Dr Geraldine Hardie, wearing a blue graduation gown and a black hat, stands in front of a greenery background on graduation day. Photo: Andy Zakeli

First-in-family PhD graduate on the importance of digital inclusion in higher education

First-in-family PhD graduate on the importance of digital inclusion in higher education

Dr Geraldine Hardie says ability to access technology is fundamental for students from all backgrounds

Hard work, resilience, and support have been the keys that unlocked Dr Geraldine Hardie’s academic success.  

They have seen her through hardship, through the peaks and troughs of her education journey, and finally, through the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic wrought on her studies.  

Dr Hardie, who is celebrating her graduation today (Tuesday 31 October) with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Faculty of Business and Law, said that, ironically, university was never part of her life plans. 

Before having children, she had worked with information technology for large corporations, but tertiary education felt out of reach.  

“My exciting university journey began in 2003, as a mature age student and the first in my family to attend university,” Dr Hardie said. “Who would have thought I would go to university as no one in my family did? 

“TAFE was my initial entry point, with two diplomas in information technology and leadership, and that paved the way for university, enabling me to enter a Bachelor of Commerce in my second year.” 

At the time she was studying, Dr Hardie also took up a casual teaching position in the School of Business, a role that opened her eyes to her love of helping others.  

“I started my dream job in 2005 and this is where I am today, living my dream of teaching and research in the School of Business. Teaching became my passion, seeing the impact on students’ lives gave me great satisfaction as I felt I could make a difference. 

“I understood the challenges of navigating university when no family member had done this before. I wanted to learn more about engaging and creating greater inclusion for students.” 

Dr Hardie’s PhD, which she began in 2016, threads together the different strands of her interests, in teaching, technology, leadership, and inclusion for all.  

Titled ‘Equity or Equality: An Analysis of University Approaches to Supporting and Achieving Digital Inclusion in Higher Education’, Dr Hardie’s research focuses on the need for digital literacy, skills, and access for all students, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, to be able to be successful in their university studies.  

“My love of teaching and information technology enabled me to identify problematic experiences with students and their learning needs, and this led me to my PhD research. I felt the digital inclusion needs of students and staff were greatly misunderstood and an issue that needed to be investigated.”  

Dr Geraldine Hardie, centre, with her supervisors Professor Mario Fernando and Dr Jan Turbill. Photo: Andy Zakeli

Dr Hardie with her supervisors, Professor Mario Fernando and Dr Jan Turbill. 

The past few years of Dr Hardie’s studies have, at times, been extremely difficult. But she has drawn on her deep well of tenacity and determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  

“Personal challenges can go a few ways, either making you stronger or making you give up,” she said. “I chose to keep going, and this has helped me to cope after losing my mother in November 2016. Two months later, my eldest daughter was diagnosed with stage four cancer, before losing her battle with life 18 weeks later. 

“This was followed by navigating the legal constraints to care of our then 13-year-old granddaughter. However, with the support of a great family law solicitor, my husband and I became legal guardians of our eldest granddaughter.  

“In 2020, we were all impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns. This provided the perfect storm for my research topic and the realisation of the importance of continuing my research.” 

Dr Hardie said the support of her amazing supervisors, Professor Mario Fernando and Dr Jan Turbill, and her hard work and resilience have helped to bring her to the point of graduation. She is delighted to be celebrating the end of her research and to have her family by her side for the ceremony.  

After more than seven years as a PhD student, Dr Hardie is thrilled to be still working in her dream job in the School of Business and to be using her knowledge and skills to create better opportunities for students of all backgrounds.   

“Embarking on a PhD journey will always be a challenge for all students,” she said. “Still, it can be greater for first-in-family or mature age students who do not have families who understand the processes, practices, dedication, and resilience needed to achieve this massive goal. 

“I made it through my PhD with hard work, resilience, motivation, an amazing supervisory team, and special mentors who supported my journey to 2023. I am passionate about being proactive and working towards greater inclusion in higher education.  

“Today, I have my husband, my daughter and my eldest granddaughter, who have watched my hard work, tears and happiness in achieving my greatest goal, joining me in this milestone celebration of graduation.”