Prof. Adam Shoemaker with Devanschu Arora and Chandra Altoff

Episode 31: Prof. Adam Shoemaker with Devanschu Arora and Chandra Altoff

Meet Devanschu (also known as Dev) Arora and Chandra Altoff, who have taken the reins at Victoria University’s Student Union (VUSU) as President and General Secretary respectively.

Show notes

From Dev's high school council presidency in Punjab and long-standing support for international students to Chandra's impactful work at VU through the food pantry (providing essentials to around 70 people per week) and hidden disability advocacy, their leadership journeys are uniquely VU.

In the first People of VU podcast episode for this year, discover how Dev and Chandra are set to shape VUSU in 2024.

Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello and welcome. I'm here to provide acknowledgement of country. For those who don't know me, I'm kj Karen Jackson, director of Moon Balletic. My genealogy tracks back to Moira Lakes in Bama Forest and Mount Hope in Pyramid Hill. Giving me my connections to Yorta, Yorta, and Barra language groups. There's a couple of things I'd like you to take away from my acknowledgement. The first is to remember the hidden history of Aboriginal people since invasion, our loss of language removal from country, and our new extinction from massacres and pandemics. The second is our strong and inherent connection to community and country. These connections have given us the resilience and courage to rebuild our languages, gain access to country, regenerate our cultural practices in acknowledging the traditional owners of the country on which you are now on. I'd like to sincerely thank them for their generosity and kindness in welcoming people onto their lands. Lands never seeded and lands that run deep into their being and spirit. I wish to pay my deep respect to the ancestors, elders, communities, and families of the Ang Wri on whose land I stand and who create connection and share knowledge with all of us. Thank you.

Speaker 1 00:01:16 Hello, colleagues. My name is Adam Shoemaker and I'm delighted to be the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University. I'm also the host of this podcast, which we call People of vu, and we delve into the fascinating stories and achievements of really exceptional individuals who make up our vibrant community at Victoria University. Before we start, can I thank KJ Karen Jackson for the acknowledgement of country that we just heard? I too wanna acknowledge to pay my deep respects to the ancestors, the elders and families of the traditional owners of all of our campuses, be they in Victoria, new South Wales, or Queensland, and to whoever, wherever you may be listening to this podcast. Now, in today's episode, I have two fantastic student leaders. Present here with me. Chandra Chandra Altro ov. Whose pronouns are he? They and Dev Aurora. Whose pronouns are he? Him. My own pronouns are also he him.

Speaker 1 00:02:12 Now, Chandra, just a bit about you for the, for the listeners. So you're a Bachelor of Nursing student and previously the president of Victoria University Student Union, which we lovingly called V vsu. Okay. VSU for short. They are now the General Secretary and were recently recognized. I was there, it was fantastic. As the Raj Cannon Scholarship recipient in our Student Leadership Awards. Congratulations. It was a wonderful night. Thank you. And from navigating the challenges of everything online, learning the pandemic, the biggest health challenge we've had in a hundred years, to spearheading initiatives for students who, which promote inclusivity and community engagement. Your journey is one that shows I think a lot of impact, but a lot of really tough resilience too. So congratulations for that. Also, dev, great to have you with us. And now, bachelor of Engineering, honors student specialize specializing in one of my favorite areas electrical.

Speaker 1 00:03:06 So important for the, the new environment that we're entering into. And you know, the community that we're changing. And you recently became the president of vsu. So well done. Thank you. Overcoming cultural and language barriers, we all do. But you know, we will talk about that with you as well. As an international student from India, you have been instrumental in addressing the financial challenges, the employability challenges, and overarchingly the human challenges faced to our students. Sincere, welcome to both of you. It's just great to have you with us. It's really good. So what I'm gonna do, if I may, I'll ask questions for both of you, if that's all right. First and then we'll delve a little more into each individual. So you've both had these or having an ongoing way, significant leadership roles in student government, student representation, student union. Could you maybe offer, Chandra will go to you first, some key moments like what were the experiences that shaped your leadership journey? Because you talked a little bit about this at the awards, but what do you think, you know, anything that stands out that really crystallized your leadership journey?

