Mr Lee Scott
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
The qualities of quality: Understanding excellence in schooling
From marines to Masters' students, principals to preservice teachers, Dr Scott Imig is helping educators on both sides of the Pacific to engage in reflective practice and conversations about growth.
Dr Scott Imig is putting an unconventional but interesting spin on the term 'eco-conscious.' He's helping schools to go green, in the traditional sense, and he's getting them to go bigger and better – meaningfully and purposefully creating "environments" where children are excited to learn and their teachers are enthused to teach.
"I conduct both qualitative and quantitative studies and attempt to make the findings actionable for school heads and teachers," the passionate academic shares.
I'm seeking to improve the quality of individual classrooms and whole institutions by making them places where students want to be.
Though not considering himself a generalist, Scott admits he's tapped into "a large number" of research areas over the years. Cautious to specify just one, the senior lecturer acknowledges his work is as interdisciplinary and integrated as most pedagogical strategies, spanning educational policy, professional development, and leadership.
"I also do a lot of work in coaching and supervision," he reveals.
"With the right support, school staff can be constantly self-evaluating and collaborating and growing."
"It's very pleasing to see."
Resolutely pursuing "the best and most translatable" practices around the world, Scott is similarly steadfast in his commitment to evidence-based teaching and learning.
"The gold standard for Principals is that kids are safe, happy, engaged and learning," he avows.
"These are attributes of effective classrooms."
Inform, perform, transform
Scott's research career began in 2000, when he undertook a PhD with the University of Virginia's Educational Leadership and Foundations Department. His thesis focused on teachers' decision making in the classroom. His probe sought to explore and evaluate nuanced, direct and indirect interactions between students and primary school personnel.
"I was working on the proviso that good classroom instructors make choices, unconsciously or consciously, very quickly," he asserts.
"With a glance or hand gesture or single word, teachers can stop a behavioural issue over here and get something moving over there, all while adapting a lesson plan in their heads."
"Teachers are phenomenal multi-taskers – almost like conductors of an orchestra."
"People who study education and do this type of training develop the ability to a greater extent than people who elect other career paths."
Scott designed and implemented an online interactive simulator to test his bold, multipronged hypothesis, duly considering the possibility that "seasoned professionals" are even further along in their decision making.
"Participants were asked to sit in front of a computer and watch a series of schoolroom scenarios while fielding real-time questions," he explains.
"Student teachers completely outperformed those not in the education arena in terms of identifying and rectifying problems."
Achieving added value
The enthusiastic scholar stayed at the University of Virginia after receiving his award in 2003, employed to conduct a number of linked studies over the next three and a half years. Leading the research efforts on the $5 million grant from the renowned Carnegie Corporation to do so, Scott endeavoured to demonstrate the Virginia campus' equally renowned status as providers of quality teachers.
"They are highly regarded for the quality of their teacher preparation programs," he reveals.
"It was my task to research and identify the ways the University of Virginia and its teacher education programs add value."
Wanting to change scenery and change lives, Scott relocated to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2006. In North Carolina, Scott taught courses in supervision, coaching, curriculum and evaluation and supervised more than 30 masters level and doctoral students on their research. Taking on a convening role within the Curriculum and Instruction Program, the ambitious scholar aspired to further his expertise in professional development and leadership.
"Several years later I became the Associate Dean for Outreach," he discloses.
"It was a wonderful position that allowed me to help lead the School of Education's 136 school partnerships, and to help develop, educate and honour teachers throughout the many stages of their careers."
"I really enjoyed my time in that role."
A master at multitasking, Scott also worked with the marines at Camp Lejuene during his nine years in North Carolina. Though conceding the corps operates in a "very different" way to schools and is "necessarily hierarchical," he affirms military life similarly offers opportunities for personal reflection and individual goal setting.
"It's important to build individuals in all fields who are self-reflective, who can figure out what they want and how to earn it," he attests.
Across the ocean
Scott moved to Australia with his young family in July 2015, seeking to "see education through multiple lenses" and open himself up to "a much broader world." Impressed by the University of Newcastle's reputation for being "internationally focused and very connected," the creative collaborator quickly signed on to redesign its Masters in Leadership Management Program with Associate Professor Jim Ladwig.
"We're hoping to craft a principal preparation program like no other," he divulges.
"It has to be forward-thinking and focused on developing and leading schools that truly matter for children in an increasingly global society."
