Game-changers celebrated at the 2019 UTS Alumni Awards

19 September 2019

2019 Alumni Award winners with UTS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Attila Brungs and UTS Deputy Chancellor, Dr. John Laker AO

Photo: 2019 Alumni Award winners with UTS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Attila Brungs and UTS Deputy Chancellor, Dr John Laker AO.

UTS’s game-changers were celebrated at last night’s Alumni Awards. And for the first time in the 11-year history of the awards, female graduates led the way – eight of the 11 award winners were women.

Professor Maria Kavallaris AM received the prestigious UTS Chancellor’s Award for Excellence as well as the Science Award, in recognition of her innovative work treating childhood cancers with nanotechnology.

Chancellor Catherine Livingstone spoke highly of Kavallaris’ achievements in her life and career.

“Having overcome cancer in her youth, she has dedicated her professional life to helping more children and adults survive cancer,” said Chancellor Livingstone. “She has made a number of world-first discoveries in understanding how cancer cells become resistant to commonly-used chemotherapy drugs, and how such resistance can be reversed.”

UTS Chancellor Catherine Livingstone with Professor Maria Kavallaris AM

Photo: UTS Chancellor Catherine Livingstone with Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, Chancellor’s Award and Science Award winner.

Kavallaris now joins the UTS Luminaries – a community of exceptional alumni ambassadors including actor Hugh Jackman and The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP.

“The opportunity to study at UTS was a turning point in my career,” said Kavallaris in her acceptance speech. “I hope I can inspire people to go on and do great things.”

Leading change

Although the Alumni Award winners are experts in their different disciplines, they’re united by a shared goal: to carve new paths for positive change.

Executive Director of the Australian Space Agency, Anntonette Dailey, received the Young Alumni Award, partly in recognition of her positive contributions to gender equality in the space sector.

“It took me until I was about 30 to realise why I was struggling so much to create a career path, and it was because I just couldn’t see myself reflected in leadership at the time,” said Dailey.

Today, thanks to her efforts, women represent half of the agency’s leadership team.

Sarah Dale, Centre Director and Principal Solicitor at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), received the Law Award in recognition of her advocacy for the rights of refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

“Seeing the unaccompanied children on Christmas Island not get transferred to Nauru, and instead living in Sydney and Melbourne with visas…that’s something I’ll be forever proud of,” said Dale.

“The opportunity to study at UTS was a turning point in my career” – Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, Chancellor’s Award and Science Award winner.

The International Alumni Award went to Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Paramount Pictures, Jim White, whose stellar career has led him on a mission to combat homelessness through the Business Leaders Task Force in his hometown of LA. “If you discover your passion, chase it. And then you’ll always be happy in your job – and in your life” White says.

Beehive Industries CEO Brendan Lonergan received the Community Award for his work tackling loneliness and social isolation faced by seniors, the long-term unemployed and people living with disability. Yet Lonergan remains humble about his achievements. “I’ve got a certain set of skills I can use to help a bunch of people, but I know there are a lot more I can be helping. For me the journey has got a way to go,” he said.

Breaking new ground

Pandora Shelley, recipient of the Business School Award, is a renowned game-changer. In just eight years, she went from being the office manager at startup hub Fishburners, to its 28-year-old CEO. “Being a young woman is not easy when you’re in an executive position,” said Shelley. “But I love proving people wrong.”

The Indigenous Australian Award went to Gamilaroi Gomeroi woman and Today show entertainment reporter, Brooke Boney. “If you get caught up in thinking about how many people don’t want you to succeed, or how many people there are standing in your way, you fail to see that there are so many people who will give you a chance,” said Boney. “It’s an interesting time for women and girls. The way stories are told and characters are written is far more sophisticated and nuanced than it’s ever been before.”

UTS Chancellor Catherine Livingstone with Professor Maria Kavallaris AM

Photo: Professor Larissa Behrendt with Brooke Boney, Indigenous Australian Award winner.

Midwife and nurse Annette Bennett won the Health Award for her work improving health outcomes for women and newborns in African countries with poor survival rates. “I went into midwifery because I saw so many needs among women and infants, and I knew that this was something really important to do,” says Bennett.

Creating impact

‘Artrepreneur’ Yiying Lu won the Design, Architecture and Building Award. Best-known for creating the dumpling emoji and the Twitter Fail Whale, she’s on a mission to bridge cultural divides through design. “I’m interested in finding the common ground between culture and country, while also preserving the individuality of audience and geography,” said Lu.

New Zealand Film Commission CEO Annabelle Sheehan is also using art to make change – winning the Arts and Social Sciences Award for her leadership in boosting gender equality and getting more Maori stories on the big screen. “UTS taught me to look at the industry from a big, broad perspective. It was strong on analysing social structures, feminism and communications theory – things I still think about today,” Sheehan said.

“I love proving people wrong” – Pandora Shelley, Business School Award winner.

Dr Ashod Donikan received the Engineering and Informational Technology Award for developing a game-changing 3D navigation tool more accurate than WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS. What started as research to help locate firefighters in a burning building has now evolved into a successful international startup called Navisens.

“When I first came to Silicon Valley, I was like the poor entrepreneur. I was trying to save money by sleeping at my professor’s house, and then on another friend’s couch,” Donikan said. “But nothing groundbreaking comes from taking the easy route.”

For more information about the 2019 UTS Alumni Award winners (including their secret skills, role models and much more), read the latest edition of Tower magazine.

Byline: Chloe Michele, UTS Advancement