Board and Committee Members

Early Start board and advisory committee bring together professionals with a wide range of experience and knowledge from diverse backgrounds, and areas of influence, and with a passion for delivering transformational change and sustainable impact within the society that supports young children and families.

Board Members

Professor W Steven Barnett

Board member
Research and Advocacy
Committee Chair

Steven is a Board of Governors Professor and Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. His research includes studies of the economics of early care and education. Steven earned his PhD in economics at the University of Michigan. He has authored or co-authored more than 300 publications.

Headshot of Steven Barnett

Michael Betteridge

Board member
Discovery Space Committee member

Michael is General Manager, Tourism Development at the NRMA. Michael brings more than 20 years’ leadership experience in marketing, sales, business development and operations across a range of travel and tourism businesses.

Headshot Michael Betteridge

Elaine Henry OAM

Board member
Inclusion and Outreach Committee Chair 

Elaine spent the last 25 years of her executive career in health and education as CEO of the Cancer Council (NSW) and CEO of The Smith Family.  Elaine also chaired the Government’s Stronger Families and Communities partnership.  For the last ten years Elaine has continued her non-executive career on a myriad of boards mainly in the for-purpose and university sectors.

Headshot, Elaine Henry OAM

Melanie Kansil

Board Chair
Discovery Space Committee Chair
Finance & Fundraising Committee member

Melanie is an experienced corporate and start-up executive.  Currently co-founder of Serena App, Melanie was previously Chief Commercial Officer for The a2 Milk Company. She has an MBA from Stanford University and an AB in Physics from Harvard University. Melanie is on the Board of the Stanford Australia Association.  She loves travel, reading, board games and time with her family – preferably all together.

Headshot, Melanie Kansil

Lloyd Niccol

Board member
Finance and Fundraising Committee Chair

Lloyd is a Technology Development Manager and brings a wealth of experience in product development and sustainability. In addition, Lloyd is an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences and was an original Early Start Advisory Committee Member commencing in April 2015.

Headshot of Lloyd Niccol

Professor Glenn Salkeld

Board member
Research and Advocacy Committee Member

Glenn is former Executive Dean, Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities with the University of Wollongong.  Glenn is a health economist with over 30 years of experience in public health research and education. He worked for the World Health Organization, teaching economics and evidence-based medicine in countries including South Africa, India, Iran, Estonia, China and Hungary.

Head shot of Executive Dean of the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Glenn Salkeld

Committee members

Professor Ellen Frede

Research and Advocacy Committee Member

Ellen is Senior Co-Director at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University and Research Professor at the Graduate School of Education. She holds a Doctorate in developmental psychology, a Master’s degree in human development and a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

Ellen Frede, headshot

Megan Mitchell AM

Inclusion and Outreach Committee member

Megan was Australia's National Children's Commissioner from 25 February 2013 - 24 March 2020, former New South Wales Commissioner for Children and Young People, CEO of Australian Council of Social Services, and had roles in community and family services in NSW and the ACT. During her time as the commissioner, Megan focused on the rights and interests of children, the laws, policies and programs that impact on them.

Megan has practical expertise in child protection, foster and kinship care, juvenile justice, children’s services, child care, disabilities, and early intervention and prevention services, with qualifications in social policy, psychology and education.

Megan Mitchell standing infront of greenery

Professor Anthony Okely

Research and Advocacy Committee Member

Anthony Okely is a Senior Professor at UOW. He is a NHMRC Leadership Fellow (Level 2), and Theme Leader at the Illawarra Health & Medical Research Institute. He was Director of Research at Early Start from 2015-2020.

His research focuses on movement behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep) in children, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries. He currently leads an international study of movement behaviours in the early years called SUNRISE, which involves 41 countries, 245 of which are low- or middle-income.

He has published over 300 peer-reviewed journal articles that have been cited over 22,000 times. He has a h-index of 77. In 2019 he was recognised as a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher.


Professor Tony Okely standing in front of trees

Foundation Director

Professor Paul Chandler

Paul, a Bidjigal man, was the first Aboriginal person to be complete his PhD at UNSW in 1993. He is a former Australian Research Council Fellow (UNSW) and applied an Honorary Professor at UNSW. He still remains the most highly cited educational researcher in Australia for his research into cognitive science. Professor Chandler retired from UOW at the end of 2020 but remain a relentless pace. Professor Chandler is high in demand sitting on private, not-for-profit and government Boards. As the intellectual vision behind the $44 million Early Start Project, he remains the Foundation Chair of Early Start.


Headshot of Paul Chandler

Founding Funders

Chris and Barbara Abbott

The Early Start Discovery Space is operated and proudly supported by the University of Wollongong and was built with a generous $7 million donation by philanthropist Christopher Abbott, Director of the Abbott Foundation. The Abbott Foundation was created in 2009 by venture capitalist with the aim of providing learning opportunities for young children. Mr Abbott has a great passion for raising aspirations for young children and his generous donation has made our mission of sharing the power of play possible.

Chris and Barbara Abbott at Discovery space opening