Our Board

Engagement Australia Board

As a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, Engagement Australia is governed by a voluntary Board of Directors that is drawn from its members. At our Annual General meeting, each year in July we receive nominations for 50% of the current Board positions to ensure we maintain corporate knowledge and stability.

The formal structure of Engagement Australia comprises the following subcommittees:

  • Finance, Audit and Risk
  • Member engagement
  • Publications

If you are interested in helping to shape Engagement Australia as a Director of the Board, or would like to assist deliver one of our programs and services as part of one of our sub-committees – please get in touch!

Current Board Members

Jim Nyland

Jim Nyland
Chair / Editor Transform
Australian Catholic University

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Callista Thillou
Director & Deputy Chair
Flinders University


Jodie Duignan-George 
Director & Company Secretary

Tony Lazzara

Tony Lazzara
Director & Treasurer
Western Sydney University

Joanne Scott Headshot

Joanne Scott
University of The Sunshine Coast

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Kerry O’Neill
Victoria University

Billy O'Steen

Billy O’Steen
University of Canterbury, NZ

Jess Headshot

Jessica Vanderlelie
La Trobe University


Mingan Choct
University of New England


Laura Dan
Charles Sturt University

Verity (1)

Verity Firth
University of Technology Sydney

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Peter Binks
Associate Member

Karen Daley

Karen Daley
Business Administrator

Meet Our Board Members

Jim Nyland – Chair & Editor Transform

Professor Jim Nyland took up the role of Associate Vice-Chancellor (Brisbane) at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in October 2011.  Previously, he has held academic appointments at the University of Queensland, where he was the Director of Corporate Education and Director of UQ Business School Downtown.  Prior to this he was Manager and Principal Advisor in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office for Engagement at Griffith University and has held managerial positions in a number of universities in the UK.  He holds a Doctorate in Education and has published research covering curriculum change, the nature of learning and the impact of modernity on educational opportunity.  Professor Nyland’s work has been international in scope and he has developed programs in the UK and Australia as well as keynote academic papers in Ireland and South Africa.  He is particularly interested in extending our knowledge and capacities in ‘new learning’ both in work and professional settings and in communities which are in transition and face challenges. He is Editor of the new Australian journal Transform: Journal of Engaged Scholarship and contributes to current educational debates and issues in regional and national publications.

“Engagement remains the next Big Idea on the horizon in higher education.  Its vitality is at the heart of improved education and research outcomes for universities.”

Callista Thillou – Director & Deputy Chair

Callista Thillou is the Executive Director, Communication and Engagement, at Flinders University and is responsible for leadership of the University’s marketing, media and communications, alumni and development, and external engagement. She has held strategic roles in higher education both nationally and internationally. Before returning to Australia she was responsible for leading the UK higher education’s representation, and engagement with the EU working for the sector body Universities UK. Prior to this Callista was the Director of Communications and Government Relations at the then Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee.

“In today’s rapidly changing Higher Education environment, engagement on all levels is more important than ever. It’s through engagement with our students, staff, alumni, and myriad external stakeholders, that we can continue to build upon the successes of Australian universities and our students, and embrace the opportunities this creates for our society.”

Jodie Duignan-George – Director & Company Secretary

Jodie is the Associate Vice President, Cairns & Far North Queensland Region for CQUniversity. Jodie has over 20 years experience working in Universities, from teaching through to campus establishment. Jodie is an active member of the local leadership community in which she is situated, serving on local regional development organisation boards and industry committees. Jodie operates under the premise that developing a solid understanding of local communities is critical to ensuring continued local relevance for Universities. The greater the relevance, the greater the potential for the development of significant and sustainable partnerships and projects for mutual benefit.

Tony Lazzara – Director & Treasurer

Tony is the Executive Director, Quality and Performance at Western Sydney University. With more than 22 years’ experience in Higher Education, Tony has held a variety of roles including Operational Auditor, Faculty Manager, Manager Strategic Information Services and Associate Director (Student Progress and Systems).

“I am passionate about the difference we (HE) can make by building aspirations amongst those who do not traditionally see higher education in their future.”

