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

This is an incredibly jam packed edition of Southern Cross Matters, and I am confident that everyone who takes the time to leaf through its pages will learn something interesting and new.

I have to confess that for me, reading about the findings of Douglas Tait’s research on the impact of groundwater discharge on nutrient loads across the Great Barrier Reef was particularly eye opening. I think that like many Australians, I’ve had a broad familiarity with concerns that have been raised over many years about excess nutrient discharges into our ecosystems via rivers and streams, but I was astonished to read about just how much greater the impact of groundwater discharge can be compared to the impact of rivers, and I suspect that you will be too!

Of course, in the November edition, we see not just the outstanding work that is taking place in our University in cutting edge science, but also in the social sciences and the Law. We should all be so proud of our colleagues in the Discipline of Law for the absolutely outstanding “Children, Trauma and the Law” conference that they brought together at the Lismore campus. It addressed deeply significant issues, drew in key experts from around the nation including National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollands, a number of policy experts and a large contingent of legal practitioners. This is a fantastic example of excellence in engagement and impact.

Every page of this month’s edition speaks to our passion and energy as a University team, something for which I am deeply grateful. I hope as you read the diversity of stories set out below, you’ll feel the same way, and that you’ll find new things to tell friends, family and other community members about who we are and what we do.



2023 Alumni Impact Awards recipients, Professor Mary Spongberg Professor Mary Spongberg, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Academic Capability) and Dean Gould, Vice-President (Engagement)
2023 Alumni Impact Awards recipients, along with Professor Mary Spongberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Academic Capability) and Dean Gould, Vice-President (Engagement)

2023 Alumni of the Year Awards: another round of inspiring graduates

The stories of our students don’t end when they move their tassel at graduation. It is exciting to watch our alumni forge inspiring careers. We’re shining a spotlight on our amazing alumni through the Alumni Impact Awards, which is back for its 29th year.

Lecturer in the Faculty of Science and Engineering and project leader for the Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods Research Group, Dr Cooper Schouten, has been named an Alumni Impact Award winner for the second time.

Cooper has completed three degrees at Southern Cross and now works to enhance education, research, and capacity-building within the beekeeping industry in the Pacific Islands and Australia.

"The work that we are doing is made possible, not just because of my enthusiasm for bees," Cooper said.

"Our work represents the dedication of many researchers, governments and industry partners in the region working collectively, like a bee hive, to identify and develop the best possible solutions to beekeeping industry problems in the region. It's not about the queen bee; it's about everyone working together equally for the greater good." 

This year’s winners include Paralympian and Queensland Paralympics High Performance & Development Coach (Wheelchair Rugby), Ben Newton OAM; researcher in climate-induced learning and prediction, Dr Sara Shashaani; mechanical engineer at Gilmour Space Technologies, Mitch Lavelle; award-winning author, journalist and copywriter, Miranda Luby; Director of Bees for Sustainable Livelihoods research group, Dr Cooper Schouten; and Founder and President of not-for-profit Coolamon Community, Evangeline Wood.

Vice-President (Engagement) Dean Gould said the Alumni Impact Awards had a record number of nominations this year.

“That illustrates the momentum we have as a University,” he said.

“Southern Cross University is 30 years old next year and that means that a critical mass of our alumni are now hitting high-performance moments in their careers and this in turn brings a growing number of high calibre nominations.

“The winners are exceptional and I offer them heartfelt congratulations. They have been inspiring to meet and talk with.”


Professor Tobias Kretzschmar
Professor Tobias Kretzschmar

Hemp-tastic event at Lismore campus launches research program

This month we kicked off a new research program that is designed to supercharge the industrial hemp sector. Hemp is an amazing plant that can do so many things, like give us healthy seeds, strong fibres, and eco-friendly building materials.

Our lead researcher, Professor Tobias Kretzschmar refers to it as the Swiss army knife of crops and it’s easy to see why.

Special guest James Blundell added a little celebrity sparkle to the event and treated the room to a rendition of Living and Working on the Land. James is actually a hemp grower himself and one of the only organic hemp growers participating in a national trial.

He joined us and other hemp experts and industry partners to launch the Australian Industrial Hemp Program of Research. It’s a $2.5 million program funded by AgriFutures Australia that will run for five years, covering four key areas: hemp seeds and varieties, hemp primary production, hemp products and hemp sustainability.

