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Passion for community honoured at University of Southern Queensland

4 min read
21 Oct 2022
Men and women standing up.
The 2022 Alumnus of the Year Award Winners; (L to R) Roderick McDonald; Jenna Hutchinson; Stephen Obrien; Jennie Wates; Paul Morris; Jessica van Vonderen; Simon Playford; Alanna Geary.

Kamilaroi woman and University of Southern Queensland Alumnus Jennie Waters has made a career out of ensuring the voices of Indigenous peoples are heard and valued – and now her efforts have been officially recognised.

At a special event hosted by UniSQ Alumnus, ABC television’s Jenny Woodward, Jennie Waters was announced as the University of Southern Queensland 2022 Alumnus of the Year.

Graduating from the Toowoomba campus in 1996 with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Psychology), Jennie said her university degree set the course for a professional life focused on helping others, and those in her home community of St George.

“Studying at the University of Southern Queensland is where I had the realisation that I wanted to provide better access to health and education for my First Nations people,” Jennie said.

“My journey from the time I started at university to now running my own business has always been about helping people and working to reduce, eliminate or remove barriers for people to have a better quality of life.”

Jennie – who was also named as the Outstanding Alumnus in Health & Wellbeing – established IndigiCare Connect in St George seven years ago. She said she identified the need for a specialised disability service in the region after working under the Federal Government’s ‘Closing the Gap’ program.

“IndigiCare Connect is the only indigenous disability service provider in southwest Queensland and is 100% Indigenous owned with more than 50% of staff members working with us identifying as First Nations people,” she said.

“It’s wonderful to be able to assist people to have a better quality of life – not just First Nations people – but everyone across southwest Queensland.

“I’m at a stage in my career now where I can look back and reflect on what I have done and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have studied at the University of Southern Queensland. I was a mature age student when I started my degree at 35 years old and overcame many roadblocks to begin.

“But roadblocks don’t mean the end of a story; your story only finishes when you stop writing it.”

Named overnight as the 2022 Young Alumnus of the Year, lawyer Simon Playford is just getting started on his own life story at 29 years of age.

Like Jennie, Simon also has a strong connection to his own hometown and credits the spirit of Pittsworth for fostering his own desire to give back and make the world a better place.

“My father passed away from heart disease when I was a little boy so of course it had a huge impact on our family,” he said.

“The people of Pittsworth rallied around my Mum and my siblings and I, so there’s a level of indebtedness I feel to that community, and it really taught me the power of support and giving back.”

Part of the first cohort of students to graduate with a Bachelor of Law (with second class honours) and a Bachelor of Business from the School of Law and Justice in April 2017, Simon this year joined the National Heart Foundation of Australia in the position of Legal Counsel after five years of working in private law firms.

“Working for an organisation that is a not for profit is very much aligned with my passion to help people and that sense of community that I've grown up with,” he said.

“This role merges that passion and that enjoyment with my tertiary qualifications. That combination is so effective and gives me so much joy in my day-to-day life.”

Simon is also the Independent Chair for the Toowoomba Headspace Consortium and has recently been appointed to the inaugural Queensland Law Society Future Leaders Committee.

10 other outstanding alumni were also honoured overnight:

  • 2022 Outstanding Alumnus in Law and Justice: Jenna Hutchinson
  • 2022 Outstanding Alumnus in Science & Engineering: Rod McDonald
  • 2022 Outstanding Alumnus in Education: Pamela Farrell
  • 2022 Outstanding Alumnus in Business & Enterprise: Stephen O’Brien
  • 2022 Outstanding Alumnus in Creative Industries & Humanities: Jessica van Vonderen

Other alumni honoured included: Highly Commended Young Alumnus of the Year, Jake Stormoen; Highly Commenced Alumnus in Business & Enterprise, Niranjalli Wickramasingh; Highly Commended Alumnus in Science & Engineering, Paul Morris; Highly Commended Alumnus in Health & Wellbeing, Alanna Geary; and Highly Commended Alumnus in Creative Industries & Humanities, Rebecca Evanko.