Jessica Vanderlelie – Director

Jessica is the inaugural Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Success at La Trobe University leading the university to develop and implement a sustainable, and integrated strategy to improve the La Trobe student experience. A key focus of this work is to facilitate the successful student transition across the student lifecycle and prepare graduates ready for the changing world of work. Previously, Jessica was the inaugural Innovative Research Universities Vice Chancellors’ Fellow, where she led a collaborative approach to research, design, innovate and disseminate scalable, practices to improve student outcomes across all demographics. Jessica is a passionate academic that has demonstrated sustained leadership in learning and teaching in Australian Higher Education with a key focus on supporting student and graduate success. At Griffith University Jessica was responsible for the embedding of authentic employability-based curriculum across the Faculty of Health. Jessica’s achievements in the development and implementation of practice-based curriculum have been recognised nationally through a series of prestigious awards, including the Australian Award for Excellence in Teaching (early career) in 2012 and an OLT citation for her work in innovative assessment design in Biochemistry. Jessica is a current Australian Office of Learning and Teaching Fellow and leads a national program entitled ‘Engaging alumni for graduate success’.

Innovative, responsive and authentic engagement is fundamental to future proofing higher education.  By facilitating deep and authentic partnership with students, alumni, community and industry, we will unlock the potential to create an engaging university experience and transform the lives of our students and the communities we serve.”

Kerry O’Neill – Director

Kerry is Director Precincts Strategy and Development at Victoria University.  She has a leading role in the development of VU’s precincts strategies in Melbourne’s west and leads the VU in the Community and Footscray University Town programs.  She is responsible for fostering engagement and collaborations across the University and with local government, industry and community organisations, extending Victoria University’s outward focus and engagement in Melbourne’s west.  Kerry has extensive experience related to community and stakeholder engagement, and urban and strategic planning, across state and local government, university and community sectors.

“Engagement is the critical bridge to understanding and connectedness between universities and their communities.  It is a key means of fostering knowledge exchange, collaboration, relevance and mutual benefit.”

Joanne Scott – Director
Joanne Scott Headshot

One of the longest-serving staff members at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Professor Joanne Scott is the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Engagement). Her portfolio includes community engagement, partnerships, philanthropy and advancement, marketing, and the University’s Caboolture, Fraser Coast, Gympie and SouthBank campuses. She also chairs USC’s Equity and Diversity Committee. Joanne was previously the Executive Dean of Arts, Business and Law. Her research focus is Queensland and Australian history with an emphasis on communities, organisations and work. She is passionate about the capacity of higher education to transform the lives of individuals and their communities and recognises that her university’s success is entwined with and dependent on those communities.

“To truly make a difference, for our universities to be the best they can be, engagement must be at the heart of what we do. Working in partnership with and for our communities for mutual benefit is what makes me optimistic about our shared futures.”

Billy O’Steen – Director

Billy is the inaugural Associate Professor of Community Engagement and Director of the UC Community Engagement Hub at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Based on the success of a community engagement course he and Dr Lane Perry created after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch, community engagement has become one of four attributes in a new UC Graduate Profile. To create community engagement opportunities for all UC students, he spends a significant amount of time collaborating with a wide variety of community partners. UC is grateful to Engagement Australia for being an influential supporter of these efforts.

“Sometimes we in higher education choose community engagement and sometimes it chooses us through natural disaster, local issues, or the intersection of town and campus. Our role as community engagement professionals is to keep both the inward and outward channels open.”

Mingan Choct – Director

Mingan is the Pro Vice-Chancellor for External Relations at the University of New England, responsible for UNE International, UNE Marketing, ACE (Advancement, Communications and Events) and UNE Sydney. As PVC External Relations over the past 18 months, Mingan has established UNE’s first off-shore Student Study Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a current cohort of 500 students; transformed a struggling UNE International into a thriving and sustainable directorate with new leadership; commenced on raising funds to set up a $63M campus in Tamworth with $38.1 committed by the State government and local council; and negotiated numerous partnerships, including international universities, the Country Education Trust and Royal Agricultural Society.

Mingan has a proven track record in partnership management, IP generation and protection, research commercialization and industry engagement. As CEO of Australia’s leading Poultry CRC with a total resource of $178M, I have managed more than 200 projects, overseen the generation of 57 patents, led commercialization of various vaccines and diagnostics, and maintained and enhanced large partnerships. Furthermore, I have a very clear understanding of university operations, including internationalization, communication and marketing, with a demonstrated capacity to focus on outcomes and get the best out of the team.

I am an expert in my chosen field of animal nutrition. I have published more than 350 peer-reviewed papers with an H Index of 48 and H10 Index of 116 and 9930 citations. I have supervised more than 50 HDR students to completion and obtained in excess of $12M in research grants.