We’re super proud to be leading this program, that builds on more than 15 years of hemp research at Southern Cross.

It’s a plant with a big future, expected to be a $10 million industry in Australia by 2026.

Thanks to all who made the launch a big success including our PhD candidates and researchers who gave wonderful guided tours of the hemp labs.

Researchers Ian Miller, Professor Mike Climstein and Dr Nela Rosic
Researchers Ian Miller, Professor Mike Climstein and Dr Nela Rosic

Southern Cross research team’s world-first skin cancer findings

A Southern Cross research team has published a world-first study using AI technology showing surfers, swimmers and runners face a higher risk of melanoma.

The research draws on the University’s regional strengths with more than 420 outdoor enthusiasts from across Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales signing up for the most extensive skin cancer screening study ever conducted.

Project leader Associate Professor Mike Climstein explained the study also sought to evaluate the effectiveness of emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technology in diagnosing the deadly disease.

The checks were undertaken through project partner, the Advanced Skin Cancer Practice, at the John Flynn Specialist Suites in Tugun, using a high-resolution digital dermatoscope with in-built artificial intelligence.

The study shows the prevalence of melanoma skin cancer is 120 times higher in surfers than in the general population, with swimmers found to be 80 times more likely, and regular walkers/runners 60 times higher.

Surfing icons such as former world-champion Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew famously backed the study and says Southern Cross is conducting “the best research in the world” in this space.

Professor Climstein said: “There is widespread enthusiasm from clinicians to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help detect skin cancer, and these studies are promising, showing these tools may be equal to or even superior to specialists for the detection of malignant melanomas.”

To broaden the scope of research, the research team – including PhD candidate Ian Miller, Dr Nela Rosic, Adjunct Associate Professors Michael Stapelberg and Jeremy Hudson, Dr Paul Coxon, Associate Professor James Furness and Dr Joe Walsh – is looking for industry partners to support the development of clinical biomarkers associated with the early detection and timely prevention of skin cancer.

Potential industry partners and those wanting to support the advancement of this research project are encouraged to contact Professor Climstein at [email protected]

Professor Ruth Greenaway, new Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning
Professor Ruth Greenaway, new Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning

A not-so-quiet revolution

Just two months into the job and the new Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning Professor Ruth Greenaway is talking about a revolution.

“Blackboard Ultra is coming and we are looking to have the first phase of the new navigation ready for Term 1, 2024. It’s an education evolution rather than a tech revolution, but a big and exciting uplift to prepare for.”

Together with a host of new features and analytical tools that monitor student engagement and completion of content, the move to Blackboard Ultra will see an increased focus on learning design of individual units.

“We want to make sure the student experience within each unit is matching the overarching educational design of the Southern Cross Model, so that it’s a consistently excellent experience for students, whether they are engaging with academics face-to-face or through the unit content.”

“It’s also very good on phones and across other devices like tablets.”

Professor Greenaway began her career as a physical education teacher before progressing into special education, tertiary education and education leadership. “That grounding was what got me into equity in learning design, and making sure every student is included and has the best chance to succeed,” she says.

It’s an ethos that has guided her career and also her choice to join Southern Cross. “I felt the University really aligned with my values. Especially being bold, pushing the boundaries. Regional universities are so important to higher education, providing opportunities for students who may otherwise not have them, and that matters to me.

“I really liked the concept of active learning, removing almost all lectures and exams and having authentic assessment with curriculum alignment. Practically all the characteristics of the Southern Cross Model. A lot of the work had already been done at Southern Cross to get it up and functioning and now my role is to jump in and take it further.”

Another revolution well underway is the influence of AI, and Professor Greenaway has plenty to say about that.

“When it first came out people were a bit panicked about students cheating and so on but I think that approach has mellowed and we’ve moved towards embracing it and using it ethically. We need to be teaching students about how to use it as well in line with the disciplines and industry expectations.

“There’s also scope to use AI in assessment. I saw a great example from the States. They asked ChatGPT to answer a question about Jane Austen. The AI produced a letter in the style of Jane Austen and then students had to analyse the language of the letter and why AI would have written it that way. So they had to have knowledge of Jane Austen but also how a Large Language Model like ChatGPT works.

