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Pulse caught up with outgoing UNE Professional Staff representative, Ms Jane Schmude, to learn more about her time as a UNE Member of Council member:

Pulse: Did being a Council member meet your expectations?

At first it was really difficult. Not only was I, as a new Council member, learning about governance and how Council functions; it was the second year of Covid and all of our Council meetings were held by zoom., It was not easy to get to know the other Council members or to ask a quick question. As we just had  ‘Time for Change’ and the launch of ‘Future Fit’, there was a great deal to discuss in terms of strategy, risk and finances, and I found it a steep learning curve. We were unable to attend face-to-face training to learn about university governance because these sessions had all been cancelled due to COVIC restrictions across the country. I had to attend the Council committee meetings as well to learn about how they work and their role in informing and advising Council.

As time went on and we were able to meet on-campus, I found the experience began to meet my expectations.  We were able to more easily discuss in person the issues facing UNE, with all of the members of Council being able to contribute more fully. As we all have learnt from the past few years, it is much easier to converse and get to know people in person. I gained confidence and an understanding of how I can help to ensure that the professional staff are represented in the discussions. It was fantastic to work alongside the academic representative, Melanie Fillios, and the student representative, Emma Wellham. I have so much respect for them both and the time and energy they have given over the past two years.

It was a great experience to meet the other Councillors, to hear their perspectives and learn from them. I also want to say a big thank you to the Secretariat for what they do to support the Council and all of the members.

Pulse: What were the stand out moments? Both good and less than ideal?

My stand out moment was to graduate as a counsellor with my Graduate Diploma in Counselling, and at the same time to be part of the academic procession as a Councillor, at the April graduation this year.   On such a beautiful Autumn day, it was quite a moment to don my cap to the Chancellor whom I have worked with on Council for the past two years. When the Vice-Chancellor asked the graduates to celebrate by throwing their caps in the air, I had to think quickly as I knew it wouldn’t be a good look to throw my cap into the plants below!  I thought the next best thing was to raise it as high as I could!  I just loved being in that moment and having my family there. They have known how hard I’ve worked to achieve the qualification and honour the commitment on Council. I felt very happy that day.

However, it was a bittersweet time for me as in May last year I lost my eldest sister, Megan. She had been my inspiration to come to UNE in the first place and she had loved her experience living on campus and studying to be a teacher. I had some quiet tears on the graduation stage, thinking of how she had also graduated in the same place, and I felt the sadness of her passing.   At the same time, I was listening to Bernie Shakeshaft, who was there to humbly accept his Honorary Doctorate for the work he has done in building BackTrack, to help disadvantaged young people in our community. He’s an inspiration and it was great to hear his story. It made me contemplate on all of the hardships that people have been through, especially over the past couple of years. We need to be kind to ourselves and each other as we move towards a more hopeful time, and young people can look forward to all of the things that we enjoyed at that age.

One of the less than ideal times was seeing, with the other Councillors, the impacts on campus of the 2021 tornado. While it was shocking to see all of those beautiful old trees down and so many of our classic buildings damaged (some beyond repair) it was a sobering time. As a Council member you feel the enormous sense of responsibility, around the rebuilding and plans for recovery, and realise just how many staff and students will be impacted by the decisions. The Vice-Chancellor and Senior Executive team have worked so hard to ensure that everyone was safe during that time and also that we take this opportunity to plan for the future of the Armidale campus. We are getting there but it has been a very difficult time for UNE and those affected in Armidale.

A more positive stand-out moment, was touring all of the facilities in Armidale, which are working towards our goal of environmental sustainability, including Lake Zot and the Solar farm. I found that uplifting, and to also be invited to the UNE Smart Region Incubator (SRI) at Nova and hear from the entrepreneurs on their inventions and how the SRI is supporting each one. I learnt that a cow can weigh itself now and a tag on a sheep can detect if it has had lambs.  I have suggested that all staff have the chance to tour the facilities, to realise there are a lot of positive projects we are working on.

 Pulse: What did you learn from the experience?

It has given me a unique insight into how complex it is to oversee and be responsible for the operation and strategic vision of a university.  I was able to attend a course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors on University governance this year, and the experience brought home to me that a university is one of the most complex businesses for a governing board. As we all know, universities need to strictly adhere to government acts, regulations, laws and constant changes in government policies and funding arrangements, all the while remaining operational, competitive and serving our community and region well.   We had to respond to this challenge in the midst of the pandemic and the widespread environmental destruction on campus.

 As my UNE staff role is in student experience, that has kept me grounded to the issues that are facing our students, and I think this complemented my role on Council well.

Pulse: Would you do it again?

 Yes, if there was another opportunity in the future to be a Council member, I would definitely consider standing for election.  At this time, I am happy to have a break and focus on some projects which will serve our students.  I want to also support Kerrie Sheelah as the newly elected professional staff representative on Council.  Kerrie has so many years of experience at UNE and is passionate about its success. She will be great!  Congratulations to Kerrie.

Pulse: Any advice to other staff who may decide to stand in future?

I would encourage all staff members to consider standing for university committees, and seeing if you enjoy that role before standing for Council. It gives you insights, skills and confidence that you can take into your life and other roles. You feel proud to be representing others, and the experience makes you very aware of the responsibility you bear to ensure that the university prospers into the future.

Jane’s term ends on 20 August 2022. She will be replaced by incoming professional staff representative, Kerrie Sheelah.