As the University marks its 2017 Alumni Awards, we reflect on the essential qualities shared by all our award winners.
From starting a school in Uganda, to making maths a YouTube sensation. From improving the health of people the world over, to conducting some of the world’s greatest orchestras.
Our seven alumni award winners come from very different backgrounds but they all took three important steps to find their calling and change the world.
Annabelle Chauncy OAM (BA ’07 LLB ’10) was travelling through Africa when she was struck by the profound need for education in Uganda. That thought led to her building three schools from the ground up. Now 560 children are receiving an education that will give them previously unimagined opportunities.
Annabelle says she didn’t know what she was getting herself into but she was fuelled by enthusiasm and “a little bit of naiveté” when she started. It’s her love for the children that inspires her to continue through the often 100-hour working weeks.
High school maths teacher Eddie Woo (BEd(Second)(Math)(Hons) ’08) thought he’d help a sick student by filming a maths lesson on his phone and putting it on YouTube. It wasn’t long before Eddie saw the potential for helping many more students around the world through his own channel, Wootube. Now a hugely successful video tutorial series, Wootube allows millions of students to benefit from his fun and stimulating approach to understanding maths. Eddie has done the unthinkable; he’s making students excited about equations and parabolas.
For both Annabelle and Eddie, that moment of clarity in seeing a problem that could be solved and doing something about it was key to their success.
The same is true for Dr Colin Mathers (BSc ’75 PhD ’79). Working at the World Health Organization he realised that aid and health organisations were all using different, and at times, contradictory statistics.
He established an interagency group to give aid organisations a single statistical voice. Thanks to his work these organisation can now talk about their achievements and needs more clearly, helping them advance the cause of world health.
What he didn’t know at the outset was how huge the task would be.
“Intense, stressful and exciting.” That’s how Colin describes his first project, publishing the World Health Report 2000. The goal was to rank countries on their overall health. To reach that goal by the publication date, Colin found himself working up to 110 hours a week. He also found himself under tremendous pressure from vested interests.
The result though was hugely important, as it uncovered inaccuracies and falsehoods in the health reporting of some countries. One national Health Minister even lost his job as a result.
In 1983, and a long way from Colin’s struggles in Geneva, Dr Patricia Selkirk AAM (BSc(Hons) ’64 PhD ’69) was cementing her reputation as a pioneering Antarctic researcher. She faced the fierce southern climate for months and was the first woman to live at Antarctica’s Casey Station.
As a result, she gave the world an unprecedented understanding of Antarctic botany, and published a ground-breaking book, Subantarctic Macquarie Island: Environment and Biology.
Orchestra conductor, Antony Walker (BMus ’91), is also no stranger to long work hours and he has that strong streak of determination that’s common to all the Alumni Award winners. He demonstrated it clearly during a 2008 performance of Verdi’s opera Aida.
The tenor for that performance was unwell and, by the fourth act, his voice was gone. Antony did what few other conductors could have done: he sang the role from the conductor’s podium while still conducting, as the tenor played out the action on stage.
Antony is also determined to preserve some of classical music’s less mainstream forms. He continues to participate in three music companies that he helped set up as a student, so they can inspire more music lovers and emerging performers.
Talk to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the evolution of computer systems and they will be aware of the key concepts that Vaughan Pratt (BSc ’67 MSc ’70) was instrumental in developing. He helped shape computers so they are now part of almost everything we do.
But his reach has gone further than computers. Wherever he sees an opportunity to bring clarity and advance technology, he applies himself. Though he’s retired, Vaughan is now investigating technologies and ideas for a low carbon future and improving the accuracy of climate change modelling.
As a highly influential architect, Penelope Seidler AM (BArch ’64) is also helping shape the future. But not just through her buildings. Penelope is one of Australia’s foremost patrons of the arts, contributing to arts organisations and nurturing the careers of countless contemporary artists.
She also contributed generously to the University’s new Chau Chak Wing museum, where she’s keen to see the University’s many artworks at last, properly displayed.
Penelope remembers as a student in the 1960s, the “electrifying” transformative effect that the multi-million dollar John Power gift had on the arts culture at the University. As she says, in her day arts was a ‘drop-out subject’. Many young artists have people like Penelope to thank for the vital cultural shift of recent decades.
While their journeys may have been unexpected, even to them, all of the Alumni Award winners share common traits. They have an overarching belief in the power of education and the need for compassion.
And they know that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes a vision, a goal and many attempts for things to change. It’s about refining your craft, little by little and continuing beyond the point where others have given up.
Nominations for the 2018 Alumni Awards open in September this year. If you know of someone worthy of recognition, you can find out more information here.
Every year the Alumni Awards event is held in the historic Great Hall to honour outstanding recent graduates and more established alumni who have been leaders and innovators in their work in Australia and internationally.
Soon to be recognised with the University of Sydney's 2017 Alumni Award for Professional Achievement, we talk to Dr Patrica Selkirk AAM about her extraordinary career.