This year has been unlike any other in the history of The George Alexander Foundation (GAF). From the bushfires and floods that swept through Australia early this year to the life-altering onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, all GAF scholars and fellows experienced unprecedented challenges which they have faced with a mixture of resilience, adaptability and resolve.
Despite these challenges, we were delighted to welcome 85 scholars and five fellows into the GAF community and distribute over $1.7 million (2019–20) to our Scholarship and Fellowship Program partners in the ongoing support of these programs.
Notably, this year saw the Foundation establish its first scholarship program at The University of South Australia (UniSA). The GAF Regional Scholarship Program will support commencing students from regional and rural backgrounds who are required to relocate to Adelaide to pursue their educational goals. We look forward to welcoming the first cohort of GAF UniSA scholars in 2021.
In February, the GAF team hosted a Future Leaders Seminar to provide our community with the leadership skills and professional toolkit needed to advance their studies and careers. We were happy to see scholars and alumni from all our Victorian partner institutions attend. The half-day workshop – covering empathic leadership, communication styles, boundary setting and personal management skills – was recorded and is available to all GAF scholars, fellows, and alumni to view online in two parts (Workshop part 1, part 2).
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures in March, our team – Program Manager Mairead Phillips and Communications Officer Nina Beer – adapted the usual plans for in-person scholar networking events with each of our partner universities and held virtual get-togethers via Zoom instead.
Moving to virtual events allowed us to connect with our scholars despite social-distancing restrictions and to hear about the unique challenges scholars faced this year. The adjustment to online learning; impacts on employment, university placements and internships, mental health, and living arrangements; plus the loss of overseas travel opportunities, were deeply felt across the GAF community. We are proud of how GAF scholars and fellows navigated these challenges, often viewing them as lessons to take away from this uncertain time. We thank them for generously sharing their insights during the virtual scholar events.
Intended as a safe and inclusive platform for our scholars to speak honestly about their experiences, these events also allowed the GAF team to stay connected with scholars and understand their concerns and needs during the year. As always, we hope the virtual get-togethers helped GAF scholars to connect with each other, forming a sense of community, especially while unable to attend classes on campus. The GAF team plans to capitalise on the success of these virtual events by expanding the calendar of events we host in future years, to connect scholars from our different partner universities in a national engagement program.
Throughout the year, the GAF team emphasised the importance of prioritising mental health and wellbeing, especially during times of uncertainty. Through sharing mental health resources, discussing mental wellbeing and encouraging scholars to check in with themselves, we strived to provide our community with the tools to develop healthy mental habits, speak up when struggling personally and maintain a sense of wellbeing and emotional strength. We will continue to have an open dialogue on this important topic in the years to come and hope that our scholars will carry on these conversations in their communities as advocates for mental health awareness.
Finally, I would like to take the chance to thank our Foundation staff for the dedication and sensitivity they have shown while overseeing the Foundation’s work and listening to the needs of our community throughout this year.
As 2021 approaches, we look forward to hearing about our community in a COVID-normal Australia and how scholars and fellows capitalise on opportunities that will be available to them as restrictions ease. Until next year, we hope you take care, enjoy time with your loved ones and stay safe.
Charles Goode AC