Coming out of the pandemic: signs of life for our local community | Mercury of Illawarra

While listening to a recent “We are UOW” podcast with the team behind Yours & Owls Festival, they called their college years “iconic,” and that phrasing really stuck with me. Sure, everyone knows that your early twenties are a deeply formative time, but there’s something about the halls of a college, new friendships, and expanding your world and your mind that make it truly iconic. That’s why we’re more than excited to welcome students back to our campuses starting Monday, February 21 – safely and in accordance with all public health orders. This date also coincides with our highly anticipated inaugural Campus Fest, which is sure to be a very exciting time for new and returning students. As I’m sure everyone in our community is, we are so happy to see life returning to something we know and acknowledge. Tables in cafés, smiling faces in the street, dinners at friends’ houses and (for me) grandchildren in their arms. I’m sure, news outlets like this also enjoyed diverting attention from COVID-19. The future looks brighter, with vaccines protecting us and our healthcare system, our worst-case scenario isn’t as scary as it once was. In fact, I recently traveled to Dubai, visiting the new ‘campus of the future’ at the University of Wollongong Dubai – it was my first trip abroad since my debut as vice-chancellor nearly 12 months, and the first opportunity to meet several of my colleagues in person. Like many, I was so happy to be attending and participating in world travel again – a sure sign of things getting back to normal (albeit with the extra and necessary safety measures in place). After the time we went through, I looked out the airplane window with more wonder than ever and deep gratitude for human innovation and creativity. These things are possible because of us and the long and magical line of learning that has brought us to where we are today. During my trip, I had the privilege of also meeting the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency the Honorable David Hurley AC DSC and his wife, Her Excellency Mrs. Linda Hurley, who were present for the opening of the Dubai campus. Originally from Port Kembla, David holds an honorary doctorate from the UOW and is proud of his Wollongong roots. He is a wonderful example of where we are all capable of going and what we can accomplish when we live our values. The Governor General was also delighted to meet Marisa Mastroianni, Managing Director and Group CEO of UOW Global Enterprise. Marisa is also very proud to be born in Port Kembla and to be an alumnus of Port Kembla High, along with Her Excellency. Just last week we were informed that UOW graduates had been ranked among the best employees in Australia in the Quality Indicators Employer Satisfaction Survey for Learning and Education (QILT) from the Australian Government. We were delighted (but not surprised) to receive this news and are exceptionally proud of our students and staff. UOW provides graduates with the knowledge, skills, and competencies to thrive, and it shows in our brilliant alumni. With a title like “coming out of the pandemic”, I hope that’s where we are. But I think we’ve all learned that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a formidable adversary with its own rhythm and cadence, and I don’t take anything for granted. In its third year, I know that so many people have suffered and too many lives have been lost. A remarkable book by John Barry, The Great Influenza, chronicles the journey of the 1918 pandemic. Unfortunately, we have not learned many lessons from this tragic time in history – the importance of credible information, integrated systems and coordination of services. History is important and we are living history in the moment. To emerge, however, we must move forward with creativity, courage and compassion. When I talk about creativity, I’m talking about discovery, innovation, harnessing knowledge and skills with purpose, passion and a sense of humanity. We need to look to universities, the power of knowledge, collaboration and communities. We need courage, young and old. And we need compassion, with the pandemic having a particular impact on the poor, vulnerable and marginalized. Fault lines in society have been opened and laid bare by this pandemic and we must learn these lessons. We must do all we can to improve access, reduce poverty and ensure access to education, health and social services. The global upheaval of the pandemic has created many challenges, but it has also brought opportunities. There is no doubt that our world will be different – so we will have to embrace the world in a new way. Our local community, like most others, has been through a lot, but I truly believe that with all that we have learned over the past two years, and that famous Illawarra spirit of initiative, our community is well positioned to emerge from the pandemic. stronger and closer than ever.