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Alumni Awards: A look through UC’s success stories

Laura Peppas

With a network of over 70,000 alumni that continues to grow each year, the University of Canberra has its fair share of success stories, from philanthropists to Walkley award-winning journalists. This year the university is once again holding their Distinguished Alumni Awards, which provide an opportunity to acknowledge its high calibre graduates and celebrate their achievements.

Ahead of the awards ceremony on 17 September, Laura Edwards spoke to four previous finalists about their career highlights, advice for graduates and insights into how studying at the University of Canberra helped shape their success.

Susan Alexander

Teacher at Telopea Park School and philanthropist
Bachelor of Education (early childhood) 1990

Susan Alexander. Photo courtesy of UC alumni office.

Susan Alexander. Photo courtesy of UC alumni office.

Receiving the distinguished alumni award for community service was a “reflective” moment for teacher Susan Alexander.

“It made me look back on my past and feel blessed to live in country that gave me access to higher education,” she says.

When Susan enrolled in a bachelor of education back in 1972, the university was known as the Canberra College of Advanced Education, and located on the outskirts of Canberra.

“Until I moved from Wollongong to study in Canberra, I had seen very few Asians or Indigenous Australians,” Susan says.

“My exposure to many international students gave me the ability to identify fellow students who came from different parts of Asia and the Pacific Region. I began to realise how much there was to learn about our wonderful world and how diverse and interesting it was.”

Susan, who also studied communications part time, says she saw her graduation in 1990 as a “ticket to the future” and since then, has been an active member of the Canberra community through her membership of the Rotary Club of Canberra Sunrise and in her exemplary work in teaching by example the value of community service to her students at Telopea Park School.

In 2007, Susan established the Interact Club of Telopea Park School (Junior Rotary 14-18 yrs) for her students and together they formed a close relationship with a disadvantaged school at Port Resolution on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, raising $120,000 for the school to have an assembly building, library and kitchen.

“I wanted my students to realise that, despite their age, they could make a difference to the lives of others,” she says.

Susan’s community service has been publicly recognised; in 1992 she was a recipient of a UK/ Australia Science Fellowship for her innovative contribution to science education, and in 2000 she was selected to be a torchbearer for the Sydney Olympics.

“When I began my initial study at UC, I never imagined that I would receive a Science fellowship to Oxford University, be on the Australian National Board of Science Teachers Professional Association, a torchbearer for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, be a guest of the IOC at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, or initiate the construction of a school building in a remote island in Vanuatu,” Susan says.

“All study, develops your inner self and leads you somewhere. Knowledge builds your confidence to accept opportunities that cross your path.”

Emma Macdonald

Bachelor of Arts in Communication/Journalism, 1995

Emma Macdonald. Photo courtesy of UC alumni office.

Emma Macdonald. Photo courtesy of UC alumni office.

She’s a Walkley award-winning journalist and has worked for the Canberra Times for over 20 years, but Emma Macdonald says being selected as a finalist for the University of Canberra’s distinguished alumni award “signaled that I was considered a successful journalist.”

“It was lovely to feel recognised by my university for moving forward with my career,” she says.

Graduating from a Bachelor of arts in communication/journalism degree in 1995, Emma now specialises in covering education, social affairs and national politics. She has won two Walkley Awards, was a national finalist for breaking the Reith Telecard scandal in 2000 and was awarded the John Douglas British Prize for Journalism in 1998.

She says one of the things she appreciated most in her studies was the focus on career experience and the push that all students received to go out and work in internships to gain practical experience.

“I did an internship at Parliament House which led me directly into my first journalism job in the Press Gallery with the Financial Review,” she says.

Emma’s greatest achievement came from breaking the Mr Fluffy asbestos story last year; leading to a $1 billion financial package for more than 1000 families living in toxic homes.

“I get enormous satisfaction from writing something that helps people,” says Emma. “I have been told on many occasions that I seem to have unlimited time and compassion for underdogs but not much patience for those in power, particularly when they are being unhelpful. It is always a balancing act.”

Emma’s advice for young journalism graduates is “to immerse yourself in the market place…it is the best way to make contacts which may lead to gainful employment.”

Suzie Hoitink

Founder of Clear Complexions
Bachelor of Nursing, 1999

Suzie Hoitink. Photo courtesy of UC alumni office

Suzie Hoitink. Photo courtesy of UC alumni office

By now, most people will recognise Suzie Hoitink as the face and founder of Clear Complexions, a multimillion dollar skincare business which has gone from strength to strength since opening in 2005. With five award-winning clinics throughout Canberra and Sydney and a sixth under construction, Suzie has achieved national recognition, including winning the ACT Telstra Women in Business Award in 2012.

She says studying a nursing degree at the University of Canberra taught her not only how to be a safe and professional nurse, but to think critically.

“That ability to be a critical clinical thinker combined with a real understanding of how diverse the scope of nursing was and could be, enabled me to look for areas where nurses could serve the community in new and innovative ways,” Suzie says.

“That was behind the establishment of the Clear Complexions Clinics.”

Suzie says skincare is a new and evolving area for nurses, where the scope of practice is expanding quickly. “Crucial to adapting to that pace and meeting the requirements of a technologically diverse role is on-going professional development. I invest heavily in our nurses’ ongoing education, both with external courses and an internal E Learning platform giving them access to a diverse and rich source of study options,” she says.

“We are and need to continue to be, the example of ‘best practice’ standard for our industry at Clear Complexions.” Suzie admits she was “genuinely shocked and humbled” by her distinguished alumni award nomination.

“Like most people, I seem to be perpetually studying and learning and I think awards like this just inspire you to think bigger and strive to better yourself in every way,” she says.

“I have been able to reconnect with many Alumni over the years and have benefited from the fantastic networks the UC community provides. I am, and always will be, a very proud UC graduate.”

Amanda Whitley

Bachelor of Arts in Communications, 1994

Amanda Whitley.

Amanda Whitley.

Our founder and director Amanda Whitley admits she was “gobsmacked” to be selected as a finalist for the distinguished alumni awards. “I kept saying to my husband, ‘what the heck am I doing here?’ as I felt that my achievements were nowhere near those of my fellow nominees, but the response from the attendees was humbling and encouraging, and encouraged me to believe in myself,” she says.

Despite her humility, Amanda’s achievements are hardly mediocre. After graduating from her Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree in 1994, Amanda began a successful career in public relations and later, the public service as a communications director.

In January 2011, she launched what was then a small blog, HerCanberra, during maternity leave as a way to connect other women to each other and their city. Four years on, HerCanberra website now boasts over 70,000 unique visitors per month and is just about to launch its second quarterly magazine. The site focuses on showcasing Canberra lifestyle, health, food, entertainment, fashion, professional advice and more, and is helping the city shrug off its “bland” reputation.

Amanda says a career highlight has been watching the business grow to employ six staff in less than a year. “I love that we are connecting Canberra women with their city and each other…it’s so exciting!”

Of her time studying at UC, Amanda says it taught her that public relations could be a career. “I was a country girl and it wasn’t even on my radar when I arrived in Canberra, determined to become a journalist,” she says.

“I loved that there was plenty of practical, hands on instruction, access to experienced lecturers and tutors, and all within a supportive student community. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the foundation skills that the Bachelor of Arts in Communication, specialising in Public Relations, gave me.”

UC are currently seeking nominations of UC alumni that you feel are worthy of an Alumni Award. The Alumni Awards are an opportunity to acknowledge UC’s high calibre graduates and celebrate their achievements. To nominate, click here: http://www.canberra.edu.au/alumni/distinguished-alumni-awards Nominations close on 25 June 2015. 

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Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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