‘Community engagement’ sounds like such a dry idea but who would have thought it could have included such fascinating pastimes as setting up whale guide training in Tonga, encouraging underwater citizen scientists and innovation in health service delivery?
These are just some of the projects that were recognised at Southern Cross University’s Excellence in Community Engagement Awards on Friday night.
The awards, in their second year, celebrate community engagement across the University’s teaching, research and public-service activities by all staff.
‘Community engagement is integral to Southern Cross University’s vision of enriching our region through the excellence of our scholarship and the achievement of our graduates,’ Ben Roche, SCU’s head of community engagement said.
‘Through engagement with our communities we create inspiring student learning experiences, innovative and relevant research and, ultimately, stronger and more vibrant communities and regions.’
Dr Kaye Walker and Professor Betty Weiler, from the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, were awarded the Community Impact Award for their work in helping deliver the South Pacific’s first certified whale guide tourism training course in Tonga.
Tonga has pioneered the humpback whale swim industry where tourists can snorkel with humpback whales and their newborn calves.
Dr Walker and Professor Weiler, in partnership with the Tonga Whale Watch Operators Association and the Tonga Business Enterprise Centre, developed and coordinated the Tonga Whale Guide Training Program to increase industry sustainability.
Meanwhile, Associate Professor Stephen Smith and his team from the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour, were awarded the Community Engaged Research Award for their work in developing and training volunteer underwater diving groups to undertake citizen science by collecting data on marine debris and threatened marine species.
The activities helped the volunteers develop a sense of stewardship on their local dive spots and raised community awareness about marine biodiversity along the NSW coastline while also providing data that could contribute to ongoing conservation and management of the state’s marine environments.
Other award winners included Associate Professor Ev Innes’s team from the School of Health and Human Sciences that developed and implemented an innovative, community-engaged occupational therapy course. They were awarded the Community Engaged Learning Award.
Professor Iain Graham and his team from the School of Health and Human Sciences were awarded the Leadership Award for leading change in health-service innovation and development in the north coast region.
And local businessman, Dr Peter Bowen, was awarded the Partnership Award for his dedication and leadership in the establishment of and continued advocacy for the Rising Stars Scholarships as program chair and as an individual scholarship donor for almost five years.
The awards were presented by the chancellor the Hon John Dowd AO QC and the vice-chancellor Professor Peter Lee.