A night in New York: Innovative ideas and lasting connections

Building a support network in a foreign city can take many years, but the University’s New York Alumni Association makes light work of forging professional connections and friendships.

On Thursday 23 March, University of Melbourne alumni living in NYC and across the US came together at Penthouse 45 – a stunning venue with a rooftop overlooking the vast city lights.

“Running an architecture office in the Big Apple, I could talk for hours regarding space and its atmosphere,” said alum and founding partner of architecture practice Tabe Shouri, Fereshteh Tabe.

Alumni mingling on NYC rooftop venue. Alumni mingling at the Vice-Chancellor’s NYC alumni reception on the Penthouse 45 rooftop.

The reception was an opportunity for Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell to connect with US-based alumni after an absence due to the impact of COVID-19, and a chance for the community to engage with former classmates and expand their networks.

For Fereshteh, staying connected with the NYC alumni community helps her build the resilience needed to run a successful business in a big city.

“Living and running an office in NYC has enormous challenges and the best way to win these challenges is to talk to reliable professional sources for solutions,” said the Melbourne School of Design alum.

“This is the greatest benefit of staying connected with our community in NYC.”

The night kicked off with canapés and drinks before the formalities commenced – including speeches from the MC for the night, Senior Director of Development Jonathan Cosgrove, and the Vice-Chancellor.

The highlight of the evening was a panel discussion on the topic Shaping the future of digital entertainment featuring alumni panellists – Director Strategic Initiatives at Instagram, John Tass-Parker and Founder of Sextech School, Bryony Cole.

The future of digital entertainment

Commerce alum Bryony felt honoured to be invited to speak at the NYC alumni reception.

Her start-up Sextech School educates entrepreneurs, job-seekers and investors who are curious about the market on all things sextech – which encapsulates any product, software or platform that enables and enhances sexual experiences.

Bryony was delighted by the opportunity to challenge the stigma attached to the sextech industry and talk about its many unexpected benefits on society and adjacent industries.

“By speaking on the panel, I wanted to break down the barriers to sextech, an industry that moves beyond the obvious robots, to include technology for sex education, health, wellness, crime and violence reporting, and medicine,” she explained.

Three panelists engaged in discussion. From left to right: Panel moderator and Senior Director of Alumni and Donor Relations Brigette Sancho, panellists John Tass-Parker and Bryony Cole.

“I always enjoy sharing more about sextech because it is such a misunderstood industry. It’s rewarding when people approach me afterwards and say thank you for talking about the topic in such a shame-free way.”

Through her fellow panellist, Bryony also enjoyed learning about a very topical issue – the intersection of politics and social media.

“It was fascinating to learn about John’s career from high-profile politics to being a decision maker in major technology that is changing the way we consume and create information online,” she said.

Aside from speaking on the panel, Bryony enjoyed connecting with fellow attendees, hearing about their careers, and learning about the opportunities they found in NYC.

“From alums starting their own architect studios to those pioneering ground-breaking research in psychology, there’s a real spirit of entrepreneurialism amongst the community and a generosity with sharing information, contacts and connections,” she said.

“That makes it really valuable to be a part of, both personally and professionally.”

Strengthening University ties

In his keynote address, the Vice-Chancellor updated the NYC alumni community on University projects affecting students, researchers, and the broader community both within Australia and abroad.

One such topic was the University’s role in Australia’s upcoming referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

“On this very important issue, I would like to make it clear that everyone in the University community is encouraged to raise their voices about this,” said Professor Maskell.

“In various statements over the past few years, the University has strongly supported formal recognition of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders as the first peoples of Australia, and we will remain right behind the work towards this goal in 2023.”

Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell speaking at a podium.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell addressed the NYC alumni community at the reception.

The Vice-Chancellor also spoke of his recent trip to India alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the pursuit of further international diversification at the University.

“During this trip I took the chance to announce that Indian students will now have the opportunity to complete a new University of Melbourne Bachelor of Science Dual Degree,” he shared.

It also provided an opportunity for the Vice-Chancellor to share some of the immensely impactful work made possible by the generosity of the University’s alumni and donor community.

“One extraordinary initiative is the $250 million donation we received from international philanthropist, Geoff Cumming, last year,” shared Professor Maskell.

“Geoff wanted to have a global impact through investing in pandemic therapeutics, and he searched the world for the best place to make the investment. He chose us – our city, our University, to set up the Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics.”

Closing out his address, the Vice-Chancellor urged the NYC alumni community to stay connected and support the University in its pursuit of tackling climate issues, progressing Indigenous knowledge and opportunity, building resilience to infectious disease, and harnessing the power of higher education.

Lasting relationships

Attendees enjoyed learning about emerging concepts in the field of digital entertainment and the latest news from the University, but the resounding highlight was the chance to connect with friends.

Participants at the VC's alumni reception Alumni connecting at the Vice-Chancellor’s NYC alumni reception.

“Catching up with an old friend, Grant Marani, who employed me after graduating from GSAPP-Columbia was nice,” shared Fereshteh. “Grant is a University of Melbourne alum as well.”

And for Bryony, the value she received from speaking on the panel went beyond sharing her professional knowledge and perspectives.

“John’s a living example of ‘making it’ in NYC,” she said. “To be honest, the main highlight was making a new friend.”

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