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First Nations Success Awards celebrate Charles Sturt students and staff

[by Bruce Andrews]


 Image: supplied

The winners of the inaugural Charles Sturt University 2021 First Nations Success Awards for students and staff were announced at a special dinner event at the University in Wagga Wagga recently.

The First Nations Success Awards were launched in 2021 and were established to recognise and celebrate the achievements and contributions of First Nations students, staff and members of the University’s communities.

The Awards are intended to be an annual event with the awards ceremony hosted at a different Charles Sturt campus location each year, and the inaugural 2021 awards celebration scheduled for Thursday 18 November was rescheduled twice due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In welcoming guests at the awards ceremony Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellor Professor Renée Leon (pictured above left, with Uncle Pat Connolly and Mr Jason Webb) said the University is committed to working with First Nations peoples.

“This is very important to us as a University, and I am taking a lead on how we action our commitments,” Professor Leon said.

“We are proud of our proven record in attracting and supporting First Nations students, and our University has one of the highest First Nations student enrolments in the country.”

Professor Leon said the University has transformed its services for First Nations students over the last two years.

“Charles Sturt provides dedicated tutoring, scholarships, and support services for First Nations students, and provides opportunities for First Nations students to connect with each other and build a sense of community,” she said.

Professor Leon also noted the potential for cooperation on building capacity in First Nations research and at the awards ceremony she and the NSW Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council Chief Executive Officer’s delegate Mr Jason Webb signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation between the two entities.

Ms Heather McGregor, Director First Nations Student Success, said, “It was an honour to have elders, partner organisations, community members, students, staff and winners’ family members join us for a night of celebration.

“Success can mean so many different things and coming together to celebrate this holistically was a very important occasion.

“We are very excited about collaborating with key First Nations organisations to respond to feedback we have gained from our First Nations students.

“This means we can offer many new opportunities including culturally safe employment coaching, support for students to find their family and cultural connections, pathways from vocational education into higher education, and building research capacity through collaboration.”

There are six categories of the First Nations Success Awards:

  • The Student Academic Excellence Award is based on measurable demonstration of academic outcomes. This category is sponsored by Yilabara Solutions. Chairperson, Mr Glenn Johnston presented a $100 voucher to each of the three winners ─ Ms Jessica Poole (Faculty of Business, Justice and Behavioural Sciences), Ms Ashleigh Cairney (Faculty of Arts and Education), and Mr Bernard Higgins (Faculty of Science and Health).

  • The Recognition of Contribution Award recognises the positive impacts made by a First Nations Elder, individual or group from community to First Nations education and/or engagement at Charles Sturt University. This category was sponsored by NSW Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council. The Chief Executive Officer’s delegate, Mr Jason Webb, presented a $100 voucher to each of the three winners ─ Uncle Pat Connolly, Ms Tonilee Scott, and Aunty Wynne Allen.

  • The Recognition of Service Award (ten years or more) went to nine recipients, of whom three - Danielle Hutchinson, Lloyd Dolan and Marlene Bayliss were unable to attend, and six recipients - Fiona Allen, Julie Bennett, Cheryl Boulton, Catherine Maxwell, Karen O’Donnell and Susanne Wilson who were present, received certificates from Ms Jacqueline Clements, Executive Director Student Success.

  • The Impact Award recognises the positive impacts made by an individual or group of staff to First Nations education and/or engagement at Charles Sturt University. This may have been achieved through delivery of exceptional results in a sole role; a working group or committee; a project or program; a community of practice or others. This award was presented to the Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage team (pictured above) and was received by seven individuals, including Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr (centre).


Nominations for the 2022 First Nations Success Awards are open and winners will be announced at the 2022 Awards event which is scheduled to be held in Orange on Thursday 24 November.

Charles Sturt collaboration with Yilabara Solutions, the employment and training arm of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council network, was highlighted at the event. Yilabara Solutions will provide assistance in the upcoming recruitment to six First Nations positions at Charles Sturt and have indicated interest in ongoing collaboration to provide employment coaching to First Nations students of Charles Sturt.

Also at the event, the First Nations strategic sub-brand was displayed and introduced as a visual identity. The meaning of the shape in the graphic language, and the artwork Pathways to Wisdom was explained by Wiradjuri artist Ms Lani Balzan who produced the artwork.

The First Nations at Charles Sturt app was also highlighted, and the awards presentation concluded with a performance by First Nations performer Shane Riley.


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