Exceptional researchers and leaders recognised in Australia Day Honours
Senior Professor Julie Steele, Professors Judy Raper and Sarah Miller honoured for dedication, innovation and leadership
Three of the University of Wollongong’s leading researchers have had their hard work and dedication to improving the lives of others recognised during the 2019 Australia Day Honours List, announced on Saturday 26 January.
Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Judy Raper, Senior Professor Julie Steele and Professor Sarah Miller will each be named a Member of the Order of Australia, known as an AM, which is bestowed by the Governor-General.
Established in 1975, the Australian Honours List recognises men and women for their outstanding contributions that have made a difference to Australian life and to humanity at large.
University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE congratulated Senior Professor Steele, Professor Miller and Professor Raper for their commitment and contribution to the University, the community, and the nation.
“Senior Professor Steele, Professor Miller and Professor Raper are all incredible researchers, inspiring leaders, and valued members of the UOW community,” Professor Wellings said. “Their passion for their work, and their commitment to supporting and mentoring the next generation of female scientists, engineers and performers is inspiring at every level.
“Gender equality is critical to an organisation’s success and crucial for society as a whole, particularly in the traditionally male-focused STEM disciplines. Professor Steele and Professor Raper, and their work in their respective fields, are a testament to the importance of ensuring research is representative of all of society.
“Professor Miller has similarly dedicated her career to enriching the lives of others by helping them expand their creativity, explore new ideas and pursue causes that benefit society.
“On behalf of the entire UOW community, I thank Professor Steele, Professor Miller and Professor Raper for their remarkable contributions to the University and congratulate them on their achievements.”
Senior Professor Julie Steele
Senior Professor Julie Steele has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, for her exceptional research and her dedication to improving the lives of women.
An expert in the field of biomechanics – which she describes as “physics applied to the body” - Professor Steele began her career in a different occupation. She is still amazed at the trajectory her life has taken.
“Like all girls in those days, I really had two options. I could be a teacher or a nurse, so I chose teaching,” Professor Steele says.
“I loved sport, so I studied PE [physical education] Teaching, but there were so many teachers in those days that there were no jobs available.”
Senior Professor Julie Steele AM. Photo: Paul Jones
Professor Steele, who said as a young girl growing up in Tasmania she had never considered a career in science, decided to try something different. From her home in Sydney, she moved to the University of Western Australia, with the aim of turning her teaching diploma into a degree.
“I studied under Professor Bruce Elliott, who was an expert in biomechanics. I had loved sport growing up. I played netball and it was my life. When I finished my degree, and saw there were no female biomechanists, I realised there was a gap,” she said. “I began my Honours, which focused on knee ruptures in female netball players.”
After completing her Honours degree, Professor Steele relocated to Wollongong to take up a one-year contract at the then Wollongong Institute of Education. Now, 36 years later, she is still here and still as passionate as ever about her research and her students.
She is the founder and Director of UOW’s renowned Biomechanics Research Laboratory, and Breast Research Australia, which focuses on reducing breast discomfort so all women can participate in sport and physical activity.
Professor Steele’s work has covered the breadth of the human body, from researching the impact of obesity on children, safe footwear to help prevent falls in elderly women, creating wearable technologies for women suffering from lymphedema, designing the ‘Bionic Bra’—a high-tech, comfortable sports bra to provide support for women—and working with surfers on innovative 3D-printed surfboard fins.
“Much of my research has focused on making life better for women,” Professor Steele said. “This area of research has been largely ignored. It’s not because researchers are trying to be sexist, but rather, in male-dominated fields, they just haven’t thought about it.”
Among her achievements, Professor Steele has published more than 300 papers in prestigious journals worldwide. In 2005, she was awarded the NSW Telstra Business Women of the Year; she is the past president of the International Society of Biomechanics, the first Australian to hold the position; and she is one of only 44 biomechanists worldwide to be elected to the World Council of Biomechanics.
Professor Steele was overwhelmed to discover she was on the 2019 Australia Day Honours List, but has been struggling to keep it a secret from her family and friends for the past few weeks.
“You don’t start a career planning for achievements like this, you don’t expect rewards,” she said. “It was out of the blue but such a lovely feeling. Just being nominated is the greatest honour and I’m so glad I can now shout it from the rooftops.”
