Finalists announced
Tuesday 28 September

Voting: Spirit of VU – People’s Choice Award
Tuesday 28 September – Wednesday 6 October, 11.59pm

Alumni Awards Online Celebration
Thursday 28 October, 6pm

Congratulations to the 2021 Alumni Awards finalists!

With over 260,000 alumni globally, the Victoria University (VU) Alumni Awards recognise those alumni who are making a powerful and positive difference in our community – and our world – against the backdrop of an era-defining global pandemic.

We are thrilled to share with you the finalists for our 2021 Alumni Awards. These remarkable finalists have excelled in their chosen careers and are shaping the world around them. Victoria University is built on the successes of our alumni and we are proud of the contribution these finalists are making to the west of Melbourne, to our nation and on the global stage.

Read about our finalists and join us to find out the winner in each category on Thursday 28 October at 6pm!

Finalists for the 2021 Alumni Awards

Lifetime Achievement Award finalists

Agus Mahfudin Soedarsa
Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering)

After taking early retirement from Chevron Geothermal Indonesia, Agus established Cipta Bangun Nusantara (CBN) Indonesia – an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contractor that specialises in geothermal exploration and development projects.

Agus has helped local communities with local business development projects, training and seminars on occupational health, construction work safety. Under CBN’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) program, Agus has implemented a scholarship program for university students who wish to complete their studies.

In January 2020, Agus presented a public lecture about the preparation of geothermal exploration project to the final year students at University of Indonesia, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, geothermal industry participants and government officials.

Agus reflects, “I need passion, enthusiasm and deep understanding of the local cultures whereas they have limited understanding to work in the international companies that have high standard of safety.”

Dr Andi Diamond
Doctor of Business Administration

With a career dedicated to public service, Andi started out as a social worker at the first Sexual Assault Clinic at Queen Victoria Hospital where she worked with very young children who had been sexually abused. Her invaluable experience then saw her coordinating and training child protection workers, psychiatric service staff and Victoria Police in interview techniques with children under the age of six. Since then, Andi has moved from a career in psychotherapy to management in local government.

She has been at a senior manager level at councils including Boroondara and Melton, and has been the CEO of both Yarra and Monash City Councils. As the current CEO of the City of Monash, Andi established a regional forum advocating for social housing in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne that has now committed councils to buy land for social housing and implement the multibillion dollar State Government social housing program.

Andi has also been the President Metropolitan Fire Brigade Services (MFBS), was part of the inaugural board for Respect Victoria, and Director at St John Ambulance. Known for her passion for people, her CEO’s office door is always open.

Craig Tyzzer
Bachelor of Arts (Urban Studies)

Having enjoyed a professional tennis career, Craig has spent more than 30 years nurturing and supporting emerging Australian tennis players. Having supported the careers of Ashleigh Barty, Todd Woodbridge and Andrew Ilie, Craig was awarded Coach of the Year – High Performance in 2017 by Tennis Australia. He was also awarded Coach of the Year in 2019 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which acknowledges his wider contribution to the sport and mentorship of young female professionals.

From 2012–2021 Craig was the National Academy Coach at Tennis Australia and has contributed to the development of hundreds of young aspirational tennis players and the sport framework that supports them for 40 years. His work is both specific to the level of individual athletes and more broadly covers national squads and the global tennis community.

Since 2016 when she announced her return to professional tennis, Craig has worked as the private coach for Ashleigh Barty. He has guided her from winning her first WTA Tour singles title while ranked in the low 300s to World Number 1 and a Grand Slam champion in less than five years.

Craig also works behind the scenes to support and develop young females in the game. He serves as a Gold Member on the WTA Coach Program, which organises conferences and workshops aimed at advancing women’s tennis.

Que Tang
Certificate in Workplace Leadership

Arriving in Australia as a refugee in 1978, Que studied English as a Second Language (ESL) at Footscray College of TAFE in 1979, and completed a Certificate in Workplace Leadership after she was employed in the Indo-Chinese Welfare Officer at Victoria University (VU).

Always looking for ways she could help students, Que started a free breakfast program for VU’s City campus during winter when she realised that many students missed breakfast before classes. A very successful program, Que sourced free breakfast cereal, working with the Student Engagement to team cover other costs.