"Unfortunately, many schools in the United States and United Kingdom have become so test-driven that they've almost forgotten what the power of schooling is all about."
"We want to excite kids and give them a strong foundation. Engaged students, curious students want to be in school and learn."
Not slowing down anytime soon, Scott is continuing his green schools research and is in the process of planning a learning transfer project too.
"Sitting at any university is a tremendous amount of knowledge in all kinds of fields," he believes.
"Principals could and should take advantage of this collective knowledge."
From marines to Masters’ students, principals to preservice teachers, Dr Scott Imig is helping educators on both sides of the Pacific to engage in reflective pr
A foundation for success
With revered researchers such as Laureate Professor Scott Sloan and Professor John Carter leading the way, geotechnical engineering at the University of Newcastle is on solid ground.
Most drivers on the Pacific Highway would give little thought to the towering embankments that line the newly upgraded sections of the road along the NSW North Coast, but to engineers they represent a significant accomplishment.
As University of Newcastle Laureate Professor Scott Sloan explains, some of the embankments stand on soil that is very unstable and pose major engineering problems.
"Stepping onto coastal soft soils, you can sometimes sink to your knees," says Sloan, a geotechnical engineer and internationally recognised expert in soil stability analysis. "It is a massive engineering challenge to build major infrastructure on this type of foundation, in reasonable time and at reasonable cost."
The problem is typical of the troubleshooting nature of geotechnical engineering, which focuses on predicting the behaviour of earth materials to ensure stability for buildings and infrastructure.
Under Sloan's leadership, the University has long been a leader in computational modelling in the field. His development of faster and more efficient methods of calculating the load capacity for buildings and structures has drawn acclaim from around the world.
Sloan is the director of the University's Centre for Geotechnical and Materials Modelling and also leads the new Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Geotechnical Science and Engineering. With funding of $14.4 million over seven years, the collaborative Centre for Excellence will specialise in developing new and improved tools for designing energy and transport infrastructure in a cost-effective manner.
The Centre combines the theoretical and computational strengths of the Newcastle research centre; the University of Wollongong's knowledge in below-track rail infrastructure; and the offshore expertise and experimental capabilities of the University of Western Australia, which has Australia's only geotechnical centrifuge modelling facility.
The collaboration represents a professional reunion of sorts for Sloan and his colleagues Professor John Carter, Newcastle's Pro Vice-Chancellor of Engineering and Built Environment, and Professor Mark Randolph, the former head of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems. All were researchers at Cambridge 30 years ago and each has gone on to build a distinguished academic and research career. The three are among the select few engineers who have been made Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science.
One of the initial joint projects under the ARC Centre for Excellence program will be the establishment of Australia's first national soft soil test site, near Ballina, on the NSW North Coast. Working with the Roads and Traffic Authority and industry partners, researchers will explore stability problems that have been experienced during the $5.0 billion Pacific Highway upgrade.
"This represents a significant challenge for engineers today because much of the east coast of Australia has problematic soft soils. Stable land along the coast is becoming increasingly scarce, forcing major transport and energy infrastructure projects onto marginal land where the soil can be very soft," Sloan says.
The ARC Centre for Excellence will also direct its research to safety analysis of offshore oil and gas developments on soft sea floors, an area in which Carter and colleagues from the University of Western Australia have significant expertise. For example, Carter has worked across the globe, from the oil platforms in the North Sea and to those on Australia's North West Shelf, and has consulted for BHP, Esso, Woodside Wapet, Bond Oil, Amoco and Exxon.
Some of his most challenging work was on the North Rankin A and Goodwyn platforms off Western Australia in the 1980s. Those early offshore projects in Australia were problematic, Carter explains, largely because the properties of the soft carbonate soils on the seabed were not well understood. Remediation work on the platforms ended up costing more than $500 million. However, as with most first-time projects, it proved to be a great learning ground for researchers and project engineers.
"It is often the case in engineering that you learn most when something goes wrong," Carter says.
Carter and Sloan are accomplished computational engineers whose mathematical models have been widely adopted into engineering practice. Both have received broad recognition from within their profession and beyond. Carter, named last year one of Australia's 100 most influential engineers, was particularly proud and humbled when he received an Order of Australia in 2006. Sloan nominates being invited to give this year's Rankine Lecture in England, one of the most prestigious honours in geotechnics, as a career highlight.
Both Sloan and Carter are enthusiastic advocates of the cross-disciplinary nature of research groups such as the research centre and Centre for Excellence.
