Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, Dr Gillian Sparkes AM has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the Swinburne University of Technology, which was presented by Swinburne Chancellor Professor John Pollaers OAM at the Graduation Ceremony on 30 March.
The award is in recognition of Dr Sparkes’ contributions to environmental reporting in Victoria, applying collaborative co-design methods, systems analysis, international frameworks and advancing the use of citizen science to improve environmental outcomes.
Dr Sparkes was honoured to present the graduation speech at the ceremony and told graduates that she has been inspired by many women and men in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) throughout her career and that it was her first female science teacher, Alison, that ignited her passion for chemistry in high school and effectively, set her on a career path in Applied Science.
“I had little means, but big dreams and I was determined to go to university. I knew that I wanted to study science, especially chemistry – but that’s all I knew.
“When I saw a job advertised as a trainee industrial chemist with the soon to become BHP Steel, I diligently applied - and to my surprise, got the job! With one condition – I needed to be accepted into Swinburne Institute of Technology’s Bachelor of Applied Science course to study Chemistry through their Work Integrated Learning model of education. Colloquially known at the time as a ‘sandwich course’ but which I have come to consider as the ‘secret sauce’ because that applied model of learning, became a critical ingredient in my career success.”
Dr Sparkes was accepted into Swinburne and in February 1981 began her studies as a trainee industrial chemist. She went on to spend over a decade in technical and then research roles before moving into industrial operations and eventually executive leadership roles in the private and public sectors.
Dr Sparkes told graduates that she recognised over the course of her career, how much of an edge Work Integrated Learning can give you. “From day one, it teaches you how to apply your studies in the real world,” she said.
“Looking back now, I realise I was actively and continuously learning how to put theory into practice and taking a ‘systems view' to complex problem solving - from the beginning of my career as a Trainee Industrial Chemist.”
As a thought leader in STEMM, Dr Sparkes left graduates with this advice,
“I want to share a secret with you. I am not special.
I remember clearly, being terrified when I first started my Bachelors degree. I found it hard on every level. I’m sure many of you can relate to that.
“I didn’t map a deliberate path for my career. I’ve worked hard and taken risks and opportunities as they’ve arisen. I’ve been decisive, accountable and have experienced plenty of challenging times and failure.
When you fail – fail graciously. And remember that every failure is an opportunity to take on board insights and learn how to succeed. Do not beat yourself up over every misstep.”
In congratulating Dr Gillian Sparkes on her award, Swinburne’s Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Pascale G. Quester said, “Congratulations on this well-deserved recognition for your contribution.”