Who is Alex Zelinsky?

Opus Media Editor Tyler Bridges recently sat down with UON Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky to talk hobbies, sustainability and his plans for the University of Newcastle.

I’m sure we all know of Professor Alex Zelinsky, Vice Chancellor of the University of Newcastle. We all receive his emails about events and happenings at the University. We’ve all (hopefully) read about his strategic plan, but some of us only know him from our Outlook inbox. Who is he really?

Well, I decided to find out!

I was given the opportunity to get to know the man who has been running things here for two years, so we can get a taste of who he is behind his title, and what he stands for within it.

So, what is there to know about Alex? To start, he is colour blind! He is also an enthusiastic fisherman, and even cooks his own catches. (He’s a darn good cook too; he’ll be starring in an episode of UNSA’s cooking show Unsavoury early next year.) He genuinely enjoys watching movies with other people, whether it be to share a laugh, a cry or a discussion, although he also appreciates a good book by himself. Like many of us, he has a passionate geeky side which started in his youth with a hardcore appreciation for the original Star Wars trilogy.

Alex cares deeply for the University of Newcastle and is incredibly proud that it is so well loved and appreciated by the Hunter community. The care Alex has for the University is evident in its Strategic Plan. If you don’t know about this plan, I highly recommend looking into it! It details UON’s goals for the next five years and has a strong focus on four university and student values: Excellence, Equity, Engagement and Sustainability.

That last one is especially important to students. Living amid unprecedented climate change, and in the wake of last summer’s catastrophic megafires, sustainability is a vital part of the plan that Alex has helped put in place.

One of the best things he has seen emerge from his sustainability plan is the University’s purchase of electric vehicles and a charging station outside of the Chancellery. Seeing cars using the station is extremely rewarding, he says, in the quest for an environmentally friendly university. The waste on campus is also a priority. When you walk around campus, you’ll see numerous recycling and waste bins, including the soft plastic recycling deposits. Soft plastics collected here are recycled into benches, which you’ll also see on campus.

Another thing that Alex is very proud of (and we at UNSA are big fans of) is the brand new sustainable restaurant Local Connections, located in the Shortland building at Callaghan. Local Connections is the Vice Chancellor’s newest sustainable venture; all the produce is locally sourced, as the name implies. The restaurant has an emphasis on minimal waste and donates unsold food to those in need to reduce wastefulness. It is also a hub for student employment and affordability.

As Vice Chancellor, Alex is also deeply committed to his Life-Ready Graduates initiative. The initiative has a community focus and encourages good mental and physical health for students. Having life-ready graduates is not only about education, but ensuring students have the appropriate coping mechanisms to balance work, school, family and life. Alex himself was an engineering cadet and, in this role, discovered the importance of being job-ready and balance-oriented.

With all this in mind, Alex still understands that 2020 has been a rough one and that getting university students, and incoming high school graduates, life- and work-ready means making some adjustments. While Alex agrees it has been a hard year, he believes that opportunities at the University have been adjusted accordingly. With the withdrawal without penalty implementation, along with bonus ATAR points being awarded to HSC students, there is an understanding that being life-ready has been increasingly difficult.

Do not fret: your Vice Chancellor knows that a career is not all you need to be prepared for beyond your education. He too has spanned multiple jobs and careers, and knows that there is no single blueprint for success in life. As Alex says, “You can do things differently.” In fact, Alex encourages students to think more widely – past Newcastle, and even Australia.

“Graduates should be thinking, I can go global.

Australians, in Alex’s opinion, are too scared to step beyond the confines of our borders for fear they are not good enough.

“We had this mindset that we in Australia cannot do things because we are not MIT. That led me to start my own company… We just got through that mindset, as Australians can build companies which are world-leading and global.”

When it comes down to it, though, Alex feels that uni is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most; it is about gaining what you can in the time that you have. He places a heavy emphasis on student clubs and societies, and hopes to see rapid growth of these in the coming years. He’s said that some of his fondest memories and longest friendships were forged participating in club activities. For Alex, building networks isn’t just about who you meet in class, but all those that you interact with along the way. These networks help push the life-ready graduate mindset.

“Uni is only once in your life, and you really have a good opportunity to not only learn some new skills and become work-ready, but you can also become life-ready by learning some other elements and building networks of people.”

As we have all seen the wreckage left by the bizarre storm that hit Newcastle on November 15, I thought it best to ask Alex’s thoughts on recovery. He believes that we will all recover, as Novocastrians do. Repairs were already underway the following morning and have not halted any service provision or plans he has for the University’s development. Alex has faith not only in those repairing and maintaining each campus, but also in the students and staff who occupy it and give it life.

The Vice Chancellor has made it very clear that he is always open to and appreciative of any feedback that students provide. As UNSA is an association that seeks to give all students a voice, that’s always good to hear.

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