Que's career, helping new migrants access education so they could get jobs and start their own businesses in their new homeland, was one she found hugely enjoyable.

She continues to support Victoria University students in her retirement by donating to the Student Support fund.

Professional Achievement Award finalists

Firas Shawash
Master in Fire Safety and Risk Engineering

After migrating to Australia from Jordan 2008, Firas completed a Master in Fire Safety and Risk Engineering at Victoria University. Since graduating, Firas has made a significant mark in the fire safety industry. As a committee member of three of the most important Australian standards committees in the fire industry, Firas participates in the processes that make sure that fire standards reflect the most advanced technology, ensuring safety and reliability of products and services.

At the age of 37, Firas received the Barry Lee Technical Excellence Award, by the Fire Protection Association of Australia. This award recognises the highest individual contribution to the fire protection industry and is usually awarded to veterans of the industry.

In 2021, Firas was interviewed as an outstanding Australian engineer by Create magazine, the official magazine of Engineers Australia. Firas enjoys sharing his knowledge with graduates, junior and senior engineers, equipping them with the right knowledge and skills to assess fire safety issues in buildings.

Sabrina Melisa Aripen
Bachelor of Business (Accounting)

A young mother at 19, Sabrina enrolled in Victoria University in Malaysia and successfully completed an accounting degree.

As a survivor of domestic violence, Sabrina uses her experiences to realise her vision of a better and fairer world. Passionate about women’s rights, Sabrina’s decided to start a not-for-profit – the Society for Equality, Respect and Trust for All Sabah (SERATA). Based on her own observations while working with other local organisations on women’s rights, Sabrina looks to find different ways to end gender inequality, especially those that involve engaging men and boys.

Sabrina has also worked for World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) in Malaysia, helping organise the annual Earth Hour event. More recently, she organised several online panel sessions in 2021, including on women’s history and working mothers as part of her work with SERATA.

Sabrina is currently mentoring a number of VU students on a group project, which focuses on healthy relationships as part of their business degree.

Abiola (Abi) Akinbiyi
Bachelor of Nursing (Graduate Entry)

While working as a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) in residential aged care, Abi developed a passion for nursing. When an opportunity came up to study a Bachelor of Nursing at VU, Abi quickly enrolled. Though it was hard balancing family, work and study, Abi tells us she felt VU supported her to study while raising a family. Since then, Abi has forged a career in nursing which has also progressed onto clinical teaching.

Since 2012, Abi has been CEO of T-Glam events, winning the 2018 Afroshine Award (Business and Entrepreneurship) as well as recently completing the Foundation Directorship course with the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). She has sat on the the Board of Directors at Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) since 2019 and in September 2021, was appointed as the first Community Representative Commissioner of Nigerian descent with the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

In her community, Abi also coordinates the annual African Day Gala Dinner – the largest African Australian gala dinner in Victoria. As Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee leader with Wyndham Harbour, Rotary Club she was part of a team project with primary school children about peace. As the founder of the Changeprenuers group, her passion project, she mentors young African Australian women.

Erin Finnigan
Bachelor of Laws

Since graduating in 2006, Erin has risen rapidly through the ranks of the Office for Public Prosecutions (OPP) to the role of Principal Solicitor; the highest legal position available at the OPP. Erin has prosecuted the most serious offences on behalf of the state in all courts of the criminal jurisdiction, with a focus on serious sex offences. Her record of success in high-profile cases is testimony to her skills and energy, reflecting her strong balance of compassion as well as legal rigour as an expert practitioner.

As the first member of her family to graduate from university, Erin understands how daunting it is to seek out career success as a female in what is still a largely male dominated profession. Erin’s experience as a mentor started with the VU Law school mentor program and she counts this work as one of her greatest achievements.

Erin continues to mentor young lawyers at the OPP and coordinates the Women in Crime Mentoring program, pairing legal practitioners from across the profession to connect, educate and support female practitioners in criminal law.

Darren James O'Connor
Bachelor of Applied Science (Mathematics and Computing)

Cultivating his passion for the leading edge of technology in all its aspects, Darren graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Mathematics and Computing) at the then Footscray Institute of Technology (FIT). Over that time Darren’s love for logic and applied IT grew through real-world projects.

