Official Opening of the Engineering Learning Hub (ELH)

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Official Opening of the Engineering Learning Hub (ELH)


25 September 2015

Acknowledge traditional owners and elders.
Chancellor John M Dobson OAM, Chancellor, University of the Sunshine Coast.
The Hon Mal Brough MP, Member for Fisher, Minister for Defence Materiel and Science and Special Minister of State – and this is the first occasion that the university has had the opportunity to congratulate its local member on his appointment to the Ministry in the new Turnbull government.
Members of University Council, Executive and Committees.
University honoraries, donors, staff and students and community representatives.

And I’d like to particularly thank the many community leaders from across USC’s broader catchment area who are joining us in this celebration. Given the current negotiations regarding transfer of the USQ Fraser Coast campus to USC I’m particularly pleased to see the Mayor of Fraser Coast and the local member of state parliament both here today. Thank you Gerard and Ted.

Distinguished guests 

Welcome to the official opening of USC’s Engineering Learning Hub sponsored by the Federal Government’s Education Infrastructure Fund (Regional Priorities Round) or EIF.

In January 2013 the Federal Government announced USC’s success in gaining $30m EIF funding in support of the USC Engineering Learning Hub Project. The $37.2m program of work has involved enhanced collaboration between USC and the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in expanding provision of engineering education to produce more graduates to meet engineering skills shortages in regional Queensland.

The funding has provided USC the opportunity to build a state-of-the-art engineering facility here at our Sippy Downs Campus, incorporating leading-edge visualisation technologies for learning and teaching. While engineering is the core tenant, the technology will be a fantastic boost to many of our programs, education and training partners, local schools and the broader community. Construction and fit out of the ELH facility was completed in June 2015. The project also included establishing a visualisation facility at USQ Toowoomba.

And while I wouldn’t like to be accused of boasting I can’t resist emphasising that this really is one of the best teaching facilities of its type anywhere in the world. And we have it here on the Sunshine Coast. It joins the building we opened a year ago which has the best nursing simulation labs in Australia. Our commitment to being a front runner in learning and teaching excellence and simulation based technology is something that is setting us apart and will spread our reputation nationally and internationally.

It is perhaps prophetic that the country’s new Prime Minister is a champion of technology and its role in the future Australian economy. It’s a mantra that has always been on Mal Brough’s agenda and indeed on Wyatt Roy’s – the Member for Longman and newly appointed Assistant Minister for Innovation – he’s another local who has been a great supporter of USC. The stars do seem to be aligning for the type of institution we aspire to be.

So back to the building: 

This world class visualisation facility consists of two distinct spaces; the Visualisation Studio, containing the hybrid 2D/3D CAVE2TM system along with a number of breakout learning spaces, and the other is the Collaboration Studio designed to foster learning through collaboration in a technology rich environment, capped off with a huge 2D/3D enabled screen on which multiple sources (desktops, laptops, tablets, phones) can be shared.

The USC visualisation systems are based on technologies that were developed at the Electronic Visualisation Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois – Chicago. USC’s CAVE2 is the fourth of its kind in the world; there is a similar system at the eResearch Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, and two smaller systems at EVL and Raytheon (defense industry) in the United States.

USC will be a leader in using this 3D immersive technology for learning and teaching purposes (the other three systems are used primarily for research). This opens a range of opportunities to further enhance our learning and teaching and student outcomes.

Visualisation using 3D and virtual reality allows students to see and interact with complex data in ways that they can understand, enhancing their learning in powerful ways. Being able to manipulate, become immersed in, or visualise concepts or scenarios that would otherwise be impossible to experience is immensely powerful.

We see significant outcomes in cultivating student and community interest in studying engineering - through special events involving these visualisation facilities. We have a particular interest in engaging more women and other student cohorts who haven’t traditionally followed careers in the engineering profession.

Development of tertiary and school teacher capability in education through collaborative design and delivery of professional development programs focused on visualisation will also benefit.

One of the most gratifying aspects of the building is the way our staff have grasped the opportunity to upgrade their skills and perspectives, helped by the leadership of C-SALT (Centre for Support and Advancement of L&T), Dry Selvan Pather and his team of engineers and the technical guys who’ll show you around later. There’s a sense of excitement that is pretty much contagious.

The quest for teaching excellence is something that typifies USC staff. It’s reflected in our five star rating for teaching satisfaction in the Good Universities Guide – five stars means we’re in the top 20% based on how students rate their experience on graduation. There can only be 8 universities in this club each year and we’ve been in it for 9 years in a row now.

If you’d prefer the academy to be ranking teaching excellence rather than students you can take a look at the Office of Learning and Teaching Citation Awards. We had the Qld presentations in Brisbane yesterday evening. Australia wide there were over 180 applications and about 90 were awarded across the 40 universities. USC received 5 of these. Since the awards were introduced about 9 years ago, USC has consistently achieved the highest success rate of any university, ranked against either staff or student numbers.

Interestingly, given today’s event, three of our citations were directly related to simulation based learning through Patrea Anderson from nursing, Nick Stevens from planning and Reitha de Villers Scheepers from business. Our staff really are leaders in this field – this should give our students and the local community enormous confidence in the education they’ll receive at USC.

Seeing this project come to fruition is particularly satisfying for me – because it didn’t come easy – I can assure you.

Getting money out of government isn’t a simple matter at the best of times but the process for tapping into the EIF was particularly competitive - and we tapped into it twice before the scheme was placed on hold. We created a specialist team, the EPU (Executive Projects Unit) led by Don Maconachie, whose day-job was/is to work on major funding initiatives. As was the case for the L&T Hub, where the nurses provided the academic grunt, for this project it was the engineers – Mark Porter and his colleagues – who scoped a truly outstanding concept and were able to build the business case necessary to win over the EIF panel.

We are indebted to the many USC staff who contributed to putting it all together – the expertise of Facilities Management, Information Technology Services, the learning and teaching specialists, the DVC and PVC-CS and other members of Executive who kept everyone focussed and on track, especially through the final design and construction phases. It has been an institution wide project and success.

Of course, this building would not have been realised if it were not for the hard work, dedication and flair of many external partners. These include: 

Brewster Hjorth (he-orth) Architects
Nettleton Tribe Architects
Hutchinson Builders
Mechdyne Corporation
Donald Cant Watts Corke (Project Managers)
WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff Engineers
And a myriad of other professionals and contractors 

Very sincere thanks to all of you.

And a final thank you to the commonwealth for its $30mill contribution. I hope our local member will become a champion of reopening commonwealth supported infrastructure schemes for the university sector (or at least for regional universities!) – the benefits are on show today – and it’s not really about universities or university students – it’s about building the economy and creating the workforces of the future – funding directed to projects like this is a high dividend investment in the true sense of the word.

Thank you also to Noela Burton and the Chancellery team, Marketing and Communication and the other cost centres who have organised today’s event. They’ve looked after us very well.

I trust you’ll enjoy the rest of this event and that you take the opportunity to have a look at the whole building. It is an exemplar in terms of contemporary learning spaces. And don’t be fooled by all the couches and comfortable furniture in the foyer areas surrounding the visualisation studios – it’s not designed for slothful students. A side effect of sustained exposure to 3D visualisation experiences is motion sickness – we have an OH&S responsibility to provide recovery areas – well that’s what I’m told anyway! 

Have a great day.

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