University of Canberra graduands have their chance to celebrate their great achievements this week in the first graduation ceremonies since the onset of the pandemic.
Lara Smith was excited and proud to be among the health faculty students to take to the stage in her academic gown and mortarboard.
"It was a really nice ceremony and it was just sort of the icing on the cake for finishing the degree," she said.
Ms Smith was in the second-ever cohort of the masters of speech pathology at the university.
Speech pathologists work with a wide range of clients, from children learning language and literacy through to adults recovering from stroke or major brain trauma.
The Canberran decided to enrol in the master's after starting in communications.
"I really just felt that I wanted to work in a job that has a little bit more people contact and where I was able to give a little bit more back," she said.
"[The degree] was a really nice mixture of science and creativity."
The profession is in high demand, and Ms Smith has already started working at a private paediatrics practice in Canberra.
Executive dean of health Michelle Lincoln said the University of Canberra speech pathology course was unique because students could study from their home towns.
"Students learn in a blended mode so they can actually stay in their community for most of their studies, coming to Canberra for intensive practical teaching, and indeed [they can] even complete their clinical placements in their surrounding regions," Professor Lincoln said.
"So it allows people, perhaps with a family who can't leave their regional community, to have access to a university degree that they ordinarily wouldn't have."
The first two cohorts were small, but larger classes are following.
The course was quite resilient to the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Some work placements had to be postponed or cut short but the course was already designed to be delivered remotely.
Professor Lincoln said the number of speech pathology jobs had grown in response to the rollout of the NDIS, while there had been persistent workforce shortages in rural and regional Australia.
"About 50 per cent of our graduates have come from rural regional Australia so we're hoping to really play a part in addressing that need."
About 1500 students will graduate in 12 ceremonies at the National Convention Centre this week, following COVID-19 safety protocols.
The executive dean said staff had missed attending graduations last year.
"As you sit on stage and students will cross, you often know their individual stories and you know what it's taken for them to get here. And for some of them that's not easy," Professor Lincoln said.
"It might have been a long scenic route ... I especially think about international students who graduated today who perhaps haven't been able to go home for 18 months and see their family and friends.
"For us, it's actually the reason why we do what we do, and to not have that celebration with our students last year was difficult."
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