CQUni's schoolies safety program a winner in AFR Higher Education Awards

Published:30 August 2017

Professor Judith Brown (with trophy) and other supporters of the lauded Choices program. TOP: L-R Nicole Thomson, Kim Mackenzie, Sgt Nigel Dalton, Prof Judith Brown, Prof Bill Blayney and Prof Helen Huntly. MID: Celebrating supporters. BELOW: Sgt Nigel Dalton with some of the Choices performers.

CQUniversity's 'Choices' schoolies safety program has won this week's Australian Financial Review Higher Education Awards, in the Community Engagement Category.

Choices reaches over 3000 year-12 students from Townsville to Rockhampton with safety messages around alcohol, drugs and sexual activity before they go to Schoolies Week.

It prevailed over the University of Melbourne's Teddy Bear Hospital project, Macquarie University's National Indigenous Science Education Program, and the University of Sydney's Service Learning in Indigenous Communities program.

The Director of CQUniversity's Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Professor Judith Brown AM was among a group of Choices supporters who accepted the category trophy on Tuesday evening, during a gala dinner for the AFR Higher Education Summit in Sydney.

The Choices program has involved close cooperation between CQUniversity and Queensland Police, Queensland Health, the Department of Community Services, 29 high schools and various community groups.

It promotes safe behaviour for Year 12 students heading to Schoolies Week, using a comic theatre format of short skits, songs and dances, performed by CQUniversity Theatre students.

Uniformed police officers also participate in the performances and related panel discussions, adding credibility to the important health, safety and legal messages.

Professor Brown has been involved throughout the development of Choices and has also taken a key role in researching the effectiveness of the program.

“Before the implementation of Choices in 1999, Year 12 students in North Queensland received the health, safety and legal messages concerned with safe partying during Schoolies in formal presentations from teachers, police officers, health workers and other community leaders,” Professor Brown says.

“Although this style of delivery presented the facts to the students, it failed to engage them meaningfully, leaving the presenters feeling they had been less than effective in getting these important messages across to the students.

“In contrast, the 50-minute live theatre presentation, Choices, makes use of current teenage pop culture references that incorporate over 30 key safety messages.

“Research conducted by researchers from CQUniversity and the University of Queensland found that using the Choices format of a live theatre performance as a safety response for Schoolies, enabled students to translate knowledge acquired during the presentation into behaviours resulting in safer celebration.”

Over 100 entries were considered by the judging panel for the AFR Higher Education Awards, which are presented by UniSuper.

Now in their third year, the prestigious awards recognise innovation and achievement in Australia's higher education sector.