Voice for change

19 February 2019

Maya Newell

Photo: Maya Newell, filmmaker and UTS Aluma. 

Meet three inspiring young graduates who, armed with UTS degrees in film production, chemistry and law, have dedicated their professional careers to tackling big issues and changing the world for the better.

For Maya Newell, making movies also means making a difference. Since graduating from UTS with a Bachelor of Communications in Media Arts & Production, the emerging writer/director/producer has deliberately focused on social-impact filmmaking – using her craft to contribute meaningfully to a conversation.

“I've always been driven by the desire for social change,” says Maya. “At UTS, there was a focus on media, society and politics. I think to be a good filmmaker it’s important to be acutely aware of the world around you and to be clear about what you want to say.”

Maya’s 2015 documentary Gayby Baby recorded the experiences of children growing up in LGBTI families – a subject close to her heart having grown up with two mums. The film triggered a national conversation around same-sex parenting and marriage equality, and she became a vocal advocate in the lead up to the 2017 plebiscite on Australian marriage law.

With her new film In My Blood It Runs, due to release this year, she dove into the debate around the education of Aboriginal children by following a 10-year-old Arrente boy Dujuan, through his day-to-day life in Alice Springs. She says of the film, “it is my intent to show the other side of the story: what it’s like to be a child who has Australia’s dark colonial history weighing on his shoulders and is navigating a complex bi-cultural world.”

Similarly, for commercial and criminal lawyer Nicholas Stewart, his day job and drive to make a difference have always been simpatico. As Partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers in Newtown (Australia’s only “out loud and proud LGBTI law firm”), he has spent years defending victims and campaigning for an inquiry into the gay-hate crimes and bungled police investigations that plagued NSW from 1970 to 2000.

He succeeded. The NSW parliamentary inquiry was formally established in September 2018.

Nicholas’ commitment to social justice began in 2003 when he volunteered as a Lifeline telephone counsellor to develop his communication skills. He says of the experience, “it exposed me to a side of society that needed help, and I became conscious of how privileged I am.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws from UTS, Nicholas has devoted himself to doing whatever is within his power to benefit his broader community. He takes on pro bono work, volunteers at Rainbow Families NSW, mentors UTS students, lobbies corporates to support not-for-profits, and Co-Chairs the LGBTI subcommittee at Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

For Dr Dominic Hare, developing groundbreaking imaging technology to map human tissue and then applying it to the creation of new treatments for Parkinson’s disease is all in a day’s work. The Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Applied Chemistry and Science PhD graduate has always had a singular vision for his career: tackling the pervasive neurodegenerative disease that affects so many, including his own surrogate grandmother.

He believes Parkinson’s will be as treatable as diabetes in 20 years’ time, and is determined to apply his expertise to achieving that goal. “I want to shorten the time it takes from understanding how a disease happens to actually using that information in a medical laboratory to develop new treatments,” he says.

In his mid-20s, Dr Hare co-founded UTS’s Elemental Bio-Imaging facility with Professor Philip Doble. By age 30, he was a Fellow of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Then as Head of The Florey Institute’s Atomic Pathology Laboratory, he and other researchers helped to identify one of the first chemical reactions that triggers Parkinson’s, which French scientists are using to inform a new drug trial. Now he’s working on preventative technology that analyses a person’s risk of developing the disease before symptoms appear.

Maya, Nicholas and Dominic prove that education can be an enormously powerful tool. Partnered with a desire to do good, it’s allowed these ordinary Australians to truly make a difference in the world.

Because of their inspirational drive and outstanding list of achievements, all three graduates were honoured at the 2018 UTS Alumni Awards: Maya with the UTS Alumni Award for Excellence from the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Dominic with the UTS Young Alumni Award, and Nicholas with the UTS Community Alumni Award.

They are just some examples of the passionate and creative leaders who form part of the UTS alumni community. You can read about other past award recipients here, and if you know another alum who deserves to be recognised – nominate them by Friday 22 March for this year’s Awards.

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Byline: Clio Anne Ellis