What matters to you?

3 May 2012

Does solving climate change for future generations keep you awake at night? Do you think that advancing Australia's relationships with China and the US is the best way forward for our country?

Five of the University of Sydney's most prominent academics and alumni have shared what matters most to them in the second step of our What Matters campaign.

The What Matters community engagement campaign asks members of the public to cast their vote on what matters most to them, bringing together five new 'Leading Lights' each month to talk about how their work has made a difference to the world.

Leading Lights for May include:

Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services): Educating tomorrow's Indigenous leaders

Professor Shane Houston believes the valuable, culturally diverse experience of tertiary education can help more Indigenous graduates become leaders and role models.

"What matters to me is a future that's better than our past," says Professor Houston.

"We've got to do more about lifting the retention of Aboriginal kids in high school and getting them through their HSC."

Before being appointed last year as the University of Sydney's inaugural Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services), Professor Houston worked with the NT Department of Health and Families.

He has a longstanding interest in the development of culturally secure health services and systems and in health economics, especially in finding greater equity in how health systems allocate and use resources.

Professor Geoffrey Garrett, Dean of the University of Sydney Business School: Advancing Australia's relationships with the US and China

With Australia's role in the Asia-Pacific region set to escalate in the coming decades, Australia must look to the most important bilateral relationship in the world - China and the US.

"American investment today in Australia is really driving the minerals boom. But that boom of course requires markets in Asia and China above all," says Professor Garrett.

"Australia should stand up for its distinctive interests in its relationship with the US. But equally I think Australia has to have a more mature attitude towards China."

Professor Garrett commenced the role of Dean of the University of Sydney Business School in April 2012. His work explores the relationship between China and the US and its effect on Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, Charles Perkins Centre: Maintaining a healthy diet

Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease - and related conditions, such as renal disease, breast cancer and colorectal cancer - are the leading causes of mortality and disease burden in Australia. These conditions are particularly prevalent in disadvantaged groups, including Indigenous communities.

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller of the University's Charles Perkins Centre is improving Australia's long-term health prospects with the use of the Glycemic Index, a concept she pioneered.

"The GI index is a scientific scale for rating the carbohydrates in foods according to how they affect blood glucose responses. The carbohydrates and blood glucose are really important risk factors for disease, particularly diabetes," says Professor Brand-Miller.

By losing weight on the low GI diet, previously overweight or obese people can reduce their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

"I don't want to take the fun out of food. I want diets to be something that we look forward to eating," Professor Brand-Miller says.

Anna Rose, alumna: Solving climate change for future generations

While Australia has the technology to address climate change, graduate Anna Rose believes that too few of us understand the true story.

Anna's 70,000-strong Australian Youth Climate Coalition educates political, business and community leaders to help safeguard the future of our youth.

"At the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, we bring together young Australians to work on political campaigns, on education campaigns and to try and get both our politicians and business leaders and the community to realise that ultimately climate change is an issue about inter-generational equity. It's about the future of young Australians," says Anna.

"What matters to me as a 28-year-old staring down the barrel of a future that's irrevocably altered by climate change is solving this problem before it's too late," she says.

Anna graduated from the University of Sydney in 2008 with a degree in Arts (Asian Studies)/ Law (Hons I) and is a former resident of Wesley College.

Professor John Keane, Sydney Democracy Initiative: Keeping politics honest with social media

As co-founder and director of the University's Sydney Democracy Initiative, Professor John Keane is passionate about understanding how 21st century media is transforming the future of democracy. He is focusing on how social media helps Australians to expose political spin and corruption.

"The question is, what effect is this networked, digital, global media system having on the way we understand democracy?" says Professor Keane.

"One of the immediate consequences is that we're living through a period where party membership is at an all-time low, where respect for politicians has plummeted, where politics comes to be a dirty word. And this is not unrelated to this communications revolution which is going on because it becomes much more likely that governments, politicians, parties, politics, comes to be subject to the muckraking, to exposures, to being outflanked by citizens and others using digital media."

The Sydney Democracy Initiative was launched in early 2011 and aims to develop pioneering research, postgraduate training and public outreach initiatives in all matters concerning the past, present and future of democracy.

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