University Medallist reflects on seizing opportunities and overcoming challenges

Eileen Wallace delivered student vote of thanks during UOW’s virtual graduation

University Medallist reflects on seizing opportunities and overcoming challenges

When Eileen Wallace was asked to give the vote of thanks, on behalf of the student body, during the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) virtual graduation broadcast, she almost said no.

The UOW graduate is terrified of public speaking, and was overwhelmed at the idea of delivering a speech in front of hundreds of viewers, even if it was virtual rather than in-person.

But her family convinced her to take advantage of the opportunity, and her initial reluctance provided the basis of her speech.

“I chose to focus my speech on striving to get out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself,” said Eileen, who is celebrating the conclusion of a Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering at UOW. She finished as the top student in her degree.

“I’m absolutely terrified of public speaking and I get so incredibly nervous.

“I asked my parents, partner and close friends for their opinion and everyone was very quick to tell me how silly it would be to say no to this opportunity because I was too scared. My dad told me: ‘Take these opportunities that scare you, because no progress is ever made when you stay in your comfort zone’.”

During the ceremony on Thursday, 14 October, Eileen delivered a moving and inspiring speech to her fellow students, reflecting on her own experiences of being outside her comfort zone.

“Not only can I use this experience as grounds for confidence next time I need to speak in front of a crowd, but I had the opportunity to share that story and hopefully inspire someone else to do something they might feel they can’t do.”

Eileen was also named University Medallist from the faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, a reflection of her outstanding academic efforts during her degree.

The virtual graduation was not what she expected when she first began her degree, but Eileen was thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate with her loved ones.

“Of course, this isn’t the way we all imagined to graduate, but I’d really like to take the opportunity to thank UOW for making it as special as possible for us all,” she said. “I am so thankful that the restrictions allowed my family to watch it together just in time.”

Eileen Wallace, pictured with her family, her mother Vicky, her father Gordon, wearing graduation dress. Photo: Paul Jones

Eileen Wallace, pictured with her family on campus earlier this year. Photo: Paul Jones

Eileen is the fourth member of her family to undertake her studies at UOW.

Her older brother graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2015, her mother Vicky spent many years working for the University in research communications, and her father, Professor Gordon Wallace, is an esteemed scientist and Director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Sciences.

So, after finishing high school, Eileen knew UOW was where she wanted to study.

“It’s a really beautiful campus and a prestigious university. Everyone in my family has studied or worked at UOW, so it was special to be able to study here myself,” she said.

Biomedical engineering was a natural choice for Eileen, who had always had an interest in human anatomy.

“I took three years off after high school and in that time, I completed a Certificate III and a Certificate IV in fitness, so I think that really sparked my interest in bodies and physiology. My favourite subjects at school were mathematics, sciences and physics.”

She is part of the first cohort of students to undertake, and now graduate from, the Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering at UOW.

Eileen finished as the top student in her degree, top of her class and year, a reflection of her dedication over the past four years.

“It is really special to know that I came first in the class,” Eileen said. “It wasn’t easy but if I’m going to do something, I’m going to give it everything. I put in a lot of hard work so it is nice to be recognised.

“I think this last year has been my favourite of my degree, because I was writing my thesis. I spent a lot of time in the labs at Innovation Campus and learning from people with a lot of experience in the field.”

Eileen’s father, Professor Wallace, was an invaluable mentor throughout her degree, particularly because he was able to understand what she was studying and provide a sounding board when she needed help.

“My dad was really helpful to me. He is high up in his field, so to be able to talk to him at home was amazing. His attitude and morale were so positive. I loved being able to chat to him about my study.”

One of the reasons Eileen was drawn to biomedical engineering was the ability to use her knowledge and skills to make a difference to others.

While she has graduated from her undergraduate degree, Eileen has begun her PhD at UOW, which is focused on bioprinting skin equivalents for people who have suffered injuries from burns.

“I’m excited to begin my PhD. It is super rewarding to be able to use my knowledge to help other people in need and that is something I am hoping to build on with my research.

“I’m just so grateful for the experience of being able to study at UOW. It has been everything I expected and more.”

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