2014 Outstanding Alumni Award
National Council Member, National Council of Bhutan
Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical), 1998
The University of Wollongong welcomed the Honourable Tashi Wangmo as a Mechanical Engineering student over 20 years ago. We are honoured to be part of the extraordinary journey she has taken from a remote village to her appointment as an Eminent Member of the National Council of Bhutan. Tashi brought to this campus the gift of her sincerity and sense of purpose.
She has gone on to bring to her country, her strengths as a professional and principled leader. Tashi Wangmo was born and grew up in an isolated community in a country that had yet to open its borders to foreign influence, customs and trade. Without the advantages of electricity, modern communications or transport, Tashi nevertheless won a place to study at what was then the only college in the country. She graduated with a scholarship to study engineering overseas and was one of the very first Bhutanese students to complete their university education in Australia.
Professor Paul Cooper, now the Director of UOW’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, remembers meeting Tashi for the first time in a break between lectures. He was immediately convinced that she was “an exceptional person”. She had an extraordinary confidence and composure for a young woman who had recently arrived in Australia from an extremely different culture and who was attempting a course not known here for female participation.
Tashi achieved outstanding results in her Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) degree. A true leader even in a strange land, she also played a significant role in building the camaraderie and community spirit of her student cohort. One of her special achievements was winning the Mechanical Engineering Final Year Thesis Oral Presentation Trophy – a remarkable feat given that she was a student for whom English was not her first language.
After graduating in 1997, Tashi worked in Bhutan’s Department of Civil Aviation as a graduate engineer. She then moved to the National Technical Training Authority (NTTA) where she contributed to the development of plans and programs that were to be implemented locally to improve and open access to technical and vocational training. In 2003, Tashi completed a Masters in Public Policy in Japan, further strengthening her special skills for communication and leadership. In 2004, Tashi was appointed as Head of the Policy and Planning Division of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources of Bhutan. Widely recognised for her exemplary work in this position, she acknowledged her debt to the rigorous analytical training she had received in her engineering degree at UOW.
In 2008, Tashi Wangmo, then only 35 years old, became part of her country’s historic transition to a democracy in the form of a democratic constitutional monarchy. The first parliamentary elections were held and His Majesty the King retained the right to appoint five eminent members of society to the National Council (upper house). Tashi Wangmo was chosen for one of those eminent positions.
In her first term, Tashi served as a member of several important National Council committees, and as the Chairperson of the Social and Cultural Affairs Committee which dealt with many difficult societal issues and problems such as youth unemployment. In 2010, she received the Young Global Leader Award at the Economic Forum in Geneva. Two years later, her outstanding contributions earned her a royal appointment for a second five-year term on the National Council.
Chancellor, Tashi Wangmo, has always been a wonderful friend and an ambassador for this University. Despite her busy itinerary when an official National Council delegation visited Australia in 2012, for example, she took time to visit her former campus and to meet the many Bhutanese students studying here, inspiring them with her encouragement and her own story.
That story reveals a person of sensitivity, high intelligence and enduring commitment. The Honourable Tashi Wangmo has worked tirelessly to build the capacity of her people to achieve a just, fair and prosperous society in times of great change and challenges. She has generously stated that “it is the four and a half years of study at UOW and my interaction with Australian society that has provided me with the strong foundation necessary to build my way up to where I am now”. This University, in turn, can say it was graced by her presence as a student and remains proud to claim a relationship with her as one of our most admirable graduates.
It is a great privilege to present the Honourable Tashi Wangmo for the UOW Outstanding Alumni Award for 2014.