A Charles Sturt University geospatial science graduate has earned a University Medal for her high grades while studying and volunteering with the state emergency service in recent years during bushfires, floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Selina Phillis (picture) who is originally from Newcastle but lives in Adelaide, South Australia, graduated with a Bachelor of Geospatial Science in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences in Albury-Wodonga on Tuesday 13 December.
Selina is the first in her family to graduate from university and before her recent studies she worked as a psychiatric nurse until making the decision that she wanted and needed a career change.
“I found work as a survey assistant with a surveying company and explored an architecture degree but realised it wasn’t quite what I was after, so started to look further afield,” Selina said.
“I have had a passion for maps, geography, and travel since I was a kid, and have always spent plane rides with my face glued to the window watching where we were.
“I’ve now found a career and industry that is pretty awesome - one that lets you look at data and maps from all over the world ─ where else do you get to be a verifiable map nerd?
“Since I stumbled across the Bachelor of Geospatial Science at Charles Sturt University I haven’t looked back, so much so that since I enrolled I’ve received only High Distinctions for my course assessments.”
That is why Selina was awarded a University Medal, the highest honour that a student can receive. To be awarded a University Medal, a student has to achieve High Distinctions (HDs) in nearly all their subjects and if a student receives all HDs, they will receive a possible Grade Point Average (GPA) of seven.
Course Director in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences Mr Matthew Hunt said Selina has excelled in her geospatial science studies and has already put her skills to use in her role with Disaster Relief Australia.
“Selina is part of their Aerial Damage and Assessment Team (ADAT) as an Image Analyst, and in this role she has assisted in drone footage analysis of flood debris in sugarcane fields in the Ballina region.”
Mr Hunt explained the Bachelor of Geospatial Science was developed in response to industry demand and an ever-increasing geospatial science jobs market.
“The discipline is undergoing global expansion due to the rapid proliferation of spatial data products and the key role of geospatial science technologies and applications in the increasingly important fields of environmental and climate change management,” he said.
Selina noted that the degree offered a minor study specialty in emergency management.
“This supported my long background of volunteering and working in the emergency services sector,” she said.
“I’ve been a volunteer with the State Emergency Service since 2009, first with VICSES in Victoria and now with SASES in South Australia, and I’m currently the Unit Manager of a metropolitan Adelaide Unit, supporting a unit of more than 60 members.
“I also volunteer with Disaster Relief Australia in South Australia where I’m currently an image analyst in the Aerial Damage Assessment Team (ADAT) and an operations associate in the Adelaide Disaster Relief Team (DRT).”
During her studies Selina also deployed multiple times with the SES to respond to incidents around the country. This included to the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island during the Black Summer 2019-20 bushfires, to the NSW Mid North Coast and Lismore regions during the major flooding earlier this year, and to the Riverland Region in South Australia recently to support the flooding response there.
Working while studying a degree remotely during COVID-19 also posed challenges for Selina.
“For a while I was working as a staff member for the SES in support of SAPOL in their COVID-19 response which at times saw me deployed around South Australia and studying totally remotely, with only downloaded resources available,” she said.
“It was great that the University was well set up for remote learning and that this was the expectation from the start because it let me be organised enough to study and submit assessments ahead of time so that I could deploy.”
Winning a Defence Women in STEM Scholarship in 2021 provided Selina with Defence industry connections, mentoring, and some financial support in 2021 and 2022, allowing her to focus more on studies and reduce her work hours for her final year of university.
Selina said she maintained her motivation because she found she was thoroughly enjoying the course content.
“Instead of doing the minimum learning to pass, I found I was motivated to dig a bit deeper and try to understand the content more to get a better level of understanding,” she said.
“Even if this was a little bit more or outside the subject content, I wanted to understand it all.
“Attending conferences (Locate22 and Spatial Information Day) exposed me to a wealth of industry uses for my field of study and meant that I wanted a good level of understanding so that I could really take my studies in any direction I wanted.”
Selina has just started work at Jacobs as a Geospatial Consultant and is currently working on large scale projects that will have an impact across utility provision, Defence, and natural environments.
“I’m looking forward to expanding on my geospatial skillset and taking on project management training in the future too,” she said.
“Plus, I just have a genuine desire to keep learning new things – I’m happiest when I have a new challenge, a difficult work environment, or a new puzzle or problem to solve.”
Selina is also involved in the External Advisory Committee for the geospatial discipline at Charles Sturt University, reviewing the undergraduate, master’s, and postgraduate geospatial courses.
“I am happy to be involved and give something back to the University too, I think it’s a testament to Charles Sturt University that the course leaders are so happy to take on feedback and adapt ─ plenty of others aren’t,” she said.