Flinders alumni making a big impact

For the first time, early career researchers – specialising in areas from body image and eating disorders to shark ecology and Indigenous archaeology – are among the high achievers recognised in the 2020 Flinders University Alumni Awards.

The expanded array of Alumni Awards, presented during a special ceremony at the Adelaide Convention Centre on 7 April, has seen 16 recipients for 2020 – with two Convocation Medals, seven Distinguished Alumni Awards and seven recipients of inaugural Early Career Alumni Awards. The large number of awards reflects the vast influx of nominations.

This first group of awarded Early Career Alumni have been identified for their dynamic energy, fresh ideas and vital developments brought to many varied areas of expertise, all having significant impact on our society.

Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna man Dr Christopher Wilson – the first Indigenous person in Australia to complete a PhD in Archaeology (2017) – has received an Early Career Alumni Award for bringing crucial perspective to this academic discipline by studying Aboriginal sites through the lens of Aboriginal experience.

Dr Wilson, who has been a part of Flinders University life for the past 17 years, is now Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Indigenous Studies and is passionate about working ‘on Country’, talking to elders and learning about his community’s cultural heritage as he continues to explore the Ngarrindjeri lands of the Lower Murray, Lakes and Coorong region of South Australia. His work has included repatriating Ngarrindjeri ancestral remains from domestic and UK museums, and assisting in community reburials. His professional interactions with the Ngarrindjeri community began during his doctoral research, to investigate human occupation along the Lower Murray River.

Dr Gemma Sharp has established herself as a rising star in psychological sciences and mental health, by daring to bring the taboo subject of genital body image distress into broader discussion. She received an Early Career Alumni Award in recognition of an impressive 19 awards and prizes, and more than $1.3 million in research grant funding amassed during the past three years.

Dr Lauren Meyer’s research into the impacts of the cage-diving industry on the eco-physiology of white sharks means she operates amid contentious international debate over tourism, education and conservation versus the potential disruption to shark’s natural foraging habits and the resulting effects on public safety. Her research has led to new tourism assessment frameworks used by the SA Department of Environment and Water, and she has taken the responsible role of Project Leader for the Save our Seas Foundation – earning her an Early Career Alumni Award.

The other Early Career Alumni Awards for 2020 were presented to Saadia Adnan, for her innovative educational programming to more than 40 million children in Pakistan during the COVID-19 pandemic; Daniel Ajak, for his advocacy of African-Australian legal students;  screen editor and film post-production mentor Veronica Buhagiar; and Dr Melanie Farrier, for promoting equity within the STEM community.

The Convocation Medal is the highest of Flinders’ alumni honours, recognising graduates who have made a substantial and outstanding contribution to the local, national or international community.

This year’s two Convocation Medallists are Flinders graduates Ms Sarah Brown AM, Chief Executive Officer of Purple House that facilitates improved health services for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities, and Professor Jamie Cooper AO, Director of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre, Head of Critical Care Research in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University and Senior Specialist in Intensive Care at The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne.

Ms Brown’s relentless drive as CEO of the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, commonly referred to as the Purple House, has seen the organisation grow to more than 150 staff, operating 18 remote clinics in NT, WA, and SA, as well as a self-contained mobile dialysis unit called the Purple Truck, nine social support services and an aged-care service. As a result, Purple House patients have a longer life expectancy than non-Aboriginal people on dialysis.

Professor Cooper, who was part of the first student intake at the new Flinders Medical School in 1974, has spent a lifetime at the forefront of medical advances, and his award acknowledges his outstanding contribution to national and international intensive care medicine, particularly in the field of traumatic brain injury.

Distinguished Alumni Awards for 2020 were awarded to Dr Ian Davis OAM (1978-2018) who co-founded the FightMND organisation as he battled with Motor Neurone Disease; Mr David Tarnda Copley (Researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health at Charles Darwin University); Ms Wendy Johnson, principal of Glenunga International High School; Professor Ross McKinnon (Strategic Professor in Cancer Research & Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor at Flinders University); arborist, botanist and ecologist Dr Dean Nicolle OAM; Professor Wendy Rogers (Professor of Clinical Ethics at Macquarie University) and Adjunct Associate Professor Mark Staniforth, who has had a long and fascinating career in maritime archaeology.

For more information about each award recipient, visit the Flinders University Alumni website: www.flinders.edu.au/alumni-awards

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