“Many of Australia’s universities are embedded in their local communities. An in-depth two-way engagement makes both parties thrive in a rapidly changing education environment”

Laura Dan – Director
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Associate Professor Laura Dan is a higher education professional with expertise across research and innovation, strategy development and implementation, governance and stakeholder engagement.  Laura has 20 years of experience in Australian universities, in metropolitan and regional areas, research intensive universities and universities that undertake applied research with a clear community focus.

Laura is the Director, Knowledge Exchange and Engagement at Charles Sturt University, leading the design, delivery and advancement of the University’s Community Engagement Strategy, managing community engagement across the university’s footprint. In partnership with colleagues from UTS, Laura is charting the Australian pilot of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification framework. Laura’s federal government experience includes working with Innovation and Science Australia to develop the research and development component of the 2030 Strategic Plan for Innovation and Science.

Laura previously held the position of Chief Program Officer for the Australian Research Council where she championed the program’s alignment with various Government agendas, including promoting greater engagement across sectors, across disciplines, and increasing the ability of research endeavours to produce outcomes with both commercial and community benefits.  Her career started at the Australian National University where she held academic and senior management roles. She was a driving force in promoting governance and professionalism in research and research management, including being the first convener and foundation member of the ACT Chapter of the Australasian Research Management Society (2009-2011) and a member of its Accreditation Council (2011-2018).  Laura holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics and a Master of Management from the Australian National University.

“Success in higher education will be measured by universities’ ability to create lifelong relationships that will sustain their institutions, their stakeholders, and the society”

Verity Firth – Director
Verity (1)
LinkedIn / Twitter

The Hon. Verity Firth is the Executive Director, Social Justice at the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, University of Technology Sydney. The Centre acts as a gateway for UTS to respond to community need, building connections for community groups, not-for-profits and government agencies to access the university’s resources and collaborate on social justice issues. It also runs the university’s widening participation programs, focusing on increased access to university for students from equity target groups.  The Centre is responsible for the university’s community engaged student programs and co-edits the Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement with the Swearer Centre at Brown University. Ms Firth has spent fifteen years working to address educational disadvantage in Australia, as Minister for Education and Training from 2008-2011 and as the Chief Executive of the Public Education Foundation from 2011-2015.

As Minister for Education and Training she focussed on equity in education, and how to best address educational disadvantage in low socio economic communities, including rural and remote Indigenous communities.  As CEO of the Public Education Foundation she led the Foundation’s transformation from a fledgling organisation into a major provider of financial and advocacy support to public education.

Ms Firth co-leads the Australian pilot of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification.

“Universities are public purpose institutions. They exist for public good. Engagement, whether that be with staff and students, communities or partners, is vital in ensuring that the work we do contributes to the betterment of society and achieves positive social impact.”

Peter Binks – Director
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LinkedIn / Twitter

Dr Peter Binks has been Partnerships Director at Skalata Ventures, a Melbourne-based Seed Investment Fund and high-growth company accelerator, since September 2019.  In this role he supports partnerships with 6 of Victoria’s major universities.

Peter was CEO of the Business Higher Education Round Table (BHERT) from early 2017 until July 2019. He led a small team supporting and advocating for industry-university collaboration in Australia.  Through his tenure he significantly upgraded the BHERT Awards, increasing Applications by over 200%, and making major contributions to awareness of university collaboration in Australia.

Peter was trained as a scientist, and gained a PhD in astrophysics at Oxford University while on a Rhodes Scholarship. He worked at McKinsey & Company, BHP Pty Ltd, Telstra Corporation, and was the inaugural CEO of start-up Nanotechnology Victoria. He was CEO at the John Monash Foundation for 5 years. He was also Interim CEO at the Garnett Passe & Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation, and has consulted with Dandolo Partners.

Peter  was on the Board of listed technology company CFCL for 5 years, chairing the Technical Committee, and on the Scientific Advisory Board of the defence laboratories DSTO for 3 years.  He was inaugural  Chairman of ANT Energy Solutions in 2017-18.

Karen Daley – Business Administrator

Karen has a Certificate IV in Business Administration, with over 20 years admin experience and 18 years of finance experience. Karen also is experienced in small business management and event management. Karen enjoys working with Engagement Australia’s members and stakeholders, as well as organising Engagement Australia events.

“Working alongside engagement professionals has highlighted the positive things that can come from collaboration between communities and universities.”