UOW Alumni Awards Gala 2023_group photo

Leadership talent shines at UOW Alumni Awards

Leadership talent shines at UOW Alumni Awards

Annual gala recognises achievements and contributions of UOW's outstanding graduates

An Indigenous community pharmacist who has committed life to championing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health; a world-renowned inventor in bioanalytical chemistry, biosensors and sustainable nanomaterials; and an entrepreneurial engineering duo transforming the public safety industry – these are just a few people celebrated at the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) annual Alumni Awards Gala. 

The event, bringing together thought leaders, change-makers and trailblazers, was held on Thursday evening (12 October) at Wollongong’s City Beach Function Centre and hosted by UOW Chancellor Ms Christine McLoughlin AM and Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson.

UOW has long been a hub for cultivating leadership talent, from scientists and entrepreneurs to artists and community leaders, driving transformative change across sectors from healthcare and technology to education and social justice. This year’s awards showcased accomplishments across categories including Professional Excellence, Young Alumni, Social Impact, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Research and Scholarship. The University also introduced an alumni award for Arts and Culture to celebrate significant contributions to society through creative and cultural disciplines and underline UOW’s commitment to nurturing diverse forms of brilliance.

Alumni Awards VC with Arts and Culture finalists

Vice-Chancellor Professor Patricia M. Davidson with the finalists in the Arts and Culture category: Kumi Taguchi (left) and Dr Virginia Keft (the winner of the award). 

Winners of the Alumni Awards were Professor Faye McMillan AM for Professional Excellence; Dr Natalie Matosin for Young Alumni; Dr Virginia Keft for Arts and Culture; Honorary Professor Tanya Buchanan for Social Impact; Professor Omowunmi Sadik for Research and Scholarship; Paul Smith for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and Glenn Farrant and Jahmai Lay in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Group) category.

Professor McMillan, a Wiradjuri woman, community pharmacist and powerful advocate for improving Indigenous health care, thanked the University, her family, UOW’s Woolyungah Indigenous Centre and others who supported her on her journey.

“This award is a testament to the transformative power of education. The University of Wollongong holds a very special place in my heart. It’s where my two sons were born and I could learn and grow as both the researcher and a student, undertaking the Master’s in Indigenous Health,” Professor McMillan said.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Davidson congratulated the winners and finalists, saying she was proud of the character, spirit and resilience of all UOW staff, teachers, researchers and alumni who had persevered in delivering outstanding achievements despite the challenges of the last few years.

“The University of Wollongong is all about the impact we make on the world, starting from our local communities to global institutions and causes. These 19 finalists we’ve recognised today are all leaders in their fields, forging sustainable entrepreneurship and scientific collaborations, celebrating our Indigenous heritage, building social cohesion and creating a better future for all.

“I am thrilled to be able to celebrate their achievements, and I am looking forward to seeing them reach new heights on their chosen paths and give back to their communities,” Professor Davidson said.

Alumni Awards Young Alumni finalists

Young Alumni category featured inspiring scientists and professionals: (left) Dr Benjamin Ho, Dr Natalie Matosin and Kate Holland.

UOW Alumni Awards began in 2013, and every year, except for a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, remarkable UOW alumni in various stages of their careers have been recognised for their achievements and contributions to society.

UOW Alumni Awards 2023

Professional Excellence Award

Faye McMillan AM, Professor of Indigenous Health, University of Technology Sydney

Prof Faye McMillan UOW Alumni Awards

A proud Wiradjuri woman, Professor Faye McMillan is an esteemed leader and voice for Aboriginal health and education who has tirelessly championed the health, wellbeing and equity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. She is the first Indigenous Australian to receive the prestigious Harkness Fellowship, awarded earlier this year. In 2019, Professor McMillan was awarded NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year, and in 2021, she was made a member of the Order of Australia.

Young Alumni Award

Dr Natalie Matosin, Senior Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

Dr Natalie Matosin UOW Alumni Awards

Dr Natalie Matosin has risen to international prominence for her pioneering research, providing major insights into the brain biology of mental illnesses, influencing industry partners, international researchers and clinicians to drive drug discovery, inform human clinical trials, and identify novel drug targets. Hailed as a promising future leader in science with accolades such as the ‘Forbes 30 under 30 Award’ in 2017 and one of Women’s Agenda’s ‘Top 15 Australian Graduates to Watch’, Dr Matosin’s work is highly cited, reflecting the calibre and impact of her research. 

Social Impact Award

Honorary Professor Tanya Buchanan, Chief Executive Officer, Cancer Council Australia

PhD student during graduation 2022

Honorary Professor Buchanan has made considerable contributions to public health through her leadership and commitment to improving health concerns in our community. As CEO of Cancer Council Australia, she is highly influential in Australia’s approach to cancer treatment, prevention and research and oversees national public health campaigns to prevent and control cancer. Honorary Professor Buchanan contributes to a range of national public health panels and committees through board, chair and committee roles across leading national cancer advocacy groups, as well as continuing to be actively involved in research herself. 

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award

Paul Smith, Founder and Chairman Total Sports Entertainment, Chairman and Owner Sydney Kings and Flames

Paul Smith UOW Alumni Awards

Paul Smith is a global leader in sports marketing. He founded the world’s most prominent sports marketing research business, Repucom, changing how consumer research was delivered and used to measure sports sponsorships. Repucom became the global benchmark in sports research, servicing every major brand and league, operating across 18 countries when sold to Neilsen Media Research in 2019. Paul returned to Australia to focus on his Total Sports Entertainment agency and acquire the Sydney Kings men’s and Sydney Flames women’s basketball teams, where he is harnessing his thirst for innovation and excellence to achieve Australian basketball records. 

Innovation & Entrepreneurship Award (Group)

Glenn Farrant and Jahmai Lay, CEOs and Founders, Critical Arc

Jahmai Lay UOW Alumni Awards

Glenn Farrant and Jahmai Lay (pictured above) are outstanding entrepreneurs who have transformed the security industry with their innovative SafeZone application. Developed during their founding residency at UOW’s iAccelerate Startpad, SafeZone has fundamentally changed how incident detection and response occurs in tertiary education, healthcare, transportation, aerospace and other industries, making campuses and workplaces safer in more than 80 countries around the world. 

Research & Scholarship Award

Distinguished Professor Omowunmi Sadik, Director, BioSMART Center, New Jersey Institute of Technology

A collage of a researcher performing chemsitry in a lab, then at UOW gradaution.

Professor Omowunmi Sadik is a widely respected and influential chemist, researcher and trailblazer in her field. Professor Sadik has been awarded numerous fellowships, including Harvard University’s Distinguished Radcliffe Fellowship, in recognition of her accomplishments in science, innovation and research. She holds five US patents for her groundbreaking biosensor and sustainable nanotechnology inventions and is a co-founder of the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization. 

Arts & Culture Award

Dr Virginia Keft, Artist, Curator and First Nations Producer

UOW Alumni Awards Dr Virginia Keft

Dr Virginia Keft is a proud Muruwari woman and an award-winning researcher in her field. She is a queer, multi-disciplinary artist and curator and First Nations producer. Dr Keft has produced and curated artistic and cultural programs that celebrate and recognise the continuity of culture and important contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples have made and continue to make. Her role as an emerging leader has been recognised by her inclusion in the National Gallery of Australia’s 2022 Indigenous Art Leadership Program, confirming her as an artist at the forefront of contemporary art practice.