new ground in the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject.

For the first time our Environmental Sciences has ranked in the annual QS subject evaluations, emerging in the top 450 universities worldwide.

The result complements our current and best ever result in the overall QS World University Rankings, where Southern Cross is placed in the top 750 universities globally.

Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Tyrone Carlin, praised the efforts of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. 

“Colleagues in the Environmental Sciences field have been refining education programs over the past several years while continuing to pursue research that makes an impact locally, regionally and globally.

“Many of our researchers have dedicated their careers to understanding and solving some of the world’s greatest problems. Their discovery and research generate interest from government and industry and influence public policy.”

The University mace
The Southern Cross University ceremonial mace

Take a closer look at the University mace

It’s our favourite time of the year – graduation! The Gold Coast ceremonies saw hundreds of graduates cross the stage again this month and as usual there was plenty of ceremony and tradition on display. As per that tradition, the academic procession was led into the auditorium by the Esquire Bedell, carrying a beautifully made wooden staff: the University mace.

The mace symbolises the dignity and authority of the University and has been used in our graduation ceremonies since 1995. Our mace was designed and made by local master craftsman, Churchill Fellow and Honorary Fellow of Southern Cross University, Mr Geoffrey Hannah OAM. It represents the uniqueness of our region and incorporates the colours of the rainforest, sea and sky, as well as local flora and the Australian floral emblem.

The mace is made of Black Bean timber which was once part of a post-and-rail fence, split at Alstonville around 1880. The stones used are green jasper and blue/grey chalcedony, both from the Mount Warning area. The floral inlays are made of natural coloured veneers and feature Black Bean, Wattle, Bull Rushes and Spotted Gum. The Hoya Australis, which spirals around the shaft, was cast in sterling silver from the leaves and flower of a living plant. 

The head of the mace depicts a lighthouse which resembles the traditional symbols of crown and castle. The blue of the sea and the sky is depicted in the blue chalcedony cabochon and also in the lighthouse windows; the green of the rainforest in the dark green cabochons of jasper on the shaft. The Southern Cross University shield is made of solid sterling silver and gold, and represents the lighthouse beacon.

Take a closer look at the mace in this video.

Associate Professor Michelle M. Neumann
Associate Professor Michelle M. Neumann

Southern Cross Uni early childhood expert named Australia’s best

Early Childhood Education researcher Michelle Neumann has been named the nation’s best for her ground-breaking work with early literacy, digital technology, and social robots.

The Associate Professor from Southern Cross University was honoured in The Australian’s 2023 Research Magazine, and said the curiosity and development of children constantly inspires her award-winning research.

The prestigious annual list highlights the nation’s top researchers in 250 fields of academic endeavour, using the number of citations for publications in top 20 journals in the past five years to judge their contribution.

“It’s fantastic to be named on the list and it’s a great accolade for Southern Cross University as well,” Associate Professor Neumann said. 

“It’s wonderful for researchers to have public recognition for their efforts, and for people to learn more about what we do.”

Associate Professor Neumann’s cutting-edge research observes how children interact with social robots and the impact this has on early learning and language development. In a world of technical advancements, social robots are now capable of conversation and engaging young learners. 

“Since digital tablets exploded globally 12 years ago there has been a huge need to research their impact on children’s development, and that now extends to social robots, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality,” Associate Professor Neumann said.

“There is a lot of ongoing work promoting robotics and STEM to school children, but there’s been less work on the social aspect, and how robots can be best used to assist children and teachers in early educational settings in the future.”

Associate Professor Neumann originally studied science with honours, then education, working 10 years as a primary and secondary teacher while raising her five children and completing her PhD a decade ago, followed by postdoctoral research and university lecturing. She joined Southern Cross University in March 2022 and is Deputy Leader of the recently-launched Early Years Research Lab, and course coordinator of the Bachelor of Education with Honours. Associate Professor Neumann is also co-investigator on ARC Discovery project ‘Parent involvement goes online: New ecologies of school-home relations’.

“Children are so amazing, they are developing and learning all the time. They are so inquisitive and they really inspire me. They are the reason I decided to pursue a career in education,” she said.

Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie Knowles, Faculty of Education Dean at Southern Cross University, congratulated Associate Professor Neumann for topping the Early Education researchers list for the third time in three years. “This national accolade is a testament of Associate Professor Neumann’s transformative and impactful research in early childhood education,” she said.

The Australian partners with research analytics firm League of Scholars, using a database of more than 77,000 Australian researchers and big data techniques to collate results.

Students at Lismore campus
Students at Lismore campus

First-year students, we’ve got you covered

Starting the first year at university can be a daunting experience and a significant adjustment for new students. 

The First-Year Student Success program is a series of initiatives supporting student success, focusing on first-year students. Attrition of first-year students is a complex problem. Particularly at Southern Cross, with our unique cohort of majority non-school leavers juggling multiple responsibilities, predominantly part-time and studying online, the adjustment to University can sometimes be challenging. Some students thrive, while others do not and withdraw from units or leave.

“By supporting new students intentionally, proactively and early on, we’re helping them with the tools to succeed and persist,” said Dr. Chithira Johnson, Director of Student Support.

The goal is to “intentionally get in front of students from the beginning,” Dr Johnson explained. As the landscape of higher education is changing, so are student needs. The First-Year Success Program aims to provide a personal touch in ensuring students know the academic and support resources available rather than directing them to a website or something less interactive.

“Research shows that how students navigate the first year of university and the support they receive can either make or break their experience. If we are intentional about student success, we can anticipate and mediate known first-year obstacles. The First-Year Success Program is about living our values, demonstrating real care for our students through early interventions and practical support,” said Brendon Nelson, Vice-President (Students) and Registrar.

What does the program include?

Early Orientation

A more personal invitational approach was taken for Term 1 to encourage students to attend Orientation program activities on campus and online spanning five weeks. New students were contacted with a welcome phone call and received a physical invitation to Orientation events from the Vice-Chancellor. 

Transition Workshops

Over 20 innovative, wide-ranging transition workshops were run prior to, during, and after O-Week, with 736 attendees.

First Year Advising 

The First Year Advising Pilot Program commenced in Term 1, 2023 and supports first-year domestic, undergraduate, main campus and online students studying in the Faculty of Education and Faculty of Business, Law and Arts. 

In the first few weeks of the pilot, First Year Advisers (FYA) have assisted 247 first-year students with timely planning, support and advice about how to effectively navigate being a student at Southern Cross. FYAs are proactively identifying advisees who might be at risk of disengaging or dropping off and provide timely tips and tricks to navigating the Southern Cross model. 

Peer Assisted Learning Support (PALS)

PALS Mentors are role model students who receive training in communication and facilitation skills to effectively share essential study skills and strategies. 980 students have been targeted for the 1:1 Peer Assisted Learning Support (PALs) pilot program from units in Term 1 that historically have had higher fail or withdrawal rates. 

IMPACT event attendees at Lismore campus
IMPACT event attendees at Lismore campus

Uni leaders stick together to create IMPACT

Recently, Southern Cross launched IMPACT, our inaugural Academic Leadership Program.

The IMPACT Academic Leadership Program is just one of numerous professional development initiatives which are aligned to the University’s strategic priorities and commitment to outstanding people. 

The purpose of this program is to encourage, equip and enable the University’s key leaders to thrive in their roles and authentically inspire our next generation of outstanding educators and researchers. 

The program, cross-disciplinary in nature, engages academics, researchers, associate deans, discipline chairs, directors and associated roles across multiple faculties and colleges.

The program launch was held at a pop-up café on the Lismore campus with over 40 leaders from all campuses convening to hear from Vice-Chancellor and President Tyrone Carlin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Academic Capability) Mary Spongberg and program facilitator Mark Krnjaic, Director Organisational Development.

Each of the leaders in attendance had an opportunity to share a current leadership challenge or aspiration, as well as the opportunity to connect with peers and new colleagues for the first time. The launch created an inspirational foundation for the rollout of the program which will abound in opportunities for participants to experience both gentle and challenging moments to reflect on leading self, others and within the University as a way to create meaningful and lasting IMPACT!
"A special thank you to Katie McDonough, Louise Schiebel and Leah Aboody who were instrumental in the design, planning and logistical organisation of the launch. Thanks also to Ben Roche and Renea Duignan who generously donated exquisite furniture to transform a familiar space into a buzzing pop-up café," said Mark Krnjaic.

