PhD grads, giving and grants good for university college status at Avondale

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The robing of Dr Bernadene Erasmus featured as part of Avondale College of Higher Education’s graduation ceremony in 2017. (Photo: Jared Martin)

Research featured prominently during Avondale’s graduation ceremony as the college of higher education enters the final stage of its application for university college status.

The presentation of awards during the ceremony on Sunday (December 10) began with the robing of Drs Bernadene Erasmus and Jason Hinze. They are Avondale’s eighth and ninth Doctor of Philosophy graduands.

Erasmus used a mixed methods inquiry to examine the factors making an impact on the recruitment, experience and retention of volunteers in an Australian faith-based organisation. While Hinze, the secondary education course convenor at Avondale, asked about the nature of the impact of professional experience in a developing country on pre-service teachers and their stories of self.

Avondale graduated its first Doctor of Philosophy student in 2011. More are coming, with enrolment in the degree and in the Master of Philosophy increasing this year to 37 and 16 respectively.

The ceremony also included the first graduands from the Graduate Diploma in Lifestyle Medicine. The course is delivered by staff members in the Lifestyle Research Centre. The centre continues to lead in the study of lifestyle medicine and grow its contribution to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s comprehensive health strategy. It received a record $A230,000 in offerings and donations this past year, which has enabled it to offer not one but three Pacific Partnership Scholarships. The scholarships provide seed money to Pacific islanders to begin postgraduate studies in lifestyle medicine. It will empower those with influence to share their knowledge with those in their communities, many of which are now having to meet the challenge of treating lifestyle-related chronic conditions.

"We need to be excellent now if we are to make it to where we want to be."

Offerings and donations are one form of income. Competitive grants are another. Avondale received more than $353,000 from these this year. It also appointed a first homegrown professor, Brett Mitchell, whose prolific publication and competitive grant record gives his infection control research national profile.

The growing list of higher degree by research graduates, the giving and granting of money for research and the appointing and promoting of research active staff members “is all good news,” says president Professor Ray Roennfeldt, “because excellence in research enhances student learning.”

Excellence is one of Avondale’s values. Roennfeldt addressed it with reference to the application for university college status in his remarks during the ceremony. “[Our] vision is to be a quality Australian Christian university. We need to be excellent now if we are to make it to where we want to be.”

Graduation class grows and gives, too

Some 334 graduands—the third largest class—were eligible to march during the ceremony. Swelling the size of the class: graduands of the Diploma of Community Health Education. However, the Bachelor of Nursing provides the largest number of graduands—105—from any one course, and nursing from any one discipline.

“We’re still producing large numbers of students who leave our campuses committed to the call, the call to go and serve their church and its mission or to serve in their community,” says Roennfeldt, who presents their testamurs. “I’m proud of who they are and of what they represent.”

The ceremony began with the sound of several didgeridoos as students of Alex Nean, the community liaison officer on the Wallsend campus of Callaghan College, offered a welcome to country.

The class gift, announced during the valedictory service on Saturday (December 9), surprised members of Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church. The gift is a donation to help fund the refurbishment and expansion of Cafe Rejuve, a ministry of the church.

“It’s our way of saying how thankful we are the church and the college have united,” says class co-president Adelaide Parkin. “They’ve worked to bridge a gap.”

The residents of the men’s and women’s residences on the Lake Macquarie campus are responding. “We feel more empowered to do things in church,” says Parkin, “and more of us are regularly attending church.” Roennfeldt says the donation is an important gift because “it will encourage more students to interact on campus. The cafe’s like an informal student centre, but this one’s attached to the church.

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