While listening to a recent 'We are UOW' podcast with the team behind the Yours & Owls Festival, they referred to their university years as "iconic", and this phrasing really stuck with me. Of course, everyone knows your early 20s are a deeply formative time, but there's something about the halls of a university, the new friendships, and the expanding of your world and your mind that really do make it iconic.
That's why we are beyond thrilled that we are welcoming students back on our campuses from Monday, February 21 - safely and in line with all public health orders. This date also aligns with our inaugural and much anticipated Campus Fest, which is sure to be a very exciting time for new and returning students alike.
As I'm sure is the case with everyone in our community, we are so happy to see life return to something we know and recognise. Tables at cafes, smiling faces on the street, dinners at friends' houses, and (for me) holding grandchildren in your arms. News outlets like this one I'm sure have enjoyed moving the focus away from COVID-19 too. The future is looking brighter, with vaccines protecting us and our health system, our worst-case scenario is now not nearly as frightening as it once was.
In fact, I recently travelled to Dubai, visiting the University of Wollongong Dubai's new "campus of the future" - this was my first overseas trip since starting as Vice-Chancellor almost 12 months ago, and the first opportunity to meet many of my colleagues in person.
Like many, I was so pleased to witness and take part in world travel again - an undeniable sign of things returning to normal (albeit with the added and necessary safety measures in place). After the time we've been through, I watched out the plane window with more marvel than ever before and deep gratitude for humans' innovation and creativity. These things are possible because of us and the long and magical lineage of learning that got us to where we are today.
On my trip I was privileged to also meet with Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC and his wife, Her Excellency Mrs Linda Hurley, who were on hand for the opening of the Dubai campus. Originally from Port Kembla, David holds an Honorary Doctorate from UOW, and is proud of his Wollongong roots.
He is a wonderful example of the places we're all capable of going and what we can achieve when we live our values. The Governor-General was also excited to meet up with Marisa Mastroianni, Managing Director and Group CEO of UOW Global Enterprise. Marisa is also very proud of being born in Port Kembla and an alumna of Port Kembla High, along with His Excellency.
Just last week we were informed that UOW graduates have been rated the best employees in Australia in the Australian Government's Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) Employer Satisfaction Survey. We were delighted (but somewhat unsurprised) to receive this news and are exceptionally proud of our students and staff. UOW provides graduates with the knowledge, skills, and competencies to thrive, and this is demonstrated in our stellar alumni.
With a title like "emerging from the pandemic" I'm hopeful that is where we are. But I think all of us have learned that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a formidable opponent with its own rhythm and cadence, and I take nothing for granted. In its third year, I know so many have suffered, and too many lives have been lost.
A remarkable book by John Barry, the Great Influenza, tells the journey of the 1918 pandemic. Unfortunately, we failed to learn many lessons of this tragic period in history - the importance of credible information, integrated systems, and the co-ordination of services. History is important and we are living the history of the moment.
To emerge though, we need to move forward with creativity, courage, and compassion. When I mention creativity - I mean discovery, innovation, harnessing knowledge and skills with purpose, passion and a sense of humanity. We need to turn to universities, the power of knowledge, collaboration and communities. We need courage, big and small. And we need compassion, with the pandemic especially impacting the poor, vulnerable and marginalised. Fault lines in society have been laid open and bare by this pandemic and we need to learn these lessons. We need to do all we can to improve access, decrease poverty and achieve access to education, health and social services.
The global shake-up of the pandemic has created many challenges, but it has also brought with it some opportunities. There is no doubt our world will be different - so we will need to embrace the world in a new way. Our local community, like most others, has been through a lot, but I truly believe that with all we have learned over the past two years, along with that famous Illawarra can-do spirit, our community is well placed to emerge from the pandemic stronger and closer than ever before.
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