Dear Colleagues,

I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s nice to see the case numbers dropping and vaccination rates meeting targets ahead of time in NSW. After more than three months in lockdown, I’m so glad that fully vaccinated people will start to enjoy even more freedoms come Monday.

This is a very welcome change and something many of us have been looking forward to for a long time. However, this news does not hold the same level of excitement for everyone, so we need to remember to be respectful and remain vigilant.
Get vaccinated. Get tested if you have symptoms. Isolate if you need to. Be respectful to front line workers, businesses and employees who will be opening their doors again. Be kind, stand-in, or offer support when you notice someone who is not coping. The fight against COVID is not over and working together as a community is our way forward.

It has been wonderful to see all the children’s smiling faces from our UOW community during Storytime over the past couple of weeks. Theo Farrell and I had a lot of fun revisiting our favourite children’s books and we hope all the kids did too! Please tune in again next Thursday at 11am as Professor Colin Picker, Executive Dean of our Business and Law Faculty, takes on the role of resident storyteller. With school holidays having come to an end, I’m sending my support to all the parents out there still juggling many balls. As I’ve said previously, please talk to your supervisor if you need assistance managing your work priorities and times – there is no shame in needing to adjust arrangements during this unusual situation. And hopefully it comes as a relief for many that schools will be re-opening toward the end of this month!

On 10 October, it is World Mental Health Day. As always, this day is about awareness, with the aim of making mental health care a reality for all that need it. The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) are holding a Zoom webinar on 13 October from 12.30 pm – 1.30 pm. The webinar will cover things like how the impacts of COVID-19 are challenging everyone’s mental health and the interventions available to improve mental health outcomes. You’ll hear about the research in this space and have your questions answered by the panellists. If you’re interested, register here.

The Indigenous Strategy Unit (ISU) has passed on their gratitude to all staff for your continued support and commitment to advancing and embedding our reconciliation journey. We have been working collaboratively with ISU to draft our new Reconciliation Action Plan and have created a Qualtrics survey to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard during the initial stages of development and beyond. If you have the time, your feedback is valued.

UOW’s 2021 Fellowship and Alumni Awards Celebration was held last night in a virtual celebration. Four University Fellows were conferred on dedicated community members and five alumni awards were given to some of the University’s top graduates. We take great pride in the achievements of our UOW alumni who reflect our university’s values and commitment to a better future. It was a wonderful evening, and I felt honoured to be there for such a momentous occasion in the personal and professional journey of the finalists, celebrating the excellence of our graduates and the contributions of our newest University Fellows! Congratulations to all involved. Please view the full list of last night’s award winners and honourees.

I’d also like to mention the Far South Coast Branch of Surf Life Saving NSW, who were awarded the Community Fellowship Award, recognising their outstanding contributions in supporting communities during the unprecedented bushfire crisis of the 2019/2020 Summer. The Far South Coast Branch patrols one of the most extensive and some of the most isolated stretches of the New South Wales coastline, from Batemans Bay in the north to the Victorian border in the south. They provided much needed basic supplies such as food, water, first aid, and shelter to communities affected by these fires. Their selfless and invaluable contributions saved and protected many lives and it was an honour to present this award to them on behalf of UOW last week.

In more good news overnight, researchers from UOW claimed two awards at the 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. The NSW Bushfire Hub team, led by Associate Professor Owen Price and including fellow UOW researchers Dr Hamish Clarke and Dr Katharine Haynes alongside colleagues from University of New South Wales, University of Tasmania and University of Western Sydney, won the NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Applied Environmental Research for their extensive research into the devastating Black Summer bushfires. Dr Dana M. Bergstrom from the University of Wollongong and the Australian Antarctic Division, who for decades has championed evidence-based science in biodiversity, biosecurity and the impacts of climate change, won the Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science. Other UOW researchers to feature on the night were Professor Justin Yerbury AM, a molecular biologist at the University’s Molecular Horizons Institute, who was a finalist in the UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research; and Senior Professor Sharon Robinson, a global leader and renowned Antarctic environmental science researcher, who was a finalist in the Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science. Well done to all!

In other news, we’re excited to announce that UOW’s Smart Infrastructure Facility is set to become the base for the much-anticipated Telstra-UOW Hub. This innovative joint venture will focus on Artificial Intelligence of Things. Likely to position the Illawarra as a global leader in this space, the Hub for AIOT Solutions is backed by a $1.7 million government funding grant, and features a unique collaboration between UOW, Telstra, Microsoft and NVIDIA. The hub will enable the education sector and technology industries to work together to solve real-world problems, while developing world-leading innovations around AIOT technologies and creating many new jobs.

If you missed it, our Wollongong campus was deservingly featured on the ABC’s Gardening Australia last week. The episode (filmed pre-lockdown) looks at the care taken to preserve our beautiful learning environment and the habitat it has become for many native wildlife. It’s a short segment and well worth watching to understand the incredible people who work behind the scenes to maintain this beautiful space and why and how this has become a big part of the University’s identity. Students and visitors from around the world always comment on our beautiful work and study environment.

Finally, as we move into a new phase of the pandemic recovery, I encourage you to connect and check-in with each other.  For those requiring support please contact your supervisor or the University Employee Assistance Provider, LifeWorks via phone on 1300 361 008.

Enjoy your weekend and our newfound freedoms come Monday and thank you for all that you do.