Kristin Burgess and Demelza Witham are two extraordinary women with a passion for teaching.

Both have dreams of making a huge difference in the lives of their young charges and both have worked incredibly hard in their studies to graduate in the top of their cohort.

Today they each won a coveted University Medal for their scholastic efforts when they graduated with a Bachelor of Education First Class Honours at their Southern Cross University graduation ceremony.

Kristin has moved back to her home territory of Sydney, and is intensively searching for full-time employment while taking whatever casual teaching jobs she can find.

“It is frustrating, to say the least, when I feel I have so much to offer,” Kristin said.

“When I look back at my time at the university, I realise it was a real paradise.

“I met the most amazing people there and had incredible support from my lecturers and tutors. I owe that place a great debt.

“I did my Honours project on bringing an awareness of global warming issues to primary school students and in Sydney, at every school that I visit, I see the desperate need for this to be included in the curriculum.

“At some of the inner city schools the kids I teach are divorced from the natural environment in even the most fundamental ways — they play on concrete and there are no grassed areas or trees; they don’t even have a grassed oval.

“There is no connection with the natural environment so there is no appreciation or understanding of the processes needed to preserve the environment or the planet.

“I want to help make this more of a focus in the primary curriculum.”

Demelza Witham has moved to the Sunshine Coast to seek work.

“I have been very lucky landing a term-long contract at Maleny State School. I am loving being in the classroom with a class of my own. It is very exciting and challenging,” she said.

“It is not easy to find teaching work in my region, so I feel very privileged.

“I am not sure what will happen after the contract ends, but I hope to use this experience to help me gain a permanent teaching position.

“It is a real thrill to win a University Medal. I am pretty ambitious and set my heart on doing the very best I could.”

Demelza’s Honours project was on the Kids in Community  organisation, a Northern Rivers group which works to actively make a difference in the lives of young people by raising awareness of the positive roles they play in our local communities.

“My project was undertaken with the aim of ascertaining how awards recognise and benefit young people in a community, in a school-based context.

“The main focus was to determine the importance of receiving an award for one’s participation in the community, along with the public recognition of such involvement and its link to the value of the award.

“I found that awards benefit young people through encouragement and appreciation, improved self-esteem and self reflection, increased confidence, enhanced motivation to participate and the positive influence of the awards on future employment opportunities.

“I also found that public recognition increases the value of an award through the acknowledgment given to the person, which in turn increases the intrinsic benefits they receive.”

In total, 1185 students will graduate today and tomorrow, representing all of the schools, colleges and departments within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Business and Law.

Of these, there will be 25 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) graduates and six Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) graduates.

PICTURE: Ambition has paid off for University medalists Demelza Witham (left) and Kristin Burgess, who are both thrilled to have won a University Medal.