You’re standing in ankle-deep water, a pair of waders pulled high over your stomach. The morning air is crisp and the Blue Mountains surround you as you plunge deeper into the pond, listening for the telltale sounds of frogs. 

That’s the exciting reality faced by the citizen scientists and student volunteers who are working to protect five threatened species of frog. It’s part of a project led by University Of Newcastle amphibian expert Professor Michael Mahoney and funded by $300,000 from the NSW Government. 

During the Black Summer bushfires of 2020, more than 5 million hectares of NSW land was burnt, destroying crucial frog habitat and worsening Australia’s already declining frog numbers – of 240 native species, 10 are now extinct while more than 30 are at risk. 

Professor Michael Mahony searching for frogs in the Cooranbong area.
Honorary Professor Michael Mahoney from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences

Fortunately, Uni of Newcastle students are playing their part in the conservation fight. Every six weeks or so, volunteers head out to sites from the Barringtons to the Northern Tablelands to collect data from special machines known as AudioMoths. The devices record the ‘waaak-waaak, brrrr’ calls made by frogs, helping University of Newcastle researchers determine how many are living in particular areas. 

It’s just one of many projects allowing students to leverage their skills to give back to the community and pursue their passions. 

According to the Uni of Newcastle Careers Service, “Volunteering has been found to improve health and happiness by encouraging a sense of belonging and is an excellent opportunity to build employability skills.” 

Closer to home, in Callaghan’s biomechanics lab, a team of Uni Of Newcastle researchers watch an ex-NRL legend make tackles, all in the name of science. Timana Tahu, formerly of the Newcastle Knights, is no stranger to concussions, and has teamed up with our University’s leading experts in a bid to make tackling safer. 

The project began in 2017 when Timana met neuropsychologist Associate Professor Andrew Gardner and biomechanist Dr Suzi Edwards

A common tackling technique which is taught from junior to professional level sees the attacker target the ball carrier’s pelvic area, and Timana believes that’s putting players at risk of head injury. The trio is researching whether aiming higher towards the abdominal region would make tackling safer and lead to less concussions. Exercise and Sports Science student and football player Scott Haynes has been involved in the research, using motion capture recording to study the effects of tackling and concussions.

Dr Suzi Edwards in an Exercise and Sport Science classroom
Dr Suzi Edwards, Senior Lecturer for School of Environmental and Life Sciences

There’s also great things happening at Callaghan’s Wollotuka Institute. Muuya barrigi, meaning ‘flying breath,’ is a multi-media language program led by Indigenous languages researcher Dr Raymond Kelly. Students and community members are participating in the program, launched online in 2020, as a way to preserve rare dialects such as Gumbayngirr and Dhangatti. While students learn practical aspects like pronunciation and sentence structure, the real value of the program lies in its ability to connect Indigenous students to community and country. 

r Raymond Kelly, right, says language gives Indigenous people a sense of identity, connection and belonging. Dr Kelly is pictured with first year medical student David Parsons, left, and Wollotuka Institute project officer Kua Swan, centre.
Dr Raymond Kelly, Deputy Head of the University of Newcastle’s Wollotuka Institute.

Speaking of flying breath, if you tune your radio to 103.7, you’ll be able to hear our university’s best and brightest journalism students reading the news on 2NURFM at midday – 2pm weekdays. The station offers Work Integrated Learning opportunities for about 50 students every year, also catering to those interested in media production and promotions. 

Communication Honours student Dakota Tait has been working in the newsroom as a Student Journalist and was recently awarded a cash prize for his outstanding contributions. 

“My time at 2NUR has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve gotten involved in at the University,” Dakota said, “It’s given me skills and confidence as a journalist to leap into the industry that I don’t know if I’d have with the degree alone.” 

So that’s a sample of projects YOU could be working on to boost your employability. If you’re not sure where to start and are looking for more general ways to get involved, why not try: 

It’s all resume gold! 

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