Professor Judy Raper
Professor Raper has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her dedication to research and innovation, and her commitment to leadership, particularly among women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
A chemical engineer with expertise in air and water pollution control, Professor Raper spent 10 years at the helm of UOW’s Research and Innovation Division before departing at the end of 2018.
She is now based in London, where she has joined a start-up, run by the PLuS Alliance, a partnership between UNSW, King’s College London and Arizona State University, that aims to teach and nurture the engineers of the future.
Professor Raper was appointed Deputy-Vice Chancellor (Research), which was later expanded to include the Innovation portfolio, at UOW in 2008.
Professor Judy Raper AM. Photo: Paul Jones
Her career has been dedicated to blazing a trail for women in engineering. Professor Raper was the first Australian women to graduate from the University of New South Wales with a degree in chemical engineering, and her work has taken her from top positions education and policy in United States, to the United Kingdom, and back home to Australia.
Among her many roles, she has been Director of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, and Chair of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, as well as holding teaching positions at the University of Sydney, the University of Newcastle, and UNSW.
Acknowledged as a world expert in the area of fine particle technology, particularly as it relates to air and water pollution, Professor Raper now sits at the top of her profession with a long list of accolades and awards to her name. In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Ada Lovelace Medal from UNSW’s Faculty of Engineering, an honour bestowed on Australia’s top female engineer.
Throughout these roles, and her time at UOW, Professor Raper passionately advocated for the importance of increasing gender diversity in STEM. She was inspired by her own difficulties in forging a path in the traditionally male-dominated fields early in her career.
“I was good at maths and chemistry at school, and I went to a workshop at the University of NSW when I was in Year 10 or 11,” she told UOW's The Stand. “It was with chemical engineers and was about industrial chemistry and chemical engineering and they made things and that was interesting.
“But the thing that really got me into it was one of my brother’s friends, who said, ‘Don’t do engineering. It’s very difficult’. So I said, ‘Well …!’ It made me want to do it. I really had no idea what it was all about, I just lucked into something that I was good at and enjoyed.”
Fuelled by that desire to prove the naysayers wrong, Professor Raper has paid it forward throughout her working-life, mentoring countless female engineers, and academics from other fields, during her 40-year career.
During her time at UOW, she spearheaded the launch of the Athena Swan Science in Gender Equity Pilot, which aims to boost gender diversity in STEMM, culminating in the University receiving a Bronze Institution Award in 2018.
She has overseen a 228 per cent increase in research funding, as well as the creation of the Global Challenges Program, Early Start Research Institute, iAccelerate, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage.
Professor Raper said she was delighted to be selected in the Australia Day Honours List, but proud that the spotlight would be placed on the importance on research.
“I am truly honoured and grateful that the work I have done in encouraging UOW research to be the best it can be is recognised,” she said.
“I’ve just been doing my job so don’t really think awards like that are necessary but it’s really humbling to be included. It’s great for UOW and for academia, the STEM disciplines and higher education in general that the importance of research is recognised.”
Professor Sarah Miller
Professor Sarah Miller was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for “significant service to the performing arts through research, education and advisory roles.”
Professor Miller is Professor of Performance in the School of the Arts, English and Media.
She was initially appointed as Head of the School of Music and Drama in what was then the Faculty of Creative Arts in 2007, then served as Associate Dean-Research from 2011 to 2013, and Head of School of the Arts, English and Media from 2013 until 2018.
Her industry leadership has encompassed the university, not for profit and government arts sectors, having held creative and executive director roles in two of Australia’s leading contemporary arts organisations, provided expert advice to federal and state government statutory bodies and was a founding Board Member of the Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (DDCA).
Professor Sarah Miller AM.
Professor Miller has strived to be what inspired her. When asked in a media interview in 2015 about what inspired her she said: “Artists, activists and researchers – the people who make things, or make things happen, or think new possibilities into being.”
Throughout her career she has used her positions to further several causes close to her heart, particularly equality and respect for indigenous art and artists, the rights of women and environmental sustainability.
Professor Miller said she felt honoured and humbled to receive the award and hoped it would inspire others.
“I am quite overwhelmed by the faith and confidence in me expressed by my colleagues and peers in the arts who nominated me for this award.
“I hope this award inspires creative arts graduates from UOW to do amazing things and to advocate for the arts in Australia.
“I also hope current creative arts students will see there are pathways and opportunities for them to make a positive contribution as an artist and educator and that their contribution can make a difference and be recognised,” she said.