Employing his knack for identifying root causes of systems problems, Darren conducted consulting contract work in Tattersalls and Telstra in Australia and Motorola and Sherwood Computer Services in the UK. Darren stepped into his first senior position in 2001 as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of The Reject Shop. He oversaw the expansion of the company to 130 Victorian and 330 national stores. Darren was personally involved in GS1 (not-for-profit) industry working groups, as well as supporting team members to contribute to developing industry standards (e.g. logistics label standard, interoperability standards and best practices). Darren is also a regular speaker at industry forums.

Currently working for Körber Supply Chain Asia Pacific (APAC), Darren was instrumental in implementing multi-channel retail for Gucci Australia by working with the development team to spearhead robotic integration. Darren’s significant voluntary contribution to Scouting Victoria was formally recognised in 2014 with a Special Service Award from the Victorian Governor and he has sat on the School Board for Strathmore Secondary College for six years, providing advice on the re-development of the school grounds.

Andrew Shea
Graduate Certificate in Vocational Education and Training

For the past 17 years, Andrew has held Senior Management and Executive level positions across a range of post-secondary education sector providers. Currently he is CEO of Builders Academy Australia which was recognised as the Victorian Small Training Provider of the Year in 2018 and 2020 and a finalist in the New South Wales Small Training Provider of the Year awards.

Andrew has personally delivered Nationally Recognised Qualifications to more than three thousand students in areas of Hospitality Management, Business Management, Leadership and Management and Training and Education.

He has driven a culture of supporting diversity, been recognised as a Male Champion for Change by Top 100 Women in 2020, and continues the partnership with them by hosting female industry leaders to speak to students and provides paid membership to all current female students and staff. Such initiatives have supported a 200% growth in female students across the last 18 months in his organisation.

This year was Andrew’s eighth Vinnies CEO Sleepout and he supports Movember, aiming to reduce male suicide as young construction workers are a higher risk group.

Rising Star Alumni Award finalists

Ashley Masocha
Bachelor of Information Technology

Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2014, Ashley has had to overcome enormous hurdles to get to where he is today.

Not taking anything for granted, Ashley has completed a Bachelor of Information Technology and is now living independently, employed full-time in his chosen career as an IT Technical Officer/Customer Support.

Ashley also volunteers for the Australian Network on Disability, for VU at annual Open Days, as well as at the Yarraville Special Development School and an aged care centre in Flemington. He continues to spread his optimistic “let’s get on with it” attitude and show his gratitude to VU and the disability community for their support.

Emma Buis
Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Architectural Engineering)

“You can’t be what you can’t see” encapsulates NSW Female Engineer of the Year in 2020, Emma Buis.

Exposed to the construction industry from a young age, Emma is stepping up to help female students see a future in engineering. With a builder as her dad, she was always intrigued by the how and why buildings came together, and acknowledges her good luck in having had a supportive father. Emma believes it is her duty to inspire and support women who may not have been as lucky, though her involvement in the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Mentoring Program, and the Engineers Australia Mentoring Program.

Emma has led major metropolitan projects across three states. She was the lead structural engineer for the iconic Pitt Street South Metro project in Sydney and was heavily involved in the construction of Unilodge at VU’s Footscray Park campus. Yet, she manages to stay connected to her country roots. She told us “I am really excited to be the structural engineer on the upcoming Harrietville Community Hall Upgrade, which is the centre-point of my hometown. The opportunity to work with my father, a local builder who built the original hall 40+ years ago, will be something to remember.”

Lauren Richardson
Bachelor of Health Science, Dermal Therapies

Lauren always wanted to be a vet but after a science teacher told her she would never amount to anything in science, left school at the end of year 10.

Lauren completed a Bachelor of Health Science, Dermal Therapies at VU. She developed a passion for medicine during her time at VU and pursued a career in medicine while working full time as a beauty therapist. She studied hard, volunteered at the hospital and completed her bachelor and master degrees in medical research and public health/global health while living in Sydney.

In 2020, 20 weeks pregnant, Lauren went to work with the epidemiologists in the Department of Health working on Victoria’s COVID-19 response. She returned to work four months after giving birth and was quickly promoted to Senior Advisor. With two children under five, she works closely with the Chief Health Officer, drawing on strong technical expertise to provide authoritative public health advice and analysis of policy, reasoned recommendations and innovative solutions to complex and sensitive issues.

