Two University of Newcastle teams have been highly commended in the 2021 International Green Gown Awards, recognised for their meaningful community impact and dedication to creating opportunities for young women.

Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered is a lifestyle program targeting fathers to be the agents of change in their daughter’s lives. Photo supplied: Philip Morgan.

The International Green Gown Awards are supported by the United Nations Environment programme and acknowledge exceptional sustainability initiatives undertaken by different universities worldwide.

Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered, created by Professor Philip Morgan and his team at the University’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, was recognised in the Benefitting Society category.

Morgan said the world-first lifestyle program targeted fathers and father figures to be the agents of change and help improve their daughters’ physical and social-emotional wellbeing.

The program also engages girls to improve their fathers’ fitness and physical activity levels and parenting skills.

“It was developed initially to address several issues that girls face regarding their physical activity levels, their proficiency in performing fundamental movement skills and their social and emotional wellbeing,” Morgan said.

Photo supplied: Philip Morgan.

“Eighty-five per cent of girls don’t meet physical activity recommendations, and less than 10 per cent can perform those skills before they leave primary school, so it was integral that we created a program to address this.

“To be given a highly commended award when competing against every university across the world is absolutely amazing. This is a homegrown program from Newcastle on the international stage, and to even be considered as a finalist, we are just so thrilled.”

Morgan said they had so many more exciting projects to take on, and the accolade is helping open the program up to further opportunities.

Photo supplied: Philip Morgan.

“Any accolade and achievement speaks to the quality of the program and its impact,” he said.

“So, this will give us more opportunity when we are recruiting or partnering with other organisations. They will see the esteem that this program and initiative truly holds.”

The other University of Newcastle team to be highly commended in the 2021 International Green Gown Awards was the program out(fit).

The Student Engagement category recognised out(fit) for being an outstanding example of how institutions can provide wider benefits to community groups beyond standard learning.

The core mission of out(fit) is to promote and support women and students seeking careers in built environment professions like construction management, architecture and landscape architecture.

Students, volunteers and mentors of the program come together and undertake hands-on projects across the Hunter region, focusing on spaces for women, children and underrepresented communities.

Head of School and Dean of Built Environment and founding member of out(fit) Professor SueAnne Ware said the program was about helping people in need and building female students’ confidence.

Out(fit) promotes and supports women and students seeking careers in built environment professions. Photo Supplied: Sarah Crichton

“While we might attract several female students into built environment professions or uni programs, we started seeing trends where women were leaving the professions, or they were completing their degree and then not entering the profession at all,” Ware said.

“In some instances, we just weren’t attracting enough females to the construction courses, so we needed to come up with a way to change that.”

Ware said the program was structured around three separate missions.  

“Mission one is to improve our students’ confidence. Some of our students have never held a hammer, or they’ve never used a saw, so part of this program is about building their confidence and skilling them up,” Ware said.

“The second is working for disadvantaged communities. Many communities in the Hunter don’t have access to design and build services, so we do a lot of volunteer work with women refugees and community organisations where we know our work will have a great deal of impact.

“Third mission is all about volunteering, mentorship and sponsorship. We encourage past students to come back after education and volunteer, which gives them a chance to continue being impactful for communities in need but also to mentor new students.”

The program also combats and addresses the difficulties some women experience when entering a built or design environment, especially in a predominantly male profession.  

“Women don’t necessarily achieve the same level of pay or aren’t in those construction and architecture positions as much as we would like to see. Some of the behaviours in construction environments and design environments are not exactly forward-thinking either,” Ware said.

“We are giving our students and volunteers a safe place to learn and be vulnerable, and when they enter the workforce, they will be able to demonstrate that they know just as much or even more than the tradies.”

Ware said the mentors were also great with advice around dealing with misogyny and discrimination in the workplace.  

“We have really harnessed our students and volunteers with the knowledge to call out that behaviour when they see it, and not just the females but the males as well,” she said.

“We have some fantastic male volunteers who want to be a part of this and change that culture.”

Being a part of the highly commended list has inspired the team at out(fit) to get started with a digital platform providing educational resources and videos for people who can’t access one-on-one mentoring.

“The award has been great in terms of getting what we do out there into the community,” she said.

“It’s also helping us think about our future and the many other projects we can begin for the benefit of the wider community.”

Hayley McMahon