Students at Lismore campus
Students at Lismore campus

Reimagining our Northern Rivers and Gold Coast campuses

Exciting things are on the horizon for our Northern Rivers and Gold Coast campuses. Southern Cross is looking to the future with plans to upgrade facilities, improve the student experience and encourage students and staff back on campus. 

Classrooms and lecture theatres will be overhauled to better support the Southern Cross Model, according to Vice-President (Operations) Allan Morris.

“Traditional flat floor spaces where the lecturer stands at the front at a podium and the students all sit in rows is simply not how we teach or learn anymore. So, there’s an opportunity to transform the spaces into something that’s engaging and interactive,” Mr Morris said.

Other learning spaces on campus are also in for a revamp. At the Northern Rivers, early planning is underway to investigate transforming Level 1 of the Learning Centre into a one-stop-shop for students comprising of student administration services, the technology help desk, library services and career services. The works will also see study spaces throughout the library refurbished to allow for both quiet and collaborative study.

However, it is not just student spaces that are receiving makeovers. For colleagues at the Northern Rivers, a refurbishment of A Block Level 3 will provide more quality workspaces for staff. It is hoped construction will commence in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile a blank canvas approach being taken to see how spaces at the Gold Coast can be better utilised, with staff workshops underway to gather input across the faculties and professional units. 

“We’ve got a lot of office space that is underutilised because people are working across campuses or working in hybrid mode. It's about re-imagining spaces where people can still come to work, have sense of privacy, use their computer and feel like it is a welcoming space,” Mr Morris said. 

The University will also assess opportunities to improve amenities at the Gold Coast including a wider variety of food offerings. 

Southern Cross University Vice-President (Strategy and Implementation) Jack Williamson said he is motivated to drive more people back to campus through the refresh projects.

“I started at the University in November 2021, so there were no students on campus (due to the pandemic restrictions). Then being based in Lismore throughout 2022, that effectively continued because of the floods. So, this is the first year that I’ve seen a lot of students and colleagues come back to campus and that’s extremely exciting and I want to continue with that momentum.”

There will be extensive consultation periods for the projects that are underway so be sure to keep an eye on your inbox for opportunities to provide feedback!

Woman looking at the sea
Students at Lismore campus

You asked, we listened

n line with the University’s Focus on Wellness Plan, Southern Cross introduces the InFocus sessions, offered in response to employees’ feedback to a recent workplace wellbeing survey.         

Key Themes - what we heard you say:  

•    Create and promote wellness programs 
•    Strong need to better focus efforts on what matters
•    Demonstrate all our values in action, with a heightened focus on excellence and care
•    Safety matters, we need to ensure there is a culture of care and trust  
•    To continue to be open, transparent and communicate more often. 

Click here to register for one of the remaining Well at Work sessions available to all staff: 

•    Exploring the Impact of Remote Working – 24th May 2023
•    Enhancing Positive Self Esteem – 21st June 2023
•    Managing Anxiety – 19th July 2023 

If you have any questions about registering or accessing the session, please contact

Did you know...


Southern Cross Law lecturer, Lisa Frisken, has been awarded as a finalist in the Australian ADR Awards for ‘Academic of the Year’.      

The Australian ADR Awards celebrate excellence and the significant contributions of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practitioners to civil society.   


Rhianna Eigi, Senior Project Manager - Compliance, HR Services
Jon Hill, Executive Director, Academic Development, Office of Vice-Chancellor
Kimberly Knight, Manager, University Events, Office of Vice-President (Operations)
Sarah Tillott, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health  
Paul Collins, Project Administration Manager, Centre for Teaching & Learning 
Brett McLennan, Team Leader, e-Learning, Centre for Teaching & Learning 
Tania Goodman, Careers and Employability Consultant, Office of the PVC (Academic Quality)
Louise Ward, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health