When Rachel Downie graduated from her Bachelor of Education at the University of Southern Queensland in 1991, she could never have envisaged the impact she would have on the education system Australia-wide, and overseas.
At a special ceremony in Toowoomba last night (October 28), Rachel was named the 2021 University of Southern Queensland Alumnus of the Year and Outstanding Alumnus in Education.
“I was always excited about doing teaching because I wanted to create an environment where kids just felt safe enough to pour their heart out and make things that make them feel happy,” she said.
Currently completing a USQ Master of Education, Rachel is now the CEO of Stymie – an anonymous online reporting tool for high school students to access help, or ask for help for a friend.
“I became an educator because I wanted to help young people flourish and I’ve always seen the time I spend with young people as a privilege,” Rachel said.
“A number of years ago a Year 9 boy at the school I was teaching at died by suicide and the event made me realise that on some level, kids have stopped speaking to us grown-ups when they feel unsafe.
“What we found out after this boy had died was that he was experiencing family violence and bullying at school and a whole heap of other issues that we had no idea about and to this day I honestly believe that if we had had that information – we would have been able to help him.”
Today, Stymie operates in schools around Australia as well in New Zealand and the UAE, with plans to expand.
“Getting into USQ really changed my life and I really found my people for the first time in my life. Being there meant so much to me 30 years ago – to be recognised in this way 30 years on feels like a big deal for me.”
Eleven other outstanding alumni were also honoured overnight.
2021 Young Alumnus of the Year and Outstanding Alumnus in Law and Justice: Angus Murray
2021 Outstanding Alumnus in Health & Wellbeing: Sherry Holzapfel
2021 Outstanding Alumnus in Science & Engineering: Nathan Thomas
2021 Outstanding Alumnus in Business & Enterprise: Sally Foley-Lewis
2021 Outstanding Alumnus in Creative Industries & Humanities: Lauren Stuart
Other alumni honoured included: Highly Commended Alumnus in Business & Enterprise, Dhamitha Pathirana; Highly Commended Alumnus in Law & Justice, Kathleen Wincen; Highly Commended Alumnus in Health & Wellbeing, Amanda Ullman; and Highly Commended Young Alumnus of the Year, Adrian Dudok.
World Teacher’s Day is being celebrated today, Friday October 29.
Young Alumnus of the Year Angus Murray and Alumnus of the Year Rachel Downie.