"On any research project you will have a lot of people who work on the fringes," Carter says. "These centres encourage researchers from different disciplines to come together and allow for the better exchange of ideas and expertise between departments and institutions."
Sloan says the ARC Centre for Excellence adds to the already solid reputation of the University of Newcastle in geotechnical engineering.
"The geotechnical research group at this University is arguably the strongest in the country and one of the strongest internationally," he says.
"People want to come here to do their research. It has become a destination for the brightest and best in the world."
Mining your genes
Geneticist Professor Rodney Scott and computer scientist Professor Pablo Moscato come from disparate academic backgrounds, but they share a common purpose. The leading researchers are blending their respective knowledge with the aim of making personalised medicine a reality.
Scott and Moscato are co-directors of the University of Newcastle's forward-thinking Centre for Bioinformatics, Biomarker Discovery and Information-Based Medicine. As one of only two research sites in Australia that directly link bioinformatics with clinical research practice, it is at the forefront of the emerging field of developing patient-tailored treatments based on genetic analysis.
Both researchers bring considerable expertise to the collaboration. Scott has been working in the field of hereditary diseases for 20 years, and has attracted global recognition for his genetic research, particularly in the areas of breast and bowel cancers.
Moscato began his influential work in computer science in the late 1980s as a member of the Caltech parallel computing group – supercomputing pioneers based at the California Institute of Technology. While there, he developed in collaboration with another researcher a computer optimisation strategy known as a memetic algorithm, now widely used in computation-based applications in many areas of Science and Technology.
What has drawn them together is the need for more efficient ways of processing and appropriately interpret the mass of genetic research data being collected by medical researchers. Working alongside this is the tantalising prospect of being able to use computer profiling technology to customise treatments for individual patients.
"Since I have been working in genetics there has been an explosion of knowledge and huge advances in the technology that can be used to identify risk factors associated with disease," Scott says.
"Technology allows us to acquire a huge amount of data but a bottleneck is created by the analysis, because there is physically so much data to sift through.
"Bioinformatics is providing a mechanism whereby we can reduce the complexity of research data, manage it and interpret it."
Scott and Moscato first collaborated in 2006 when Moscato applied his statistical and computational skills to analysing data associated with the rare genetic disorder xeroderma pigmentosum, a trigger for childhood skin cancer. Scott was impressed with the results and the University, recognising the potential for this valuable interdisciplinary research, approved the investigators' request to set up the centre.
University medical and bioinformatics researchers have since successfully worked together on the interpretation of genetic data relating not only to cancer but a range of conditions including stroke, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's Disease and lung disease.
"When I came to the University in 2002 there was a lot of strength on the clinical side of medical research but not a lot of work underway in bioinformatics," Moscato says.
"I established the Newcastle Bioinformatics Initiative with the support of the university in 2002. On my lead, and with ARC support, Newcastle has been the only NSW node of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics since 2003.
"Now, in some areas, particularly in supercomputing based approaches to interrogate these datasets, we are clearly leading this research field in Australia."
Moscato is pushing the boundaries of molecular interrogation techniques, looking for ways to provide more sophisticated information, including a forensic analysis of data that seeks to explain, rather than dismiss, even minor statistical anomalies. He has developed a method based on Information Theory to track the progession of cancer and Alzheimer's Disease in the brain.
"It is a unifying theory, the Entropic Hallmark," he says.
"A medical researcher can come to us with data that contains a number of variables and our methods are able to highlight the possibilities," he says. "We seek to open new working hypotheses, rather than just give a straightforward reading of the data."
For example, detailed analysis of data over a number of years by his team has led to the identification of what they believe to be the 'genetic signature' of two new subtypes of breast cancer. If validated, the research could lead to new approaches to treatment.
The "final quest", Moscato says, is personalising medicine.
"With cancer, for instance, we are moving away from the approach that there is a silver bullet cure," he says.
"There are thousands of drugs that can be used to treat cancers. That presents a huge number of possible combinations for treatment. Only with sophisticated computer analysis can you screen all of the combinations according to a patient's specific gene characteristics."
Scott picks up the theme: "What we are aiming to achieve is user-friendly programs that can be applied at the clinical level; programs that will efficiently and effectively analyse the data and deliver meaningful information describing a person's risk factors and suggesting optimal treatment."
Professor Rodney Scott and Professor Pablo Moscato research in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute's (HMRI) Information Based Medicine Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University, Hunter New England Local Health District and the community.