Speaker 2 00:04:07 Oh goodness. I think it was just seeing the impact of the, even just the slow start of things like the food pantry. Even the, the pride rooms when they sort of got moved were more accessible and sort of seeing students coming into those spaces and realizing that they were there for the first time and sort of like, oh, we can do more about this. Yeah. And trying to make it happen as much as possible.

Speaker 1 00:04:35 Yeah, ex. Exactly. And like space is such a contested thing, you know? And we've seen those of us who've really thought about it. I know you have just in the last three or four years where, you know the world has been through hell, you know, it's been really tough students even more so. And we've gotta understand that kind of difficulty means that sometimes spaces are not trusted the way they were. And also people sometimes want to not go back to them. So how do you encourage people to come back to campus? Like, I mean, this is part of the challenge we all face. What's your view on that one?

Speaker 2 00:05:05 Bringing people back to campus? I think it's, that's a difficult one because there's just so many external factors that people have to rush around and try and get to. But I think it's having, tho having those spaces available and making sure that they're fresh up to date and actually safe. Mm. And I know there have been, that's where the most difficult thing is, is making sure that students feel safe and know that these, these spaces are safe for them to come into. Yeah. And that's always gonna be a slow trickle, but I think it's a, it's that slow trickle that they hear from another student and then come along themselves and it just sort of passes along that way. Like you can't force people to like come in, but it's, you get them slowly.

Speaker 1 00:05:55 Yeah. And it's encouragement. Yeah. Not requirement, you know, I think that's always, always good. And you notice we have Casa Bonita here too, you know, these kind of like pop-up buildings, you know, that have, and you know, like a shop basically with amazingly wrought handcrafts from Latin America. I mean, that's a wonderful draw card I think. You know, that's a great thing. And of course, you know, the food. Well, let's talk just a bit more about this. Tell us a little more about the, the food programs and the, you know, everything you've done there. 'cause that's really been significant in the last year. Yeah,

Speaker 2 00:06:22 It started off sort of just as a way to, we had some money left over from a shop in Sunbury and just started realizing, you know, oh, things are pretty hard. Let's put some food out while we can. And then just sort of seeing the need and the fact that it was slow going, but then it just started disappearing more and more. And then it was, okay, we need to do something even more about this. Yeah. And just sort of taking it those steps further when necessary. And now it's, you know, it's 50 to 70 people a week, you know, I stock it twice a week. Mm. And half of it's gone within two hours. Just expressing the need that some students are going through. Some are taking like, just a couple of things. Others are taking like enough that they'll be okay for a week. Yeah. Or they might be able to, then they've got their staples and then they can go spend money on the little extra things that make life a little bit more fun. Yeah. Yeah. But it's been, it's been challenging. It's sort of been overwhelming, but I think it's seeing that it's been so heavily utilized and needed is more than enough to sort of like, keep it going and make it bigger.

Speaker 1 00:07:39 It's certainly inspiring to see, and look, let's, let's be honest, it's one of those, say we talk about First Nations influences. And this is one too because you know, it's really strongly the case that every First Nations gathering you would go to, people talk about you must provide food together. You know, like it's actually the, the lever that opens up discussion and learning and being and happiness and all those things. Such, such an important symbol that you've achieved. And you know, we can't say enough about how more can be done, but as you said, it's more than a trickle. You know, it might've started that way. And it's certainly, you know, gathering velocity as we go and it will need to next year as well. So as maybe as the outgoing president then, is that one of the legacy items that you'd like to see that, that that very project, you know, accentuates itself?

Speaker 2 00:08:24 Absolutely. And it's something that even if I, once I'm done being general secretary, like that's still something that I really want, continue being involved in. I make sure that it sticks around. I think once the need has been sort of solved in a way, like you can't, you can't take that away. So there has to be things now that I make sure that are put in place that are ongoing and don't get left behind.

