Citation delivered by Professor Judy Raper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Wollongong on occasion of the admission of Mary Josephine O'Kane to a Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) on 18 December 2013.
Professor Mary O'Kane is currently holds the prestigious position of NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer. However, this is only the most recent position Professor O’Kane has held during her distinguished career in academia and the higher education sector. Professor O’Kane was Vice-Chancellor and President of Adelaide University from 1996 to 2001 and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) from 1994 to 1996. Before that, she was Dean of the Faculty of Information Sciences and Engineering at the University of Canberra, as well as Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Professor O’Kane is also a company director and Executive Chairman of Mary O’Kane & Associates, a company focused on knowledge-transmission and knowledge-transformation. Through her consultancy, Professor O’Kane advises governments, universities and the private sector on innovation, research, education and development. She has been a member of a number of high-level committees, including the Australian Research Council and was a panellist for the Federal Government's Review of the National Innovation System. Professor O’Kane’s impressive career has grown from a life-long love of mathematics and science.
Professor O’Kane was born in Mount Morgan, the gold mining town in central Queensland, the daughter of an accountant and a science teacher. As a child she developed an early love for mathematics and, at the family dinner table, science and mathematics were often the topics du jour. In high school Professor O’Kane was inspired by the book she won at her Year 9 prize night: Banesh Hoffmann’s 1947 classic exploration of the work of the great physicists of the early 20th century The Strange Story of the Quantum.
Professor O’Kane studied at the University of Queensland where she read physics and mathematics. In 1982, she completed her PhD at the Australian National University on automated speech recognition, an area that was cutting edge in the days before desktops, laptops or touch screens. In the years that followed, Professor O’Kane published more than 100 articles, setting the tone for her intense engagement with science and science management in Australia.
Her steadfast belief in the central role of science in the public and private sectors continues to this day, despite Professor O’Kane’s many commitments. She is Chair of a number of boards, a director of numerous companies and was Chair of the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy from 2010 to 2012. Professor O’Kane is also strong supporter of research at UOW. She has assisted with review and development of Centres of Excellence, the selection of research strengths, and has provided guidance on critical research appointments including selection of the Global Challenges Leaders. Furthermore she made a significant contribution to UOW through her membership of the Board of the ITC. Now called UOW Enterprises, the ITC overseas the University of Wollongong in Dubai and the University of Wollongong College.
Mary O’Kane is a role model for girls and women seeking a career in engineering, mathematics and science and, through her current role, and during her career, she has championed the transforming role of education in our society and encouraged young and old to engage with science.
Chancellor, for her considerable service to the University and for her outstanding contribution to education, it is my honour and pleasure to present Mary O’Kane for the award Doctor of Science, honoris causa.