Mr Andrej Verity (pictured) was named Charles Sturt University Alumnus of the Year for Service to the Community in the University’s inaugural 2020 Distinguished Alumni Awards.
The awards acknowledge alumni who embody the Charles Sturt University ethos ‘yindyamarra winhanganha’, a Wiradjuri phrase that means ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’.
Andrej graduated in 2010 with a Master of Information Technology (with Distinction) in the Charles Sturt School of Computing and Mathematics, and is currently a disaster responder and information management officer at the United Nations.
He grew up in a small, remote town called Carnduff in Saskatchewan, Canada, population about 1,000 people, where he did his general schooling, then he did his first degree (a Bachelors of Commerce, with Computational Science major) at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
Having previously lived in New York (twice), Switzerland, North Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Canada, Andrej with his wife and two children (aged 12 and 15) recently moved to
The Hague, Netherlands, where he leads the Digital Service team within the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA).
“My team provides technical management to about 20 humanitarian websites ̶ including reliefweb.int, the most visited humanitarian site ̶ and infrastructure support to approximately 40 sites,” Andrej said.
“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to both identify and implement strategic and operational choices that benefit the organisation, often by reducing the capacity required for an activity such that those resources can be used for more important, more strategic, or more relevant work for the organisation’s unique mandate.
“I want people, teams and the organisation to maximise their resources on things that make UN-OCHA unique and impactful, not on things that can be easily outsourced, digitised, or automated.”
Andrej is fortunate to be able to identify several moments throughout his career that re-affirmed ‘that’s why I do this’ and he could see the difference he was making.
“Examples include leveraging my technical and information management skills to respond to major international disasters, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 Pakistan floods, the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Super Typhoon Yolanda) in the Philippines and South-East Asia, and the 2015 Nepal earthquake,” he said.
“Or it could be setting up the shared Digital Services team that has ushered in best user and design practices, security controls, significant efficiencies, etc., or it could be introducing a new solution - like Strattic.com - which has allowed us to largely stop worrying about WordPress security problems.
“Co-founding the Digital Humanitarian Network is also a career highlight, which, though we have been winding it down over the past couple years, was quite revolutionary when it was set up and enabled digitally skilled people from around the world to help (more traditional) organisations in disaster response.”
Andrej said he was motivated to start studying again and chose Charles Sturt because he was looking to advance his strategic understanding and use of information technology and information management.
“I wanted a master’s program that would recognise my past education and experience,” he said.
“And I wanted it to challenge me mentally; to enable me to better question my assumptions; and help me understand how to leverage my knowledge, skills and interests in such a way as to move my employer forward in the most strategic ways possible.
“My master’s really helped me think more strategically about information management and information technology, as well as to step back and look at an organisational view, not just a specific project. It also pushed me to become even more analytical and better appreciate sourcing and citing high quality work.”
Andrej identified the strengths of studying with Charles Sturt hinged on the practical and efficient setup of the online course, as well as two personal considerations.
“Firstly, I needed recognition of past education and experience, which counted as credit towards my degree,” he said.
“Such recognition told me that the University would look at me for who I was, as opposed to being just a student number who would pay his bills, and get me into the right educational track and not force me to take a lot of boring or useless classes. I greatly appreciated that and it helped secure my loyalty to the University and made it a bit more ‘human’.
“The other paramount consideration for me was being able to study and complete a degree 100 per cent remotely. Charles Sturt University has a proven record for providing remote education and had transitioned this ability to online well before many other universities.
“During my degree, I deployed to major international emergencies and even moved countries (New York, US, to Geneva, Switzerland).
“I could not enrol in a degree that would force me to be in one location and/or complete a residential component, and because Charles Sturt University had a proven record for remote learning, I knew that I was not joining a university that was just figuring that out.
“The mentality of the lecturers, the setup of the online resources, the well-defined processes (material distribution, assignment submission, grading, examinations, etc.) and so forth made the remote experience quite smooth and pleasant, and gave me confidence in my learnings and the University overall.”
Asked how he stayed motivated and balanced, while striving for excellence, Andrej said, “Work to live. And beyond that, two things: find work that provides you satisfaction - even if it requires hard work. It may not be joyous at all times, but it needs to provide satisfaction.
“And find a hobby that is compatible with your lifestyle; I love to travel and explore, which, obviously, works quite well in my lifestyle living abroad and my job in the international sector.”
What would he say to any young person who didn’t know what they wanted to study?
“Be flexible, be practical,” he said. “You never know where your journey may take you, so find a way to study something that you enjoy.
“I was interested in computers, so I took a business degree combined computer science, and it took me into the business world, and eventually into the United Nations. It was not the career projection I had when I was 16, and it was not even the projection I had when I finished my first degree.
“In my experience, great jobs and experiences are rarely going to be handed to you,” he said. “It may take hard work and sacrifices to get what you want, and there may be struggles along the way. So find your passion, work hard, and focus on your life.”