“I use it for things like writing rubrics. Something that would have taken me hours to get right might take 20 minutes with an AI assistant. There is great potential to free up time in our days. And that’s time we could spend creating even better learning experiences for our students.”

First edition of our Education Leaders Forum
First edition of our Education Leaders Forum

Education Leaders Forum: discussing student success with local high school Principals

Southern Cross recently held its inaugural ‘Education Leaders Forum’ across the University’s three main campuses. With the aim to strengthen relations, our Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Tyrone Carlin invited local high school Principals to discuss student success in the region.

Over dinner, Principals from Coffs Harbour, Northern Rivers and the Gold Coast regions received an individualised information pack with 2023 curated student data specific to their school.

The Student Success Reports included:

  • A snapshot of student performance
  • A breakdown of degrees attained and school leaver ATAR statistics
  • Overview of student success with Southern Cross University

The school-specific, individualised student data packs have been invaluable in creating conversations around past students’ success, future enrolments and the proven strengths of the Southern Cross Model.

A special thank you to our Future Students team, who hand-delivered the event invitations in person to the Principals. This old-school gesture was very well received!

Felicity Pengilly, Digital Media student
Felicity Pengilly, Digital Media student

Lights, camera, collaboration! Southern Cross Screenworks partnership fosters big careers

Southern Cross University's partnership with Screenworks has been going strong since 2019, with a focus on linking students to the screen industry and bridging the gap between study and career.

One standout story is Felicity Pengilly, a Digital Media student, who recently had the fantastic opportunity to work with Netflix on the TV series, 'Surviving Summer'. Her experience demonstrates the incredible opportunities that Southern Cross University provides through partnerships.

Felicity was one of the Southern Cross and Screenworks Industry mentor program recipients back in 2021. The program allows graduates and 2nd and 3rd-year students in Digital Media, Writing, Art & Design, or Music to work alongside respected industry experts.

“To have an experience like this has been life-changing for me. I found my true calling with this mentorship. My career goals are strong and unwavering, and I cannot wait for the future,” she said after completing the program.

The mentorship program is tailored to each student's skills and career aspirations. Students gain hands-on experience in roles like directing, producing, writing, camera work, sound, production design, and digital media.

"After my mentorship, I decided to increase my chances of landing roles in local productions by joining the Screenworks 'Crew Database,'" Felicity shared. "I was thrilled when Werner Film Productions reached out to me," she said. 

Felicity jumped at the chance to sign on as a Production Assistant/Runner for the second season of Surviving Summer – hosted on the world’s biggest streaming platform, Netflix.

The partnership also includes the notorious Screen Media Careers Industry Forum, where Southern Cross collaborates on a panel event with leading professionals from Australia's screen industry. It's a unique chance for students to gain insights into the industry.

The university's partnerships team collaborates with over 50 organisations throughout the year, and Felicity's journey is a shining example of their success.

Pristine coral reef. Credit: Ashly McMahon
Pristine coral reef. Credit: Ashly McMahon

Work led by Douglas Tait discovers invisible nutrient discharge to Great Barrier Reef

Our researchers continue to make a profound contribution to protecting globally important ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Douglas Tait led a recently published study which uncovered a previously unknown source of nutrient load to the reef, carried through submarine groundwater.

The findings in ‘Submarine groundwater discharge exceeds river inputs as a source of nutrients to the Great Barrier Reef’ indicate current efforts to preserve and restore the health of the Reef may require a new perspective.

Submarine groundwater discharge is any water released to the ocean below the waterline from various sources, including underground aquifers and the seafloor.

The research team, which also includes CSIRO, AIMS and Gothenburg University (Sweden), collected data from offshore transects, rivers and coastal bores in an area from south of Rockhampton to north of Cairns. The use of radium isotopes allowed the scientists to track how much nutrient is transported from the land and shelf sediments via invisible groundwater flows.

Another member of the team, Southern Cross Professor Damien Maher, said the work showed that groundwater discharge was 10-15 times greater than river inputs, something previously unaccounted for.

“Groundwater discharge accounted for approximately one-third of new nitrogen and two-thirds of phosphorous inputs, indicating that nearly twice the amount of nitrogen enters the Reef from groundwater compared to river waters,” Professor Maher said.

Professor Maher added that the lion’s share of efforts to mitigate the impact of nutrients on the Reef were focused on outflow from river systems.

