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People in Bendigo, Victoria, have new state-of-the-art, cloud-based sensors to measure the real-time health of their creeks and water systems thanks to a collaboration between an award-winning international student, La Trobe University and local government.

Chippy Mathew, 27, recently received a La Trobe International and IDP Professional Development Bursary and used part of the funds to buy equipment, digital subscriptions and Microsoft training to advance the project, which is part of the Reimagining Bendigo Creek Plan.

The final-year Master of Internet of Things student says her team’s solar-powered, lunch-box-sized device sits on a pole in the water and has three sensors to measure water level, pH, and turbidity. Using cloud-based technology, water authorities can now monitor the health of the creek in real time, which is crucial to the environment.

Knowing the state of our water systems is incredibly important, says Chippy, who swapped life in Kerala, India, for regional Victoria two years ago. “Because if the creek is healthy, then the plants, the aquatic animals, everything in the water is healthy. And if that is healthy, the surroundings are healthy, and the human beings are healthy. Everything is connected.”

Chippy was one of six international students at La Trobe University who this year received La Trobe/IDP Professional Development bursaries to enhance their career pathways and options. The bursaries began in 2019 and are open to students in La Trobe’s Excellence Academy. Other award winners are Khanh Nam Dinh, Vignesh Radhakrishnan, Chandirma Sith, Neshka Siriwardena and Praveena Sivakumar.

“I was very excited when I got the email,” says Chippy of her bursary win, noting that the pandemic had placed added stress and strain on her at that time, particularly with family so far away in India. She says the award made her feel like someone still cared about international students. “It really matters a lot. Even for prospective students who are trying to come to Australia, it’s like a motivation, or an inspiration for them. […] It’s like ok, some people are there who still care about international students, who are welcoming them.”

For Bachelor of Digital Business student, Neshka Siriwardena, winning a bursary came at just the right time. “I was actually really happy because I had a lot of time on my hands during the pandemic and it was a good amount, so I was like, ok, I can invest this in my future.”

Neshka, now 21, left an aeronautical engineering degree in Sri Lanka after a stint working with her father in his home appliance and personal electronics store gave her the bug for business. Since coming to Australia and enrolling at La Trobe in 2019 she has thrown herself into her studies and hopes one day to not only help her father take his business to the next level but wants to open her own online clothing store in Sri Lanka.

Neshka used the bursary to invest in specialty training at the Hootsuite Academy, including Advanced Social Media Strategy and Social Media Marketing Certification. “It was tailored exactly to the requirements I was looking for,” she says of the course, adding how grateful she is to have won the bursary that enabled her to do it. “For me it’s [been] a huge steppingstone into my career. It’s helped me gain the skills and the extra support that I required in fulfilling my career dream.”

In presenting the awards, Andrew Wharton, Client Director at IDP Connect, expressed his admiration for the way international students have adapted to new ways of learning during the pandemic.

“IDP’s partnership with La Trobe University is one which has long been focused on helping La Trobe University connect with right fit students and students with the right support system to fulfil their study and career ambitions.

“We’re delighted to partner with La Trobe University in this initiative, with the ambition to support and prepare students for their future career aspirations by supplementing their learning opportunities. The resilience that these and other hard working international students have displayed over the course of the last 18 months is truly an inspiration. Congratulations to all the recipients.”

La Trobe’s Dr Stacey Farraway, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) is proud of the way the bursaries have given students like Chippy and Neshka opportunities to expand their horizons through experiences they may not have had otherwise, particularly at a time when financial hardship has increased due to the pandemic. “This important financial support is possible through La Trobe’s relationship with our valued partner, IDP Connect, who are involved in promoting, awarding and engaging with students about the awards through their vital enrolment support services to international students,” she says.

“The bursaries aim to help international students enhance their career pathways and options. They may use the money to attend conferences, seminars, training, workshops or events that will contribute to their networking, skills development and supplement their learning opportunities.

“Students within La Trobe’s Excellence Academy are eligible to apply, provided they are studying Business, Business Analytics, Marketing, Media and Communication, International Business, IT, Computer Science, Data Science or Cyber Security.”

“La Trobe University is welcoming, inclusive and multicultural. We look forward to welcoming international students back - when it is safe to do so and travel restrictions ease. Until then, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to all students, both offshore and onshore, through extensive online opportunities and support.”

For more information about the bursaries or to apply, visit here.

Franki Clemens27 October 2021