For every tonne of alumina manufactured, another tonne of blood red industrial waste is left behind. For the University of the Sunshine Coast’s new Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, it was a challenge she could not ignore.
“Red mud” – a bauxite residue - is now one of the most abundant and harmful industrial wastes on the planet, but Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) graduate, Cherrell Picton, is helping turn this environmental scourge into an asset.
“I had a lightbulb moment while a UniSC student: I really had to get involved in this red mud business. The opportunity to solve a major industry environmental problem was too big not to do something,” Ms Picton said.
As Director and Business Manager at Alumtek Minerals, she is part of a team that has developed a process to extract the critical minerals vanadium, titanium and gallium from this red waste, and create a new product badly needed in the cement industry.
“We’ve found a way to turn this environmental and financial liability into an asset, and we are eliminating a waste product so we are contributing to the circular economy,” Ms Picton said.
“Approximately 30 percent of cement is fly ash from coal-fired power stations. With these starting to close, the cement industry has been scrambling to find a new and sustainable replacement, which we have also been able to provide.”
Ms Picton completed her EMBA at UniSC in 2019 after enrolling at the age of 59.
“The EMBA built on what I learned in the 1990s when business practices were different. The skills I learned at UniSC included the latest in entrepreneurship and innovation and gave me the confidence to take risks with our business startup while understanding how to minimise these risks.
“It opened my eyes to a whole new world of business opportunities.”
UniSC Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett said Ms Picton’s work was a shining example of how industry could make a positive impact on sustainable practice.
“As a university that aligns its values with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, we applaud Cherrell’s valuable contribution to minimising the environmental impact of manufacturing, while commercialising its processes for others.”
Professor Bartlett also praised her work as a social entrepreneur.
Ms Picton initially enrolled in the EMBA to learn about social entrepreneurship, following years of volunteer work with Non-Government Organisation Puspadi Bali, which supports people with disability in Indonesia, funded by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
She remains passionate about her work in developing nations, helping set up a business startup program for people with hearing impairment in Vietnam, and co-authoring the book Social Enterprises in Vietnam and Ireland.
“Cherrell’s mentoring work also stands out, in particular at the Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Vietnam, and her work in Australia with Innovation Generation and the Migrant Work Ready Program, mentoring undergraduates and sharing her knowledge with current MBA students shows a real commitment to sharing her knowledge for the greater good,” Professor Bartlett said.
Winner of the 2023 Regional Achievement Award, Bronte Cresswell, received a Bachelor of Public Relations 2017 and has since built a reputation as a digital marketing professional on the Sunshine Coast.
She was named the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network 2022 Young Business Woman of the Year and continues to build her influence and impact as a founder and executive member of the Young Chamber of Commerce.
After successfully building a successful digital marketing agency, Ms Cresswell sold the business in 2022 to build Dash Academy, training business owners in effective social media marketing.
She regularly features on podcasts, articles, radio and continues to support UniSC as a regular guest lecturer.
“I work with business owners, social media freelancers and in-house teams to upskill them on social media and how to fully take advantage of that,” Ms Cresswell said.
ABC reporter Nicole Hegarty won the Rising Star Award following a rapid career growth from regional reporter to Canberra as a national political reporter.
In this role, she’s interviewed the Prime Minister, senior ministers and foreign leaders and reported for ABC’s AM current affairs program, Radio National and News Breakfast.
Ms Hegarty informs the public on matters of national significance, offering a unique regional perspective, while ensuring people from diverse backgrounds are heard nationally. She also mentors and volunteers with community groups and engages with the professional community.
“One of the highlights of my time at UniSC was being able to work alongside people with established careers in the journalism sector,” she said.
“I also liked all of the opportunities to do internships where we could use the skills we learned on campus in the real world.”
Professor Bartlett also congratulated all three winners.
“These awards recognise and celebrate the many achievements of our graduates, both professionally and personally for outstanding contributions they are making to their professions, communities and our future,” Professor Bartlett said.
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