“It’s never too late! I have always felt VU gave me the opportunity to realise my own potential and I attribute my success as a future leader in public health to VU.”

Lucienne Galea

Lucienne Galea
Bachelor of Laws (Graduate Entry) – First Class Honours

With only eighteen months experience, Lucienne achieved the position of Senior Associate at her law firm – no mean feat for someone so young.

Even while working on complex cases, including one in which she helped a client to reduce approximately $8 million worth of debt to around $200,000 by implementing a successful personal insolvency agreement, Lucienne finds the time to give back. She volunteers as the Secretary and Vice President of Williamstown Community Education Centre (WCEC), a childcare centre and education training centre for children and adults, particularly migrants looking to develop skills so that they can find work.

“My work at WCEC has me providing governance and legal advice to ensure compliance with constantly changing regulations in these trying times. Given the great performance of the centre (including during the pandemic) we are expanding the centre to be able to provide more services and lessons to the Hobsons Bay community.”

Luke Henderson
Certificate III in Bricklaying/Blocklaying CPC30111

While studying for a Certificate III in Bricklaying/Blocklaying CPC30111 at VU Polytechnic, Luke was nominated for the Apprentice of the Year award.

These days, he works full time as a bricklayer but also has his own YouTube channel where he hopes to inspire young bricklayers and tradies. He really enjoys making video tutorials and showing off his work, regularly receives admiring messages. Luke is always hoping to inspire others to step out of their comfort zone and start their own business.

For Luke, helping others find their feet is also really important. Luke says, “through my hobby of playing football, I have been able to get to know the local community on a deeper level. Often I hear about mates who are not able to get employment and I offer them a trial in my business, Hendo’s Bricklaying. I try my best to get the best out of people by providing opportunities.”

Tom White
Bachelor of Sports Science (Physical Education) (Secondary)
Masters of Teaching (Secondary Education)

Bringing communities together and working for equality for the next generation of Australians are Tom’s passions in life. Tom currently works full time as a first-year high school teacher at the Ignatius Learning Centre, a small secondary school for adolescent boys who have disengaged from mainstream schooling, and for boys who can’t find a school after leaving the justice system.

For more than three years, Tom volunteered with a charity called Helping Hoops. Now, as Head Coach, Tom help realise Helping Hoops’ vision of using basketball to inspire, empower and support children and young people. Tom also volunteers as a basketball coach for the Yarra Wild Beasts, a South Sudanese-based club that traditionally draws on boys and girls who live in public housing. During lockdowns, he helped deliver PPE to families living in inner city public housing, providing advice and support in a culturally appropriate manner.

Tom’s final research project at VU was on the barriers adolescent girls face to get involved in sport, embracing his responsibility to help break down barriers for young women.

Award categories

Found out more about the award categories on the Alumni Awards page.

Award recipient recognition

The winning award recipient in each category will receive:

  • a trophy
  • recognition within the VU and wider community for their outstanding achievements
  • an invitation to participate in VU events during the year of their tenure.

Key dates 2021

  • Shortlisted nominees announced: Friday 28 September
  • Voting opens, Spirit of VU Alumni Award: Tuesday 28 September
  • Voting closes, Spirit of VU Alumni Award: Wednesday 6 October, 11.59pm
  • Award winners announced at the Alumni Awards Online Celebration: Thursday 28 October, 6pm

Past Finalists

Lifetime Achievement Award finalists

Leslie Collins

Leslie Collins graduated as an electrical engineer from Victoria University’s predecessor institution Footscray Institute of Technology. Applying his engineering skills and following his passion for performance engines, Les has built one of Australia’s iconic Motorsport businesses, Les Collins Racing. Les’ thriving business building custom engines and transmissions played a leading role in elite rally and off-road competition from the 80s to today.

John Stanway

John Stanway was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, one of the world's leading children's hospitals, in 2017. Prior to this he was the Chief Operating Officer for more than ten years. Under John’s leadership, the hospital has increased the efficiency and quality of patient care. John has a Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations from Victoria University’s predecessor institution Footscray Institute of Technology.

Professional Achievement Award finalists

Maria Turnbull OAM

Maria Turnbull received an Order of Australia Medal in 2018 for service to the community through social welfare organisations. Through her work as a financial counsellor and lawyer, Maria’s professional objective is to empower people and communities to influence decisions affecting them. Maria has two degrees from Victoria University – Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Arts, and she works as a Senior Financial Counsellor for The Salvation Army.

Vedran Drakulic OAM

Vedran Drakulic OAM arrived in Australia in 1995 as a refugee from Bosnia, having worked for the Red Cross as a logistics officer, interpreter, and press officer during the conflict. In Australia, Vedran has continued to work for the benefit of the community with Australian Red Cross and Oxfam Australia, while also completing a Masters of Public Advocacy and Action from Victoria University. Vedran has been the CEO of Gandel Philanthropy since 2011, one of the largest family philanthropic foundations in Australia.

Deborah Borg

For more than 20 years Deborah Borg has held successful management roles in multinational companies, including her current role as Chief HR & Communications Officer at Bunge, a leading marketer of and processor of oilseeds and grains with 30,000 employees in more than 45 countries worldwide. As a senior executive, she promotes diversity and advocates for those who are unable to do so. Deborah holds a Bachelor of Business Management in Human Resources and a Master of Training and Change Management from Victoria University.

Januario Mok

Januario Mok is the Deputy Director at East Timor Development Agency, a not-for-profit training centre in Timor-Leste. Januario works with displaced youth on skills training, job support, and earning power. He was accepted on a scholarship to complete the Graduate Certificate in Vocational Education and Training at Victoria University, which he completed in 2013.

Greg Warnecke

Greg Warnecke has had a life in sport as a coach, team manager, and administrator. Greg received his Masters of Sport Business from Victoria University, laying the foundation for his distinguished global career of over 20 years. Now living in London, Greg was the Director of Operations for the successful 2019 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup, COO of the 2017 World Masters Games and Head of Sport for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Rising Star Alumni Award finalists

Mohamed Jamal Al-Sallal

Mohamed Jamal Al-Sallal is a Bilateral Affairs and Partnerships Coordinator for the United Arab Emirates Mission to the United Nations. In his role, he fosters international cooperation and serves as program manager to advance the role of women in post-conflict reconstruction. He volunteers at the Association of the UN Interns and is currently the president of the organisation. He studied a Bachelor of Business (International Trade & Marketing) at Victoria University.

Sameerah Arif

Sameerah Arif is a Blood Cancer Support Coordinator at the Leukaemia Foundation and a Medical Radiation Therapist, after having obtained a Bachelor of Biomedical Science from Victoria University. Sameerah has held many leadership roles in community and student programs. She has organised fundraising events and managed charity projects both in Victoria and overseas to support children and provide health care to those in need.

Sarah Oleksiuk

Sarah Oleksiuk has completed a Master of Project Management and Master of Business Administration at Victoria University. She works as a Program Advisory Manager at Aurecon (Engineering) and has experience spanning various fields, including aviation, education, health, government and construction project management. Sarah is a strong advocate for the inclusion and respect of women in this traditionally male-dominated industry and has held many volunteer roles to give back to the community.

Nathalie McLean

Nathalie McLean is a pioneer of change in the arts industry, supporting and creating opportunities for First Nation artists. She studied a Bachelor of Creative Arts Industries at Victoria University and draws on her Indigenous and Scottish backgrounds to inspire her work as an actress, director, cultural consultant and artist. Nathalie combines her creativity and passion for storytelling to run her two businesses: Junjurri Workshop, which teaches primary school students about the world’s oldest culture; and Yarning Circle Events, a cultural consultancy and First Nations events company.

Mark James Sacco

Mark James Sacco studied a Bachelor of Business (Accounting & Information systems) at Victoria University and is now the Chief Operating Officer at Light Project, a lighting solutions company. In his successful career, he has been recognised for his management skills, and has consulted and mentored clients one-on-one, striving to improve company processes and increase revenue. In his free time, Mark is a breakdancing performer and teacher for local dance schools and community events.

Alumni Awards 2020 Online Celebration

Contact us

For any queries, please contact the Alumni Relations Team at [email protected].