THERE was much to celebrate at the Federation University Gippsland campus on Tuesday, March 26.

Many students graduated, and the first round of occupational therapists completed their celebrations, ready to head off on their new life journeys.

Excitement: Federation University Churchill campus students during the most recent graduation ceremony. Photograph: Katrina Brandon

Starting in 2020, the new Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) has been completed by 13 individuals.

“All of them have been successful in their fieldwork and work-integrated learning, which is prioritised at Federation University now that we have a co-op university. The link with industry is very important. The students have very successful placements,” Professor Carolyn Unsworth said.

“Many then found their first employment through those work-integrated learning placements. All of them immediately went out into jobs, and we feel that they have gone out with very high recommendations from the clinicians who supervised them on their very first placements. These clinicians said that they were very well prepared for the workforce.”

One of the graduates, Kristy Lucas, told the Express that the course has been a great opportunity.

“The course had gone from being face-to-face or purely face-to-face to being two years online (due to COVID), which created its own challenges, but the lecturers adjusted and adapted the course really well to make us still feel included and feel like we were getting the university experience, which is fantastic for a university in Gippsland to be able to roll out against technology and challenges,” she said.

On your way: The first batch of graduates for the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours) at Federation University, Kristy Lucas, Jessica Alexander, Stacey Rogers and Matthew Tielen, pictured with Professor Carolyn Unsworth. Photograph: Katrina Brandon

Professor Unsworth said the university was working really hard to fill the shortage of occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech pathologists in the region.

“This is our first graduating occupational therapist. Next year, we will have occupational therapists and physiotherapists; the year after, we will also have speech pathologists,” she said.

The graduate speaker of the night was Jessica Kelly, who had just completed a Graduate Diploma in Midwifery.

Throughout the year, she followed 10 women through pregnancies while on call and completing assignments. Ms Kelly told the Express that although it was difficult, once she reached the end of the course, she realised how much influence she had been given while at university.

“It is a tough year, but there is an end. When you are in it, it feels like it’s never going to end, but if you keep pushing through and take it week-by-week, you learn so much throughout it, and the friends you make are really special,” she said.

Many changes have been made at the university to help improve learning opportunities for future and current students.

While congratulating the graduates, the Deputy Chancellor, Rhonda Whitfield, said: “It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Federation family as we roll out the Federation Cooperative model – to get the students work and world ready, to address skill shortages, and to drive growth in our economies.

“As we go into another great period, post-secondary education will be critical to the success of our nation. The graduates here today will be the ones to take up those challenges of the future, to carry on Federation’s purpose of transforming lives and enhancing the communities.”