Speaker 1 00:08:52 Yeah. And it's certainly the counterpart of No Waste as well. Do you know, like both go together, it's like really person centered, but it's also a bit like Second Bite or others, you know, the same sort of approach. And you know, even people in restaurants, I really love it when people bring, you know, recyclable containers and they don't eat all the food, but they take it home with them. There's nothing wrong with that at all. Like if they're lucky enough to even afford to go out to eat, why not take it? You know, it's that kind of thing. So, you know, all our attitudes towards consumption have to change. It's a great story. Thank you. So, so Deb, could I go to you and just ask you a little about your own approach to leadership? I mean, obviously you're somebody with a different background. Have you had leadership roles before?

Speaker 3 00:09:30 Yes. Adam. So what, even in my high school in India, I was the president of student council at my high school. Mm. So yeah, I was really involved since the beginning. I was, I used to love to work for the community and I still love to do the same here in here at Victoria University. In 2019, I started just a general member in the Indian Club. I started a small start, then I got involved in the executive role of the, of the Indian Club Later on, after lockdown, after some challenges. When we came back to the campus International Student Association was, was the next step for me. That's where I got involved. And then it was last year as well, I was working with Chandra as the education vice president and this year he as

Speaker 1 00:10:19 The president. Here you go. That's a great, that's a great story. And I should just for the listeners, because you, you can't see this, but we're sitting here and Dev has Proud is proudly wearing one of the Victoria University Student Union hoodies, you know, established 1995. It's always this, you know, why do you think we always put established in a, with a date on things? Does it just give it more gravitas or is it just fun to do? What's the reason?

Speaker 3 00:10:40 I think it just, you know, for me it, when, when I saw this since 1995, it was like, or it's been continuously running since then. And you know, it's been just passing on and students have been doing amazing year to year. Even after the challenges, you know, transitioning of unions from small to big lockdown, everything still kept going on. So yeah. Yeah. Sort of feel,

Speaker 1 00:11:02 Never say die, you know, never say die, just keep it going, you know what I mean? Like keep it going, keep it going. Look, full disclosure, I was a first year student government representative in my university and they had an unusual thing where it was a fierce first year rep for all the faculties as it was at the time. And you never really know the amount of work it's gonna be to you get into it. There's always more. And I found that too. And suddenly I found, even in the summer, they said, oh, would you like to do a little sort of diary for all incoming students about all the services that are available? And I sort of said stupidly. Oh sure. And then, you know, a hundred hours later you're still working on it. So you, have you had any of those a hundred hours later? Moments?

Speaker 3 00:11:42 A hundred percent. Yeah. And that was just last year, to be very honest. Yeah. I signed up for too many things. Yeah. Altogether just my th third year of engineering as well. So I got involved with the student union, whereas side by side I was also closely working with the international students of the upcoming International Student Association because yeah, they, they definitely had a bit of, you know, guidance and idea about, about the same. Whereas I'm not just within the university, I'm involved outside as well with the National Union of Students. Okay. Where I'm also a part of the National Executive on National Union of Students, where around 15 students get selected out of 200 from Australia. Yeah. So, yeah, I, I thought last year I got too many of those things and, but I was able to, you know, go side by side. It was going well and worked out really well towards the end of the year.

Speaker 1 00:12:34 You know, the, the person who invented that, they say give a busy person a job to do, I don't know, I'd like to meet that person, have a word with them because it's a, it doesn't seem like a very fair phrase to me. You know, like, you know, it seems to be one of those cliches, but we really appreciate what you do and never take it for granted. Okay. It's absolutely appreciated. And I've often wondered, you know, because we have this with local government as well, where people are mayors for 12 months and they kind of just really get going and then they stop. Do you ever find that like a frustration that it, that the post I'll, I'll go back to you Chandra, did you ever feel a frustration the post didn't last for longer?

Speaker 2 00:13:06 Yes and no. Yes, yes. Because there was so much more that I wanted to do, but no, because I was very tired. Yes. But that's part of the reason why I still wanted to be involved. Even from when I got started in goodness, it was 2021. And why I've continued to be involved is just because I love it. And I'll still find ways to, you know, even if it, even if President is not my job anymore. Yeah. Thank goodness.

