Unconventional pathway to award-winning career

Published 04 December 2018

“Statistics underpin so much of our everyday; not just in sport statistics or political polls, but anytime we have a query about what is happening around us, statistics can often help answer that question," Jackie said.

"For example, a student studying zoology might have questions about what impact the introduction of a species will have on the environment or on other species already residing in the area.

"These questions can be answered with Statistics. Statistics helps us gain a better understanding of important issues and helps us make informed decisions.”

“I loved maths from a very early age. Both of my parents left school early, but my father was passionate about life-long learning. He encouraged me to pursue further studies and, as a consequence, I was the first in my family to complete university, where I studied mathematics.”

But, like many in the field, it was only later in her career that Jackie discovered a passion for statistics.

After completing an honours degree in Applied Mathematics at the University of Adelaide, she continued her research the following year in the role of research assistant.

Jackie then took a detour, becoming a flight attendant as part of a belated “gap” year. The next three years were spent working as a sales manager and buyer for national retailer, Myer.

When her husband took an academic post at a university in Mexico in the mid 80’s Jackie discovered her real passion – teaching statistics.

“Faculty staff in Mexico found out about my qualifications in mathematics," she recalled.

"They had one single desktop computer in the faculty and asked if I would be interested in teaching students how to program and also give classes in statistics. I was excited to be given the opportunity.

"Although, as part of my Honours year, I had developed my programming skills, my formal training in statistics had been limited.

"I think I learnt more Spanish than the students learnt programming in those early classes but luckily I could always point to the screen to make my point!”

Four years later her family moved to Armidale, where she took up casual tutoring in computing science, mathematics and econometrics.

This experience helped her gain a permanent position as a level A academic in mathematics and statistics, where she gained further qualifications in Statistics. Thus began a distinguished academic career at UNE.

With so few women in the field of maths and statistics, Jackie knew it was important for her to step up and show leadership.

“I was one of the few academics in my school who was interested in educational research. I began investigating how students develop an understanding of variability, a fundamental concept in statistics," she said.

"More recently, in my role as First Year Learning and Teaching Coordinator, I have expanded my research beyond statistics education to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.”

Jackie’s leadership in STEM education was recognised in 2016 when she received a national citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning as part of the Australian Awards for University Teaching from the Department of Education and Training. Her citation read:  for leadership and scholarship that has enhanced the teaching practices of STEM academics, resulting in enriched student learning experiences.

“I see that there are three components to my academic role; one is as a facilitator, who  supports and motivates students while learning statistics; second, as an  academic who engages in the scholarship of  teaching and learning, investigating and reflecting on my teaching and student learning, and thirdly as a leader and mentor in teaching and learning,” she said.

Jackie continues to develop projects that address each of these three components.

In this story: