CQUniversity Psychology student Janene Arnold-Hancock.
CQUniversity Psychology student Janene Arnold-Hancock. CONTRIBUTED

Social-minded students tackle big thinking for Gladstone

They're tomorrow's leaders who want to change the world - and a group of passionate CQUniversity students are set to start the journey by making a difference in Gladstone.

Travelling to the resources hub from across the country, the 20 students will tackle a two-week course in Social Innovation and Community Engaged Learning.

The intensive pilot project, commencing Monday, June 29, is structured around real life experience - students will meet Gladstone industry, business and community leaders, and grapple with many of the challenges faced by the fast-changing regional city.  

Dubbed the Gladstone Region Social Innovator Incubator, the project is an initiative of CQUni Associate Vice-Chancellor (Gladstone Region) Professor Owen Nevin, Social Innovation Project Manager Dr Julie Roberts, and Gladstone Regional Council Multicultural Community Relations Officer Luis Arroyo.

Dr Roberts said students would also hear from national and international social entrepreneurs, about successful community projects they had established.

"There's so much students can learn in this space, but the key for this course is getting inspired - coming face to face with real-life challenges for regional communities, and being given the means to tackle these challenges creatively.

"As part of the course, students will be asked to start developing projects that could address challenges around health, security, safety, and opportunity in the community. 

The students will also get the chance to fast-track their understanding of the Gladstone Region, with home accommodation being provided by local families for their two-week stay.

This project is being driven with enthusiastic community support. The Working Group for the project includes representatives from local schools, community groups, the Chamber of Commerce, and big industry. 

"We have been overwhelmed by the level of commitment and support to this project.  People really care about making a difference in Gladstone," Dr Roberts said.   

The course is open to all current CQUni students, and counts as elective course credit, and the Incubator is structured to allow participation from community leaders in the near future.

Students will finish the two weeks with the ability to evaluate and assess social impact, design social innovation projects, and better understand the finance, process and leadership required in the new sector.

They will also leave behind a number of ideas for potential future development, with one project to be chosen by an expert "Dragon's Den" panel as particularly worthy of implementation.  CQUniversity's International Directorate has donated $5000 to kick-start driving this idea to a reality.

The course will be developed around the Gladstone 2035 Vision, which earlier this year set out to capture community priorities for the future of Gladstone.

 "We're hoping our students will bring fresh and innovative eyes to those challenges of how to engage people, and work out what inspires them to be part of their region, and to work together to build resilient and prosperous community," Ms Roberts said.  

The course comes as CQUniversity finalises its bid to join Ashoka U, a movement committed to helping universities around the world develop the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

The process to become a "Changemaker Campus" builds on CQUniversity's success in last year's Big Idea national social enterprise competition, run by The Big Issue.

A team of three Engineering students from CQUniversity Rockhampton beat a strong field of competitors with their Shelter Project, a concept to provide emergency shelter and employ disadvantaged Australians by constructing small houses out of recycled pallets.

CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman said CQUniversity was on a path to become a leader in social innovation.

"CQUniversity is a university that gives back, and we are committed to serving communities here and overseas, through the work that we do," Professor Bowman said. 

"Whether it's our partnership with Salaam Baalak school in India, or our nursing students delivering health clinics in Nepal, or campus-based innovations and community activity, our people know the importance of giving their time and talents to make a better world."

"If we are accepted as a Changemaker Campus, we will be the first Australian university to achieve this recognition, and will be able to firmly cement our place as the nation's most socially engaged university." 

GLADSTONE'S A GREAT PLACE

Born and raised in Boyne Island, CQUniversity Psychology student Janene Arnold-Hancock has travelled the world and moved away for study - but she's always ended up back in the Gladstone Region.

"It gets a bad rap, but Gladstone really is an incredible area to live - and it's got great opportunities for work, and for enjoying the outdoors," Janene said.

Janene is one of 13 students participating in the incubator over the next two weeks, to complete CQUniversity's Community Engaged Learning course. 

The students will meet Gladstone industry, business and community leaders, and grapple with many of the challenges faced by the fast-changing regional city, before developing ideas for social innovations that could help tackle them.  

"There's only two students from Gladstone doing the course, so I think it will be good to have an insider's perspective in the mix," she said.

"And I am biased - I really want to see Gladstone grow and provide opportunities for locals outside of industry."

"Those changes won't happen without strong social innovation and local leadership."

Janene rates her favourite social innovation in Gladstone as the fitness equipment parks and cycling paths, and said she'd like to focus on driving initiatives to improve mental health.

"I've always wanted to work with teenagers, and there is a huge need for more mental health support - suicide is a huge problem in the region," Janene said.

"And there's so many ways you can improve mental health - building new ways to connect with your community, and growing civic pride."

Following the two-week Social Innovation Incubator process, Janene will do her final term at CQUniversity next term, before tackling honours next year.

"I really want to be a clinical psychologist, so it's a hard road of study - but it's a service that we really need more of in Gladstone," she said.

Janene is already helping change her corner of the world, volunteering as a CQUniversity Student Ambassador.

And she hopes the Gladstone Region Social Innovation Incubator will give her new opportunities to support the local region.

The participants will meet with a huge range of leaders from government, industry and the community, and will leave behind a number of ideas for potential future development.

One project to be chosen by an expert "Dragon's Den" panel as particularly worthy of implementation, and CQUniversity's International Directorate has donated $5000 to kick-start driving this idea to a reality.

Locals can follow its progress on social media, by following the hashtag #InnovateGladstone on Twitter and Instagram. 



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