Speaker 1 00:13:38 Congratulations Steph.

Speaker 2 00:13:40 Like I'm still there to help. Yeah. I'm still interested in everything that Visu has done and I can still find ways, even if I'm not under a certain position title.

Speaker 1 00:13:52 Sure. And in fact, the position title, I'm not saying this in any way, shape or form to denigrate it, is less important than the group in a way, you know what I mean? Like, it's that that it's like cabinet is just as important as a PM or something, you know what I mean? Without that, it doesn't exist. So lemme just ask you, you've, you've been known for a lot of initiatives, which you would think, gosh, of course it makes sense. You know, people would say pride room visibility. Well of course. Why hadn't we done that even more so before? Why did it take so long for these things to really come to the fore, do you think? And you know, what's what And we, was it just a no brainer that we should have?

Speaker 2 00:14:25 I think some of it's just a byproduct of coming out of Covid and a fresh set of eyes. And I know, 'cause I'm a mature age student, I'm 35. I imagine a lot of younger students who been in the similar position beforehand might not have like, it might have been sitting there in the back of their mind, but getting something done about it might not have been a priority. Yes. But I know for me, like coming out of lockdown, becoming Pride officer and sort of starting to see what the landscape actually was post lockdown, it was like, we need, it needs somewhere to go. Had okay. The private, especially at Footscray Park was sort of tucked away in a corner, hard to find, hard to get to. Okay. And then realizing that Vu Sue's got a couple of extra rooms, we've got spaces, let's transition those spaces. We don't need them anymore. There's plenty of meeting rooms around. So

Speaker 1 00:15:22 It is logical, isn't it? You know, I'm really glad. So visibility is key to understanding and, and empathy. So I'm really, again, congratulations for pursuing that so strongly. One of the big campaigns that was in the last year was the Hidden Disabilities Campaign, which I know was jointly under undertaken, you know, by the diversity and inclusion, you know, unit together with you and others. Tell me, how did you feel that went in? What's the next step for it? 'cause it's, it's a, it's a journey, you know, but is there anything more that needs to be done do you think, in that re in that regard here?

Speaker 2 00:15:52 I think it's just the continued visibility and the, the understanding of it. It's still one of those things, like I see it around more often, but I know that there's people who are sort of like, oh, that's a very pretty lanyard. Yeah.

Speaker 2 00:16:08 But it's, it's like, it's just putting it out there in front of more people and more faces so that they understand like, this is what this means when you see it. And it's just one of those things that just continues to, to grow. I think seeing it other places that students particularly interact with, like the train stations. Yeah. And I think there's a football stadium now that it's grown so much and, and then just making the, the things that I identify a person either which way is needing the support or someone who can provide the support and making sure that those things are accessible so that it can be sort of more visible and shared.

Speaker 1 00:16:52 And it's such a, it's such a easy visual cue, you know? And our society's become so visual, I mean always was a bit, you know, but even more so now, like instantaneously, if you think of high-vis vests on everybody with names on the back of them, you know, 20 years ago none of that happened and now everybody, you know, you had to see it. And again, you working in, in a hospital as you will in the future, you know what I'm talking about, that everybody and say accident and emergency will be wearing, you know, designators. Right. Kind of makes sense, doesn't it? Yeah. You know, if you think about that too. So have you done much work actually in sight on and in hospitals yet?

Speaker 2 00:17:25 Only one lot of placements so far at the start of last year. But that was in, in incredible experience. It was, it was the thing that solidified that, yes, I am actually on the right path. Great. And sort of seeing how they operate was like, okay, yeah, now all this makes

Speaker 1 00:17:40 A lot more sense. And do you mind telling us where it was out of interest? It's

Speaker 2 00:17:43 Just St Vincent's in the city in the geriatric evaluation ward. Wow. Which was, it was incredible. I fell in love with so many of my patients. Yeah. And just fell in love with the job as well.

