University Fellowship awarded to Kay Kent

Kay Kent: A legacy of care and community at UOW

Kay Kent: A legacy of care and community at UOW

“Be friendly to everyone. It costs you nothing to smile and say hello to someone.”

For nearly three decades, Kay Kent has been instrumental in providing an exceptional experience for students at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

As Student Support Officer for the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health and the Administrator of the Student Health Alliance for Rural Populations (SHARP), Kay touched the lives of thousands of students, leaving an indelible mark on the University and its community.

Today, Kay’s outstanding contribution has been recognised with a University Fellowship for her exceptional service and improvement of students’ experiences as they embark on studies and careers in health. Kay says she is humbled by the award.

“I didn't even go to university, so for me, it's a very big honour.

“UOW was like my second home and second family. I worked there for nearly 30 years, and I still keep in contact with a lot of students.  I’ve been invited to student’s weddings, had a baby named after me. UOW’s been a big part of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at UOW,” Kay says.

A University Fellowship recognises outstanding achievement, exceptional service, and signficant contributions and is awarded to only a small number of people each year. Kay’s journey at UOW began 28 years ago and since then she has become an integral part of the University's support system, working to ensure that every student, regardless of background, received the care and assistance they needed to thrive.

Her dedication did not go unnoticed – Kay was twice awarded prestigious Vice Chancellor's Awards, in 2010 and 2015. However, it was her recognition by the National Rural Health Students Network (NRHSN) in 2009, with the award of Life Membership, that underscored the profound impact of her work beyond the campus walls.

Kay’s commitment to SHARP, particularly her dedication to supporting rural, Indigenous, and international students, earned her acknowledgement from the Wollongong City Council in the 2015 Australia Day Community Awards.

“I just loved the students. It was so rewarding seeing the Graduate School of Medicine begin, and then trying to encourage the students to go rural when they finished their degree,” Kay says.

One of Kay's enduring legacies was the Goodwill Hunting project. Initiated by Kay with fellow UOW community members Sylvia Sutton, Heidi de Coster, and Lynne Iverson, Goodwill Hunting aimed to provide incoming students with essential homewares donated by university staff and community members. What began as an act of practicality blossomed into a program that not only supported students' transition to university life but also fostered a sense of community and reciprocity.

“I had the idea that we needed an op shop on campus but there was no space at that time. So we started collecting goods that students might need to set up their homes,” Kay says.

“The first year we were in a little room behind the medical school. We had about 60 students show up the first time. Over the years it grew and we had about 1300 students lined up and everything went in about 30 minutes.

“The students love it, and they got so much out of it. It really built a sense of community. Goodwill Hunting helped international students connect – I’d walk along the line and ask where people were from and introduce them to other people in the line from the same country and get them talking.”

Goodwill Hunting wrapped up during the COVID years.

Kay's legacy at UOW is a testament to her unique combination of genuine concern for student welfare and dedication to community well-being.

In his support for Kay’s Fellowship, Emeritus Professor Peter Robinson, former Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor at UOW says, “Kay Kent personifies that rare individual who becomes the heartbeat of an organisation, over an extended period of time.

“Kay has an outstanding ability to interact with a wide range of people, both from within the University and the broader community. She has been an outstanding ‘people’s person’ within the University, who listened to others, led by example, and was not bound by the restrictions of organisational structures.

“She constantly identified issues, rallied the likeminded, and got on with the job with whatever resources could be uncovered or commandeered,” Professor Robinson says

“In doing so, Kay became for many staff and students, over many decades, the personification of the person who is always there with sound advice and new initiatives to address the host of issues that arise, but that tend to fall between the cracks.”