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1996 Society member profiles

Chris and Katie Walker
Katie and Chris Walker

Chris and Katie Walker

Dr Chris Walker arrived at USC in 2002 from the USA to study Environmental Science. Despite the additional costs associated with being an international student, and the limits placed on the amount of paid work he could undertake, Chris completed his bachelor’s degree in 2006. Unable to secure the financial support he needed to complete his Honours degree at USC, Chris had to head to Brisbane.

After completing his Honours degree, Chris was awarded the International Post Graduate Research scholarship to undertake his PhD back at USC. During this time, Chris found part-time work at Covey Associates, as the Environmental Scientist for the company. Chris completed his PhD in 2012 and is still at Covey Associates full-time. In 2015, Chris received a USC Outstanding Alumni Rising Star award in recognition of his work on floating wetlands as a means of improving water courses and developing several collaborative research projects with USC.

Chris’ wife Katie works at USC in the Office of Research. Having witnessed firsthand the toll it took on Chris, Katie joined Starfish, USC’s staff giving program which supports student bursaries. When the USC 1996 Society launched in 2017, Katie and Chris felt there was an opportunity to join with like-minded individuals who shared their values.

“Chris and I both have a strong commitment to education and to those who want to better themselves. With USC being regional, there are a lot of people who are first in their family to attend university. We want to help them make a big change in their lives,” says Katie.

“We were also very much motivated by the goal of the USC Visionary Fund general endowment to pull together the significant funding needed to build a foundation for the future.”

For Chris, his commitment is strongly reinforced by his memories of his undergraduate days. “I know what it is like to struggle as a student,” he says. “Now I am in a position to pay it forward to other struggling university students and I’m happy to do so.”

While so much has happened since they first arrived on the Sunshine Coast, being working parents to one-year-old Clare, it just might mean that the busiest days are still ahead for Chris and Katie.

Keith Neuendorf and Karen Neuendorf (OAM)

How do you two see the impact of USC on the region?

The true impact of USC is the connectivity to the society, particularly the breadth of reach into communities who would otherwise not be involved in education. Access to education is often a geographical challenge and to have a campus in the local region enables students to stay, work and live on the coast that is affordable and therefore also offers an educated community within the region. The economic benefits provide millions of $$ back into the region that increases employment, culture, drives economic activity and generates opportunities across industries that is circular and constantly giving back.

Karen, what scientific discovery would you like to see accomplished before the end of the decade?

Given the rise in population and the push for greater development, the issue of household waste and landfill is a critical scientific challenge. I would encourage and hope to see the accomplishment of a household technology that deals with garbage and waste before it hits the wheelie bin and footpath. Technology that is sustainably integrated into homes to counteract the high levels of plastics, waste and personal rubbish would be a significant goal before 2030.

Where would you two hope to travel on holiday when international borders reopen?

Before the environment is changed for ever and more animals become extinct we would like to travel to some of the countries in Africa, namely Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya. I spent some time travelling across Northern and Eastern Africa as a back packer sighting few tourists, so now Keith and I would love to stay at some of the reserves and spend time in communities and experience true wilderness.

Keith, what is your favourite thing about being a life-long Sunny Coaster?

I was born in Nambour and have cherished the freedoms and lifestyle of living on the coast as a child riding my horse to school on dirt roads in Buderim. Living overseas and interstate as an adult made me realise that there is no other place that has community and opportunities like the Sunshine Coast, so appreciating this enabled me to have a wonderful work /life balance to bring up our daughters in the best place in the world.

Why did you both decide to give to the University’s general endowment through the 1996 Society?

Education changes lives and is the most powerful gift that can be tangible both in the short and long term for society. With deep and long roots in the Sunshine Coast community we wanted to support the University through the 1996 Society, ensuring that the future is focused on higher education and that globally, USC students will effect change and contribute to humanity and the issues of the 21st century. Endowments are in business language ‘war chests’ to use when future economies and students struggle or in good times to enable student cohorts to flourish through bursaries and financial assistance , when otherwise these students may not continue with their degrees or education. Educated communities have choices amounting to lives and communities that are healthy, peaceful and wise.

Karen Neuendorf (OAM) and Keith Neuendorf
Chris and Rachel Harris

Chris and Rachel Harris

How do you two see the impact of USC on the region?

USC allows the Coast to keep its young talent and also introduces students to our lifestyle. Hopefully, a few of the graduates find a job and stay.

USC offers the Coast the opportunity to grow culturally. We’ve enjoyed our relationship with the Art Gallery and how this space opens up the Uni to the community.

Rachel, what scientific discovery would you like to see accomplished before the end of the decade?

Further breakthroughs in the fight against cancer.

Where would you like to travel on holiday when international borders reopen?

We enjoy our time in Japan. We’ve been fortunate to ski the last few seasons (except 2021) and find the people to be helpful and respectful. This allows our kids to have some freedom on the slopes, giving them some independence. We also get a bit of quiet time.

Chris, what is your favourite thing about your career?

It’s more interesting than accountancy. I enjoy finding ideas, learning about new concepts and thinking about the interconnectivity of the world and markets more broadly.

Why did you and Rachel decide to give to the 1996 Society as visionaries?

We’ve backed USC as it gives people an opportunity to better themselves and contribute to their families and society more broadly. This is how we create a better world.

Chris and Rachel are members of the USC 1996 Society as founding visionaries. Rachel is an accomplished equestrian and Chris is a Senior Financial Planner/ Investment Adviser with Ord Minnett Sunshine Coast and is a current member of the University’s Planning and Resources Committee. The Harris’ have been involved with USC for many years generously sponsoring the Art Gallery Lecture series.

Professor Emeritus Rustum Sethna and Mrs Helen Sethna

When Professor Emeritus Rustum Sethna and Mrs Helen Sethna, were deciding to move to Australia from Toronto, Canada where Helen was a nurse and Rustum was a Professor of Psychology at Ryerson University, they had one requirement: the community had to have a university. While UniSC ticked that box, the Sunshine Coast offered the added bonus of a warm climate, something the Sethnas were craving after building careers in the cold of Canada.

Having been engaged with UniSC since its beginnings, the Sethna’s have loved watching UniSC grow. “When I see what the University has produced, I sincerely think it is the calling card for the Sunshine Coast,” says a delighted Rustum. “I’m so proud of being here to see what the University is doing in every sphere of human endeavours.”

Helen sadly passed away in 2023 but was always enthusiastic about the importance of the university in the region, particularly when it came to health, believing that “the new hospital, and the Thompson Institute are our future”.

When the UniSC 1996 Society was established, the Sethnas believed it was a “no brainer” to become founding members, with Helen saying “I think the Society is great! It allows people to know more about the University and each of us (members) need to invite people into the Society so the endowment can grow.”

Rustum is also keen to see the endowment grow. “It is a very small donation. More people are needed to raise the necessary endowment, and what I like about the University is that every dollar you give goes to the purpose they stand for.”

In 2017, Rustum and Helen were named as Honorary Senior Fellows of UniSC for ongoing philanthropic support and volunteer contributions throughout the Sunshine Coast, including their financial support for UniSC’s psychology program at its inception.

Rustum and Helen Sethna