Speaker 1 00:17:54 I'm so pleased to hear that. It's like, because the placements, I mean it is a big issue. I thought I'd just raise it. Placements is an issue for everyone, not just getting them but getting access to them and being able to underwrite, you know, the expense of doing it and so on. Is that one of your sort of campaigns that you're working on as well?

Speaker 3 00:18:10 So I do believe one of the placements, yes. I myself, yeah. Just after I got elected as a president, I had a chat with my course unit advisor and was really, you know, going a bit slow about it when got to know about my placements, my three months of placements that would be taking place during my course. Yeah, definitely. I, I I, I would love to really work on a few campaigns and there are some actively active campaigns already going on about unpaid placements as well. So that would be something that we would like to, you know, work on. And yeah,

Speaker 1 00:18:42 David, it's really important issue as we've just discussed and I just thought I'd explain one of the things the union and the university are hoping to do together, I hope, is to have more organizations which provide safe, proximate and excellent placements for students right on campus. So of course when the hospital opens, that will be virtually one site. That's a very big example, but even more so. And already at the St. Alban's campus we have organizations like Lifeline Autism Spectrum or Aspect as it's called Melbourne City Mission, all providing very important services to the public, but very important placement and volunteering organizational opportunities for our students. And equally Headspace, the very well known youth mental health organization will have its first Victorian on campus operation at vu. First of any university in the state from about March, April next year at the Werribee campus. So we think if there's 80 places there for students that otherwise didn't exist, that's ad problem solved.

Speaker 1 00:19:42 You know, that's kind of what we're trying to say. So I think there's more than one way we can get an attack this, we both need to solve it together. It's just an interesting little sideline from, from that point of view. So. So Chandra, back to you though, if that wasn't the only campaign and of course a lot of things were recognized, you know, when you received the, the Raj Cannon Leadership Award, especially talking about your, your future goals and linking to mental health nursing post-graduation. Do you feel that it's this exposure you've had thus far through VSU has really enhanced that desire to work in that field?

Speaker 2 00:20:14 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I came into, came into nursing thinking of going into palliative hospice care. Ah, and that was, that was sort of like, that's, that's where I'm going. Yeah. But just through being at VU, interacting with students and the welfare and wellbeing and all of that has and sort of overcoming over personal mental health challenges, it was sort of like seeing that the pathway was here. There's a fantastic teacher in the nursing midwifery course who was also a very big inspiration as well for sort of like making sure he checked in on me a lot and I was also like, okay, I think I could, I think I could do this. This would be a very interesting area to go into more. And I think I'm pretty well solidly onto

Speaker 1 00:21:01 That one. Wow. It sounds like you've actually hit that and know exactly what it is that cord. Do you feel the same way about your studies in electrical engineering? Like you really feel that's the, the area I want to go into and how long have you had that desire?

Speaker 3 00:21:14 Definitely, I, I was really planning to do electrical engineering since my high, probably in my secondary secondary school. I was really, you know, keen to get, I'm really keen to get into alternative energy resources to be a power engineer and the way the Australian government is really focusing on the carbon free environment and you know, getting rid of by 2050 or 2045 there have been, there have been amazing, you know, projects that the government's working on. So I'm really excited to, you know, be a part of it and get into the field of power engineering alternative energy resources. Yeah. So perfect.

Speaker 1 00:21:51 There's a connection here, which is the future needs both of you, you know what I mean? Like it really strongly does. So can I just ask, when you grew up, which part of of India were you from? I'm

Speaker 3 00:22:00 From northern part of India. From Punjab.

Speaker 1 00:22:02 From Punjab. Yeah. Yeah. I had the pleasure of just recently going to Gujarat. That's amazing. Just, oh, four weeks ago. Oh yeah. Oh was it? And it was at the time of course when the World Cup cricket finals were on or you know, the semi-finals. So you can imagine the excitement of, you know, being a visiting Australian, but it was to do with the, the education minister Jason Claire from this country meeting, the education minister there. And the whole focus was on future skills, future employability, future research between the two nations. And it was the, it's an amazingly interesting development. So the very field that you're describing was one of the top drawer priorities espoused by both ministers from both countries. So just to let you know, you're definitely on the right track, you know, and it was everything from Electrotechnology and sort of the applied battery maintenance work, you know, which many people find interesting but difficult to do to safety.

