Graduating student Jackson Gunn stands in front of the Sports Hub, wearing a blue cap and gown. Photo: Mark Newsham

A course in resilience

A course in resilience

For engineering graduate Jackson Gunn his time at UOW was both an academic and a personal adventure

Amidst a sea of bright blue gowns, Jackson Gunn may seem like just another face in the crowd of graduates from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences (EIS). But the truth is, he’s anything but ordinary.

The fact that he has been chosen as the student speaker at the graduation ceremony already speaks volumes. Graduating today (31 October 2023) with a Class 1 Honours in Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), throughout his studies Jackson has distinguished himself as a standout scholar. He has been recognised with several prestigious awards, including a place on the Dean’s Merit List in both 2019 and 2020, while also receiving a list of other accolades: the Undergraduate Scholarship, Academic Achievement Scholarship, the UOW Vice-Chancellor’s Academic Excellence Scholarship, the BlueScope Mechanical Prize and the Faculty Mechanical Engineering Discipline 2nd Year Prize for his outstanding academic performance in the second-year subjects.

Yet, what he considers his most significant achievement is coming out of the university as a well-rounded, resilient person. 

“I feel that looking back on our time at the University of Wollongong, none of us really could have predicted what we would be in for. For those who started their studies in 2019, like me, we were fortunate enough to see the glimpses of the pre-pandemic uni life. Our only worries then were fighting to get the tutorial slot we wanted or fitting a semester-worth of revision into the short study break before exams. 

“And then, the COVID-19 pandemic started. The world around us changed and introduced new challenges that we would have to show resilience to overcome,” Jackson said. 

Born and raised in Campbelltown, less than an hour’s drive from the beaches of Wollongong, Jackson’s path to engineering was a pragmatic one. As a child, he spent a lot of time at a caravan park on the Hawkesbury River, exploring the outdoors and playing around cars. This childhood pastime, he says, started a keen interest in the mechanical side of things. Coupled with an affinity for analytical thinking inherited from his police officer father and a knack for mathematics, Jackson quickly realised that the engineering path might be the perfect fit for him.

His academic journey began at UOW, where he benefitted from an early admission offer. His first year was foundational, as his passion for mechanical engineering grew even stronger and became his major.

As he remembers today, his early years of university life were a time of laser-focused dedication. Unbound by the need to earn a wage (he was still living with his parents and commuting to campus) and not distracted by on-campus social life, Jackson poured all his energy into his studies. His hard work and focus paid off, leading to an impressive list of achievements.

“All this effort early on transferred immediately across the first and second years of studies and contributed to my marks. But when I look back at that time, if I had the chance to do it all again, I’d probably choose to socialise a bit more,” Jackson said. 

After graduating, Jackson accepted a role as a graduate engineer with Glencore, a mining company in the Hunter Valley. In this role, he primarily focuses on work health and safety, ensuring the mine site adheres to New South Wales legislation and maintains high engineering standards. He is determined to climb further in this industry and obtain the competency ticket for open-cut mines.

In his graduation Vote of Thanks speech, Jackson thanked everyone who played a part in his journey – his teachers, family and friends, recognising success is never achieved alone. He also acknowledged the challenges brought by the pandemic and the resilience that carried him and his colleagues forward. 

“If I had any advice for younger engineering students, it’d be to balance learning the technical knowledge with working on communication and interpersonal skills. In real-life scenarios, people skills come really handy, and we may not be best at it fresh out of uni,” he said.