28 February 2024

From left: Dr Nicola Massy-Westropp, Dr Harsha Wechalekar, Dr Arjun Burlakoti and Universities Australia Chair UniSA Vice Chancellor David Lloyd at the awards event

Two University of South Australia teams have taken out wins in the inaugural Shaping Australia Awards, recognising an innovative approach to teaching anatomy, and a celebrated self-help program for farmers.

Presented by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare on Tuesday 27 February, the awards were launched by Universities Australia last year to highlight the positive contribution universities make to the community.

UniSA’s Associate Professor Kate Gunn and community collaborator John Gladigau were co-winners of the Community Champion Award for their ifarmwell initiative, which equips farmers to manage stressful situations and help them cope with the challenges of life on the land.

Led by Assoc Prof Gunn, the free online resource was established in 2018 with substantial input from farmers and other industry stakeholders, and has been updated and expanded since. Based on robust research, ifarmwell has won numerous awards and is held in high regard by rural communities.

Dr Arjun Burlakoti, Dr Nicola Massy-Westropp and Dr Harsha Wechalekar won the people’s choice vote in the Future Builder category, for their three-pillared approach to anatomy teaching.

Anatomy is widely recognised as one of the most challenging subjects for first-year allied health students, but essential to future careers in areas such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy. The team developed a novel teaching method to help students succeed, based on engaging and fun classes, a comfortable and human-focused learning environment, and a unique peer tutoring system.

Winners of the 2023 Shaping Australia Awards chosen by the judges are:

  • Problem Solver Award: Revolutionary diabetes biosensor | University of Newcastle
  • Future Builder Award: The Nexus Program | La Trobe University
  • Community Champion Award (joint winners selected): U-Beach | CQUniversity and iFarmwell | University of South Australia

Three winners based on highest vote counts were selected by the Australian community through a people’s choice voting system. They are:

  • Problem Solver Award: Fireproof paint | UNSW
  • Future Builder Award: Transforming anatomy | University of South Australia
  • Community Champion Award: Tax clinic initiative | Curtin University

Shaping Australia Awards judging panel Chair Lisa Paul AO PSM said the panel had a difficult decision given the calibre of the 18 finalists and their initiatives which have undoubtedly made a positive difference.

“Australia’s universities are amazing places that contribute so much to the country we’re proud to call home, and to the lives of all Australians, through cutting-edge research, teaching and service to the community.” Ms Paul said.

“Winning initiatives that had the edge ultimately came down to how the problem that needed a solution was communicated, and how wide-reaching the impact of the solution was.

“We congratulate all the winners and finalists on driving such important initiatives.”

Universities Australia Chief Executive Officer Luke Sheehy said the nation’s higher education sector is an engine for economic growth, addresses inequality through access to education, educates about 1.5 million people each year, runs a multibillion-dollar export industry and supports more than 250,000 jobs.

“Australia is stronger for the transformative research, world-class teaching and the community spirit our universities support and deliver,” Mr Sheehy said.

“The Shaping Australia Awards is all about celebrating the rich contribution universities make to the nation, and the work showcased through our finalists is worth applauding.

“On behalf of Universities Australia, I want to extend my congratulations to our seven winners and 11 finalists.

“We look forward to opening the 2024 Shaping Australia Awards later this year.”

The awards were judged by a panel of eminent Australians comprising:

  • Lisa Paul AO PSM, University of Canberra Chancellor and former Secretary of the Department of Education
  • Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC (Mil) CVO MC (Retd), former Governor-General of Australia
  • Ms Charlene Davison, CEO of the Go Foundation.
  • Mr Kurt Fearnley AO PLY, three-time Paralympic gold medallist
  • Ms Michelle Gunn, editor-in-chief of The Australian
  • Mr Nicholas Moore AO, special envoy for Southeast Asia
  • Professor Brian Schmidt AC FAA FRS, former Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University and Nobel laureate.

A full description of the winning projects is available at shapingaustraliaawards.com.au.

The awards ceremony can be viewed here.

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