Inaugural Alumni Awards showcase UniSA’s diversity

Three of the inaugural Alumni Award winners Rob Chapman, Rachael Sporn and Tom Calma (Poh Ling Yeow absent). COMMUNITY
Three of the inaugural Alumni Award winners Rob Chapman, Rachael Sporn and Tom Calma (Poh Ling Yeow absent).

Inspirational leaders in the fields of Indigenous issues, business, art and sport were recognised for their contribution to their communities at UniSA’s inaugural Alumni Awards.

The four awardees were artist and celebrity chef Poh Ling Yeow; Chancellor of the University of Canberra, former Race Discrimination Commissioner, Kungarakan and Iwaidja tribal elder, Professor Tom Calma AO; company director and Chair of the Adelaide Football Club, Rob Chapman; and Olympic basketball player, coach and commentator, Rachael Sporn OAM.

The awards were evaluated across six categories – Scholarship; Engagement; Social Justice; Sustainability; Innovation; Openness – with the winners having to achieve in at least three.

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd said the four recipients reflect the diversity and strength of achievement of the University’s graduates.

“We attract and inspire the kind of people who challenge the norm, break out of the mould, commit to excellence and work with great passion to achieve their goals,” Prof Lloyd said.

“Each and every one of this first group of award recipients has faced challenges, unattainable goals, and hard choices and they have used their talents to reach success.

“It is an absolute pleasure to be able to acknowledge their efforts and their great contributions in this way.”

The four inspirational alumni were humbling in their acceptance of their awards and encouraged others to make the most of their education and the opportunities available to help them follow their chosen path.

Prof Tom Calma, who graduated in 1978 with an Associate Diploma from UniSA’s antecedent institution, the South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT), has dedicated his life to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians, being involved in Indigenous affairs at a local community, state, national and international level for more than 40 years.

“To be selected for this award is a real privilege,” Prof Calma said. “My life was formed in the days that I spent at SAIT. It was a very important time as a young student. At that time in the early 70s, there were only 18 known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people studying at university.

“What we did here at SAIT was to create an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the nation to be able to come and get exposure to tertiary education in a way that was supportive, in a way that was really broadly based.

“There are now over 25,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates, with people in every major professional area.

“Like these inaugural awards, SAIT was the inaugural institution to be able to introduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into tertiary education in significant numbers. That’s something we will never lose and something we are proud of.

“Dig deep if you are an alumnus and contribute to the foundations because our contributions – now that we are in a position to be able to do it – will help others make it through their education journey.”

Fellow SAIT alumnus, Rob Chapman, was recognised for his consistent pursuit of excellence and outstanding contribution to South Australia.

“I am really overwhelmed by the award tonight,” Chapman said in his acceptance speech.

“I speak to a lot of young people – whether that be in the football club, in the industry sectors I work across, university and in schools – and my message is really clear to them: learn, take the time to be educated, but engage with people because if you aren’t talking to people and not having conversations, then you are going to miss out on opportunities.

“You can be educated – that is the foundation to success – but also be a people person and engage.”

In accepting her award, Rachael Sporn said there were three things that contributed to her success which she urges others to do as well – make the most of the opportunities you are given, use the greatness around you, and be coachable.

Sporn graduated from UniSA with a Bachelor of Education in secondary teaching, specialising in physical education and mathematics. While studying, she was also juggling a champion career in women’s basketball.

Poh Ling YeowPoh Ling Yeow (pictured right), who was unable to attend the awards ceremony, graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor of Visual Communication. She worked as a graphic designer, illustrator and make-up artist before becoming a full-time artist in 2002. Her passion for food saw her finish in second place on MasterChef Australia in 2009 after which time she has focused on food with television shows and recipe books.

“I feel incredibly honoured to be the recipient of this alumni award,” Yeow said.

“Thank you for recognising people with different talents who forge a bit of a wobbly path but they still got there in the end. Thank you so much.”

More information about the awards and the recipients can be found on the awards website.

If you are an alumnus who would like to leave your mark at UniSA, visit the alumni website to find out more about how you embed yourself in the DNA of the soon-to-be-established Great Hall.