Speaker 1 00:22:57 Like, you know, temperature controls for battery and not exploding and catching fire. All of it right through to, if you like me, mechatronics and then in electrical engineering and then beyond. So. So that kind of horizontal is a way for the future, just as if we're talking about, you know, nursing, assistant nursing, different forms of nursing specialist, nursing, nurse practitioners going through to researchers. It's similar, you know, it's got that trajectory to such great need. So as we get closer to the end of this podcast, which has been great, like thanks to both of you seriously for being so kind. I just wanted to ask you first Dev, is there really a passionate area that you think we should be pursuing more on behalf of and with students? Is there an area you'd like to signal?

Speaker 3 00:23:40 I believe that being an, as a national student, I believe that inter international student representation is really, really important. And you know, when I came here four years before, there were, there were a lot of people involved, but during lockdown things really changed a lot. Language was another issue, a big barrier for me. I was in a small meeting just, and we were discuss discussing about a traditional event, a really famous Indian event called De Valley. And we were just discussing about, oh we would need GA volleys for games. And that volleys word was really new as as the Australian slang. So I was like, why do we need volleyball for the valley event? Yeah.

Speaker 2 00:24:23 So it

Speaker 3 00:24:23 Was really, you know, embarrassing situation for me. Yeah. From 10 to 12 people. But you know, that was not a barrier. I, I, I, I learned, I think it, it was a new word to my dictionary that that add to my dictionary and it was new learning and with time doing my customer service roles in as a part-time job as an international student doing a part-time job to customer service roles and you know, getting involved with the university, with student clubs, societies, interacting with more people. That's what I believe if you know, students get involved with the community and that representation is taking to place. Yeah,

Speaker 1 00:24:55 I think that's great Dev. And look, all of us who have come here from another country know that it's not just English that's spoken here, it's Australian English and there's a lot of different expressions which are not necessarily the same as those spoken in English in India or English in even New Zealand or English in Germany or English in where I come from in Canada. So yes, it's a constant thing and listening is the key. So it's a, it's a wonderful story that you've just told and I think we should all bear it in mind. How about you Chandra on that, on that note of things that are important going forward for you and students? Yeah,

Speaker 2 00:25:29 I think it's building on further to student mental health and the building a bigger focus on that. Yeah. Making sure the students know like what's accessible to them. There's been just too many instances lately where, you know, I'm telling a second or a third year, like these are things that are available to you, please go make use of them, get the help that you need. It's here for you to be utilized. And even now with the lifeline crisis after hour crisis line. Yeah. And that coming up, getting that more out there now so that students know that it exists and can be utilized and is a safe way for them to sort of get something off their chest as well.

Speaker 1 00:26:21 Totally. Right. And

Speaker 2 00:26:21 You don't have to carry it around.

Speaker 1 00:26:23 I think that's a brilliant point. You know, and the truth be told, we have many, many services and services have helped to individuals and groups, but if they exist and no one knows, it's like they don't exist. So, and it, whether it's student safety or student harm issues or student hunger issues, you know, or student placement issues, all of the above. There are people who can assist and it's just a matter of knowing who, how and when and where. So the lifeline one, most people think to this day that you have to phone them, but more calls, I'll call it, calls come in via chat and directly now in other forms, digital forms and by text as well. So just knowing that means people might feel more relaxed about reaching out as you say. So whether it is, as we are speaking, 'cause we are speaking here today or in the future if we'll be texting or chatting or any other way, I just want to thank you both so much for outlining the past, the present, what's gonna happen next year and what we can do together. I'm really grateful. Thank you. Thank

Speaker 3 00:27:20 You Adam. Thanks Lord.

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