Pioneering program fosters personal, professional development

Published 18 June 2009

emilyhegneyA pioneering program at the University of New England that encourages students to engage in extra-curricular activities for personal and professional development is inspiring similar programs at other Australian universities.

After Dr Robyn Muldoon established the New England Award program at UNE in 2004, it quickly gained recognition as a valuable adjunct to a student’s academic program in terms of both personal development and readiness for employment.

Since 2005, more than 100 UNE students have been presented with the New England Award at their graduation. The award recognises that they have engaged in extra-curricular learning, professional development, and/or community-based activities at a required level of participation and commitment.

What began as a program for on-campus students was extended last year to include those studying by distance education. “This has resulted in a rapid expansion of volunteering in UNE’s communities across Australia,” Dr Muldoon said.

Last year, too, the program was extended to include two levels of attainment: the New England Certificate, which students receive after recording 1,000 “points” for their extra-curricular activities, and the New England Award itself, which requires the student to achieve – on average – a credit level in their academic studies, and write a reflective journal about their personal and professional development, as well as recording the 1,000 “points”.

Three other universities have invited Dr Muldoon to assist them in establishing similar programs. So far, this collaboration has seen the launch of the Phoenix Award at the University of Southern Queensland and the Canberra Award at the University of Canberra. During the launch of the Canberra Award on the 19th of February this year, Canberra University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education), Professor Carole Kayrooz, thanked Dr Muldoon for her vision and her generous assistance during the development and implementation of the Canberra Award, and Senator Kate Lundy, the Shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation, commended her for contribution to student development.

Dr Muldoon and her UNE colleague Ms Kim Heberley, comprising the New England Award team, were recognised for their “outstanding achievements in interdisciplinary innovation” at the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Awards ceremony at UNE.

Among the many activities that students have undertaken in working towards their New England Award are various teaching roles (including teaching migrants, refugees, people with disabilities, and the long-term unemployed), and volunteer work for churches, sporting clubs, and a wide range of organisations including Landcare, Lifeline, Amnesty International, and the Rural Fire Service.

Employers are consistently enthusiastic about the award, agreeing that – on an individual level – it indicates a job applicant’s willingness “to go the extra mile”, and that – on an institutional level – it demonstrates UNE’s concern for “the growth of the whole person”.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here, taken just after a UNE graduation ceremony earlier this year,  shows Emily Hegney, who graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree and received a New England Award. The photograph expands to include Dr Robyn Muldoon and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew.