Kelli Wells

Distinguished educator appointed Emeritus Professor of UOW

Professor Jan Wright recognised for contribution to physical and health education, gender and social inequality study

Professor Jan Wright’s story began in another steel city, Newcastle, as the eldest of three girls.

She attended a state primary school in a working class area and could see the smoke from the steelworks from their windows.

It is from these working class beginnings that her interest in social justice began, leading to a distinguished career in education and research.

Professor Jan Wright’s outstanding contribution to the study of gender and social inequality in the field of education - particularly, physical and health education - was recognised this week when she was appointed Emeritus Professor of UOW.

She has had a distinguished career with UOW and recently retired from her role as Professor of Physical Health and Education and former Professorial Fellow of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Professor Wright said it was her father who most shaped her political dispositions that informed her work as a teacher and researcher.

“He was a staunch Labor supporter and a union leader in his workplace,” Professor Wright said. “He was respectful of others, especially those with little power.

“He was very supportive of education but not as a means to deny or erase my recognition of my working class roots.

“His early teachings have provided me with a lens to recognise marginalities and to orient my work in the university towards social justice.”

Professor Wright’s interest in sport meant becoming a physical education teacher was a logical choice.

After graduating she began her career teaching physical and health education at Grantham High School in Sydney’s western suburbs.

In 1976 she was appointed lecturer in health and physical education at the Wollongong Institute of Education (which amalgamated with the UOW in 1981).

During these early years she completed a masters degree, which introduced her to sociology, a subject she described as “a whole new and exciting world of scholarship”.

Her doctoral study introduced her to feminist scholarship and linguistics and opened up ways of thinking and researching that were at the time, relatively unknown in the field of physical education.

“This led to my becoming a leader in the field of health and physical education, particularly in relation to feminist research and later, in critical studies of health."  

This work included challenging gendered practices in schools, particularly physical education, and challenging damaging body ideals.

Most recently Professor Wright’s work dealt with challenging the preoccupation with obesity by pointing to the damaging effects of “such a focus on children and young people’s meanings of health and their ideas of their worth”.

“For me, this is what it means to be an educator… don’t be afraid to think differently and to speak up when and where you can, particularly in the name of social justice and those less powerful than yourselves.”

Professor Wright held several key positions at UOW including Director, Physical and Health Education Program (1996-1999) and Associate Dean Research (2001-2007) with the Faculty of Education.

She also acted in the position of Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) in 2008 and has held the role of Professorial Fellow for the Faculty of Social Sciences for the past five years.

Professor Wright has been a state and national advisor on gender issues in school-based education and has been influential in the adoption of more socio-critical position in state and national curriculum.

She has published more than 100 journal articles and book chapters and edited or authored nine books.

She has supervised 40 doctoral students and 20 honours students, with many continuing their research trajectory and practicing in the field.

In 2014 she was made the first Distinguished Fellow of the Australian Association for Research in Education for outstanding service and contribution.

As early as 2008, she was an executive member and Distinguished Fellow of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), the peak body for educational research dissemination in Australia.

Internationally, she has been recognized by the British Educational Research Association (BERA), and in 2011 was invited to present the highly distinguished Scholar Lecture.

Posted in Education
Tagged: Education, graduation