“Why wouldn’t you?”
The phrase keeps coming up throughout my interview with Curtin’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jeanette Hacket who will retire in August this year.
I ask her why she is passionate about education. She answers: “Why wouldn’t you be?”
Her face mirrors her excitement as she explains: “When I was going to university, only seven per cent of the population achieved a university degree – now close to 40 per cent of the 25 to 34 year olds achieve a degree and the women outnumber the men. That’s a huge change in a short period of time.”
“Education is key – if you have that you have better access to healthcare, you find it easier to get work and are paid substantially more. It makes the biggest difference.”
Professor Hacket started out in teaching before switching to law. She credits several mentors with encouraging her studies. “They seemed to think I could and that was an eye opener for me.” After her first child and her first degree, her mother asked her if she thought she had done everything possible. She then enrolled in a postgraduate degree.
“Women need to see other women being strong leaders,” she says. “Do you see yourself as being able to take over the world?” In her eyes, it’s the responsibility of being a role model for the people around her. “They often don’t realise that they can do something until someone asks them ‘Why not?’.”
When I ask her why she’s retiring, her words paint a graph. “It takes five or six years to change things,” she says. “Then you’ve reached the optimal period and you move on so others can come and do their best work in the same environment.
“I think that Curtin has a ‘Can do change’ attitude,” she says. “And I think that’s important because you cannot do the same thing forever – you have to adapt.” She cites Curtin as a great place to work. “My role has been to always look forward at how we can improve or achieve our goals, rather than looking back.”
And as she leaves she has plans. Taking her grandchildren camping and then cycling along the Munda Biddi Trail are some of them. “I’m fit and I’m strong so I am really excited. I want to do these things with my family because balancing the family and the work has always been a challenge.” She acknowledges her supportive husband, who has noticed her becoming more relaxed as she winds down her duties.
She isn’t leaving a passion behind. She plans to do more to give people from disadvantaged sectors of society more access to education. Optimistic? Energetic? Yes.
Her formula for success? “Education, participation (such as volunteering) and resilience.”
And of course the attitude: “Why wouldn’t you?”