2020 Vice-Chancellor's Medal for Excellence winners

The Student Urgent Relief Fund Team has been awarded the 2020 Vice-Chancellor’s Medal for Excellence in recognition of their work raising funds to support grants for students through the pandemic.

The team members have also received a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Mission Excellence. Rachelle Bramley, Tara Loty, Kathy Sweeney, Jing Tong and Adrienne Conway worked rapidly in April this year to provide financial help to students impacted by COVID-19.

The fund balance at the end of the campaign was $249,646, which supported $300 grants to 832 students experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19.

“A focus during a crisis”

When the first COVID-19 lockdowns hit Australia in March this year, these five Advancement and Alumni staff knew our students would face many unexpected hardships.

A lot of students had lost their jobs and found themselves in sudden financial difficulty, Jing says: “International students were particularly affected and did not have access to any government assistance in the early part of the pandemic. They couldn’t return to their home countries either because of COVID-19 restrictions and expensive airfares.”

Inspired by the wish of Interim Provost, Zlatko Skrbis, that no student be left feeling they were alone in this crisis, Tara set about preparing a six-week fundraising campaign proposal

The university’s Senior Executive Group was quick to endorse the proposal, as they could see the urgent need, especially for students who had little access to any other kind of support. Within two weeks, the team had launched Student Urgent Relief Fund appeal.

Rachelle says the team’s commitment to the mission really encouraged them to go above and beyond to make it happen.

“We see people in need all the time in our jobs, and our students were desperate,” she says. “Our team doesn’t normally do things like assessments for grant-giving – but they took this on along with other new tasks.”

Having a focus during a crisis and a clear opportunity to provide practical support drove the team’s work ethic and long hours, Adrienne says.

“It’s like we said, ‘We’ve got this world-wide crisis, but this is right in front of us. Let’s do that.’”

The ACU community rises in support

The team are thankful for the university-wide collaborative support of their efforts. This included support from Marketing and External Relations, Office of Student Success, ACU International, Governance, AskACU, Student Administration, IT, System Operations and Finance.

“Their willingness to help and achieve such a quick turnaround was really amazing,” Tara says.

Without this strong teamwork, Kathy says many new ways of working would not have happened.

“For example, Student System Operations set up a report to help us efficiently pay a large number of students very quickly.”

She says the response of hundreds of donations within hours of the campaign opening – mostly from staff – was heartening to witness.

“It was just so reassuring and rewarding that see that people believed in this, and that they thought we were on the right track. The generosity from staff was phenomenal.”

Tara says many grant recipients shared that the funds allowed them to make their next rent payment and afford basic supplies: “They also mentioned it gave them a big mental health boost.

“It’s a stunning example of when we come together as the ACU community, the difference we can make.”

For Jing, the overwhelming response gave her the feeling that the entire ACU community was standing together to help our students. Despite having the difficult task of reading some very sad stories to assess grant applications, she was buoyed by gratitude.

“I love my job,” she says. “One of our team objectives has been to build a philanthropic spirit in the university – and in this project we have achieved that.

“When people read the student testimonials, they see the impact that a donation can make on their lives.”

While the campaign brought students urgent short-term financial relief, Tara believes it is likely to have a lasting impact through the sharing of the philanthropic spirit: “The students felt that ACU really cared about them and they said that if they had an opportunity to give back in the future, they would.”

Rachelle says the team is delighted to have their hard work acknowledged by the award and will be following the generous example set by staff by donating their prize money.

“It will go to the Student Hardship Fund – a new fund that is being set up to respond to student hardship on an ongoing basis,” she says. “The needs are still really great.”


Rachelle Bramley_360x360

Rachelle Bramley

Tara Loty_360x360

Tara Loty

Jing Tong_360x360

Jing Tong

Kathy Sweeney_360x360

Kathy Sweeney

Adrienne Conway_360x360

Adrienne Conway

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