Lead author Dr Douglas Tait said: “Nutrients are essential to support the incredible biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef.

“However, an excess of nutrients can lead to detrimental issues such as harmful algal blooms, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, and fish diseases, which have been on the rise in the Reef over the past few decades.

“Our study underscores the need for a strategic shift in management approaches aimed at safeguarding the Great Barrier Reef from the effects of excess nutrients.”

Dr Tait said unlike river outflow, nutrients in groundwater could be stored for decades underground before being discharged into coastal waters, meaning research and strategies to protect the Reef needed to be long-term.

“This study sheds new light on the complex nutrient dynamics within the Great Barrier Reef,” Dr Tait said.

“Our understanding and ability to manage the sources of nutrients is pivotal in preserving the Reef for generations to come.”

The project was supported with funding from the Australian Research Council, the Herman Slade Foundation and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

The latest cloud brightening generator (V model) in action
The latest cloud brightening generator (V model) in action

Click of the month!

Southern Cross University senior lecturer and dedicated researcher, Dr Daniel Harrison, is leading the charge in a unique mission: harnessing cloud brightening to combat coral bleaching in collaboration with Australia's Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program.

Picture this: water cannons shooting seawater into the sky, creating brighter, whiter clouds. These clouds act as nature's sunscreen, reflecting sunlight away from the ocean’s surface, protecting marine life from the harmful effects of climate change.

Daniel's research made waves when he initially shared his findings in an article for The Conversation. In the first week, it received 11,890 reads and 22 people republished the article.

His work then spread to numerous respected local and national media outlets, including:

The Conversation's daily newsletter

Triple J Hack (radio and podcast)

ABC Adelaide Afternoons program

ABC North and West SA Afternoons program

ABC Far North Qld Drive program

ABC Far North Qld news bulletin

ABC Wide Bay Bundaberg news bulletin

4CA Cairns news bulletin

2SER The Daily program (radio and online)

After we shared the article on Southern Cross University social media platforms, it received a total of 325 engagements, 189 likes and reactions, and 106 article clicks. The comments were filled with praise like 'Absolutely brilliant forward thinking!' and 'Keep up the great research and innovative thinking. So impressive to see solutions to coral bleaching.' We couldn't agree more!

To learn more about Dr Harrison’s research, you can find the full article here.

'Children, Trauma and the Law' conference at the Northern Rivers campus
'Children, Trauma and the Law' conference at the Northern Rivers campus

‘Children, Trauma and the Law’ conference: 30th anniversary of Law at Southern Cross

The recent ‘Children, Trauma and the Law’ conference, hosted by Southern Cross at its Northern Rivers campus, marked the 30th anniversary of Law at the University.

Over two days, the conference attracted about 140 attendees including academics, members of the legal profession, community workers, teachers and university students.

Attendees had the opportunity to learn from an array of experts from across practice, policy and research about the trauma for children and young people who are involved in family law, criminal justice, child protection and out-of-home care systems.

A highlight of the conference was the inclusion of young people with lived experience explaining the importance of their voices being heard within the legal system.

“The conference was a cracking success, with leading academics, the Children’s Commissioners from the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland, the President of the Children’s Court in NSW and a range of young people with lived experience. It was a meaningful and purposeful way of celebrating 30 years of the discipline of Law at Southern Cross,” said Associate Professor David Heilpern, Dean of Law and Chair of Discipline.

Among the remarkable speakers were the National Children's Commissioner Anne Hollands and Judge Ellen Skinner of the Children's Court of NSW, who gave the keynote addresses.

“A highlight of the conference was the shared commitment to understanding, listening to and learning from children and young people about their experiences of the law and legal systems – and how we can improve laws, policies and practice to better uphold children’s rights,” said Senior Lecturer Georgina Dimopoulos.

‘Children, Trauma and the Law’ was organised by a steering committee comprised of academics from the Law discipline (Associate Professor David Heilpern, Senior Lecturer Georgina Dimopoulos, Lecturers Warwick Fisher and Yvette Holt and Dr Meri Oakwood), Tracey Thomas, Solicitor, Child Law Reform and Legal Services at the Department of Community and Justice (NSW Government) and Lizette Twisleton, Head of Engagement at No to Violence.

