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Students saved lecturer Irena’s life: CQUni anniversary prompts reflective journey

Students saved lecturer Irena’s life: CQUni anniversary prompts reflective journey

Published:16 March 2017

TOP: Academic Learning Advisor Irena Lee at her first CQUni graduation at which she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts. MIDDLE & BELOW: Irena Lee experienced a heart attack in 2014. Irena's former student Deborah Edwards was one of the nurses who saved her life.

When Irena Lee awoke in a hospital bed in 2014, she was informed she’d had a heart attack. She was terrified.

Not long afterwards, she learnt that two of her CQUni Mackay students were part of the nursing team that had just saved her life. She was humbled.

“Both were students from my STEPS (Skills for Tertiary Education and Preparatory Studies) course – an enabling program that provides a pathway for people wishing to gain entry to and excel in higher education,” Irena explained.

“With additional studies following STEPS, one had become a registered nurse and the other at the time was a nurse in training.

“I always put great value in the power and importance of education – it just never occurred to me it could potentially be an investment in my own life.”

Irena has since recovered and returned to CQUni Mackay, where she now works as an Academic Learning Advisor, helping those who require additional assistance with their tertiary studies.

A CQUni stalwart, Irena’s affiliation with CQUni began in 1988.

She vividly remembers the days when CQUniversity Australia was known as the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education (CIAE).

Back in 1988, the 33-year-old former Post Mistress, Receptionist and Office Manager had a dream to one day become a teacher.

Knowing university studies would help her get there, Irena enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts.

“At the time I had three young boys and a husband (Captain Barrie Joseph Lee) who was a Regional Harbourmaster who could be relocated for work at any time, so I studied as a distance student based in Mackay,” she explained.

Twenty-nine years on, Irena now holds a plethora of qualifications, including the Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary); and she’s partway through a PhD in Education – all of course courtesy of CQUni.

Irena has also achieved a Masters in Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL).

While Irena may have graduated 23 years ago (in 1994), a decade later she followed her footsteps back to the place she now fondly refers to as “home”.

Irena has held various positions with CQUni over the past 10 years – highlights include teaching English to speakers of other languages in Korea, China, Japan and all over Australia, delivering the SEE (Skills for Education and Employment) program and working as a Teacher Educator.

“Coming from a non-English (Polish/German) speaking background, I’ve developed a deep and sincere determination to assist speakers of other languages to quickly and efficiently gain English language skills,” she said.

“I’m equally committed to the training and development of teachers, to ensure they effectively teach English to speakers of other languages locally, nationally and globally.”

Do you, like Irena, have connection with CQUni you’d like to share? If so – and in the spirit of CQUni Mackay’s 30th anniversary celebration taking place on Saturday (25 March) – we’d love to hear it.

Anyone with a connection to CQUni – which could include, but is not restricted to past and present students, lecturers, donors and stakeholders – are invited to share their experiences, journeys and future aspirations with/for the University either on the day, or online at

In line with the CQUni’s tag line 'Be what you want to be', children and adolescents are also encouraged to share their vision for the future too.

All material received in advance will be displayed on the memory wall at the event.

Afterwards, the materials will be collated and buried in a time capsule that will remain unopened until CQUniversity Mackay's 50th anniversary.

Entry is free and the event will run from 10am to 2pm at City Campus, Sydney Street.

There’ll be children’s activities (a rock wall, jumping castle and balloons), a sausage sizzle, live music by local band Django, refreshments, interactive displays and more. All are welcome!