Tara's Thoughts

The University of Canberra Alumni Awards

October 22, 2019

On 11 November 2017, I attended the University of Canberra Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner. The awards recognise the valuable contributions UC alumni make to our community and to their professions.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards were first held in 2001 to commemorate 30 years of teaching on the Bruce campus and then again in 2008 for the 40th Anniversary celebrations. Since 2011, the Awards have been held every two years, and the quality of recipients continues to impress.  

The 2017 Awards celebrated the extremely diverse achievements of alumni working across the world in the fields of conservation, gender equality, industrial design, sport, philanthropy, multicultural issues, business, education and medicine. The breadth of their achievements reflects how UC has developed into a world class institution, providing high quality tertiary education to local Canberrans and attracting students from around Australia and across the world.


The highest award, the Chancellor’s Alumni Award, was given to Dr Nancy Odegaard, a conservator and educator. After graduating in 1997 with a PhD in Applied Science – Natural and Physical Sciences, Dr Odegaard became part of a three-member conservator team in 2007 that analysed the 3.2 million year-old remains of the oldest and most complete human ancestor, Lucy. Lucy was originally discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia, and has unlocked a path between us and our ancestors. Dr Odegaard additionally took on numerous positions during her career, including President of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works. She is currently a Professor of Anthropology and a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Arizona.

Diana Abdel-Rahman was given the Chancellor’s Award for Service to the Community, for having devoted 25 years to advocating for peace and multicultural issues. She founded the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum, which broadcasts radio shows in over 30 languages and represents 123 multicultural organisations across the ACT. She also founded the Australian Muslim Voice, which celebrates the cultural and artistic aspects of being Muslim in Australia. As part of this, she runs a radio station out of her home during the month of Ramadan. She has also became a member of the ACT Multicultural Advisory Council.

Belconnen resident James Slade was awarded the Alumni Excellence Award for Health. James is an advanced practice nurse who treats patients suffering lifelong haemophilia. But his commitment to his patients continues beyond the hospital. He attends haemophilia family camps and social events, contributing to the work of the Haemophilia Foundations of the ACT and Australia and the global haemophilia community. He has been an educator at Canberra Hospital in cancer services and is now also a tutor at UC. James’s compassionate care, and his commitment to educating his patients in their disease, was recognised earlier this year when he won the ACT Nurse of the Year award.

The Chancellor’s Award for Philanthropy was given to James Asimmwe, in recognition of his work in educating and training vulnerable people in Uganda. James is the founding director of the KAVC Foundation, which provides free education and two meals a day to vulnerable children. The Foundation also empowers women, training them in poultry and piggery farming so they can generate their own income, and educating them in human rights issues, business and child protection. James’ foundation is also assisting people with disabilities to bring home an income, by helping them to use their existing talents, like singing, knitting, hair dressing and tailoring.

The Alumni Excellence Award for Education, Science, Technology & Maths was given to Dr William Maiden. He has been the foundation principal at two Canberra schools and is currently the Chair of the ACT Teacher Quality Institute Board.

Dr Skye Saunders, the Chancellor’s Young Alumni Award winner, graduated from UC twice: with her Bachelors and then with her PhD in Law. She uncovered a ‘cultural epidemic’ of sexual harassment in traditionally male-dominated rural Australian workplaces through her extensive research.

Nick Hunter won the Chancellor’s Award for Contribution to Sport. The award recognised his work as a national rowing coach, and his campaign to improve officiators’ empathy and support to athletes and coaches.

The Alumni Excellence Award for Business, Government and Law was given to Kate Mason, the Chief Transformation Officer at Coca-Cola Amatil and President of the Australian chapter of the International Women’s Forum.

Dr Brandon Gien was awarded the Alumni Excellence Award for Arts & Design for his contribution to industrial design. He is responsible for creating the World Design Impact Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in the industry.

These nine exceptional men and women are only a handful of the impressive UC alumni who are making a valuable contribution to Canberra, Australia and across the world. It was a privilege to attend the awards and hear what they have achieved.