Christine Martin and SCU students at the Diwali event on the GC
Christine Martin, Director of Global Engagement (middle), and Southern Cross students Mrisha Upadhyay and Gurpreet Singh

Diwali 2023: Southern Cross celebrates the triumph of light in Brisbane and Gold Coast

Southern Cross University was proud to sponsor and participate in Diwali Events 2023 – Festival of Lights, which took place this month in Brisbane and Gold Coast. The events were organised by the Federation of Indian Communities of Queensland Inc. (FICQ) and the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Gold Coast, respectively.

These events reflect the University's commitment to celebrating the diversity and inclusivity of our community.

At the Brisbane event, Southern Cross Director of Global Engagement Christine Martin joined the University’s students and community members in the festivities.

One of our student leaders and University Counsel Member Gurpreet Singh led Southern Cross’ involvement and said: “Diwali signifies the triumph of light over darkness. It is a time of spiritual reflection about community, justice, knowledge and service to humanity.”

The event featured cultural performances, food stalls, a lights display and a photo booth at the Southern Cross booth, which was a huge hit among families attending the event.

At the Gold Coast event, the President of GOPI Gold Coast, Mr Pradip Gorasia, and his team thanked Southern Cross for their support and presented a certificate to the University with Mayor Tom Tate. The celebration was attended by hundreds of people from different backgrounds and cultures. The event showcased the vibrant heritage of India through music, dance, art and cuisine.

These events were an excellent opportunity for Southern Cross University to engage with our community and celebrate our shared values of diversity, inclusivity, and excellence. We thank FICQ and GOPI Gold Coast for inviting us to be part of their Diwali celebrations and for their ongoing partnership with Southern Cross.

Did you know...

Brief updates

Southern Cross’ first Open Educational Resource (OER) has been published recently.

Several Southern Cross academics (including Nicola Whiteing, Lucy Shinners, Nicole Graham, Dima Nasrawi, Donna Wilson, Anna Foster, Elicia Kunst and Jennene Greenhill) have participated in ‘Case Studies for Health, Research and Practice in Australia and New Zealand’, which aims to facilitate an integrated approach to a new Bachelor of Nursing curriculum, underpinned by a transformative, place-based approach to learning.

The book consists of case studies that encourage creative problem-solving, higher-order critical thinking, promote learner involvement, and immediate use of newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Thanks to Rachel Ritchie and Cintamani Brown (Library) for their support in this project. If you’d like to learn more about OER, please reach out to Rachel.


Recently, Southern Cross hosted on its Gold Coast campus the 2023 Australian Committee of Chairs of Academic Boards and Senates (OzCABS). The two-day conference was an opportunity for members of Academic Boards throughout the country to get together and keep updated with developments in University governance.

Attendees were welcomed by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Carlin, followed by a keynote address from David Gonski AC, Chancellor of UNSW. Our PhD candidate Gurpreet Singh sat on a panel to give a student perspective of being a member of the University Council, and Professor Thomas Roche spoke about The Southern Cross Model, which was received with great interest.

On the second day, our Director of Governance Services, Belinda Atkinson, facilitated panels addressing academic risk, and research integrity and quality. Professor Mary Spongberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Professor Andrew Rose, Chair of the University’s Academic Board, contributed to the discussion.

It was an excellent conference for professional development in academic governance, and a great showcase of the facilities and professionalism of our support team.


Recently, at the 2023 Gold Coast Women in Business Awards, Southern Cross University Chancellor, Sandra McPhee AM, spoke of the importance of leaders in identifying and encouraging potential and supporting one another to create clear, and equitable pathways for women both now and for generations to come.

The Chancellor shared some of her own challenges as one of an early group of inspiring women who forged a path into high-profile boardrooms. She encouraged women to reframe the question “Why me?” as a powerful way of identifying their purpose and as a question of empowerment.


Irene Ayallo, Lecturer - Faculty of Health

Barbara Adonteng-Kissi, Lecturer - Faculty of Health

Maria Constantinou, Professor - Faculty of Health

Steven Chavez Jara, Research Fellow - Faculty of Science and Engineering

Jess Prerost, HR Business Advisor - HR Services

Kate Kennedy-Ripon, Manager, Future Students - Office of Engagement

Tess Hill, Events Officer - Office of Vice-President (Operations)

Aleesha Mitchell, Administrative Assistant - Southern Cross Analytical Research Services