For over a decade, Bernard Saliba has been a part of the UTS community. From undergraduate student to administrative technical assistant to Scholarly Teaching Fellow and now course coordinator, Bernard has witnessed some of the university’s biggest changes.
We sat down with him to talk about his journey to UTS, and how helmets in Vietnam sparked a life-long interest in public health.
You were an undergraduate student here at UTS. What were you studying and where did it take you?
I finished high school in 2006, and I enrolled in a Bachelor of Medical Science in 2007. However, in my final year, I took a leave of absence and travelled overseas; I didn’t want to rush my degree and jump straight into a job, so I decided to take a break and discover more about myself. I went to Vietnam and lived there for six months while teaching English to children. I was 19 at the time. After that, I went to Germany and taught English to adults there for a year.
After my time overseas, I returned home and finished my Medical Science degree. Through this, I was offered a casual position as a data entry technical assistant at the Faculty of Health – at the time, it was the Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Health.
I worked with Professor Robyn Gallagher, and she introduced me to research and academia. Professor Gallagher was a nursing professor, but I learned a lot about health while collaborating with her on a research project. My name was actually published on one of her papers!
At 22, I was newly graduated with a published research paper… so I decided to leave again. This time, I did a solo cycling trip around Southeast Asia – across Thailand, Laos and Vietnam – to again learn more about myself. It took me three months.
I ended up in Hanoi, Vietnam again where I landed a position with the Australian Embassy as a contractor, to teach English to the Vietnamese army. Through the teaching experiences I had had in Vietnam and Germany prior, as well as my tertiary education in Medical Science, my job there was to develop and teach medical and nursing English courses to military doctors and nurses.
During my time in Hanoi, I became friends with Mariam Bhacker, a woman who had worked on a health promotion campaign targeting helmet use in the country. You see, in Vietnam, the most common form of transport is motorbike or moped. Admittedly, I had one too, but I knew to wear a helmet. A lot of people there refuse to wear helmets because there is a stigma about helmet use that has changed the population’s perception of this kind of protective headgear. There was very little consideration to public health standards.
So, Mariam, who was my neighbour, really inspired me. I looked up to her and to the work that she was doing. She had completed a degree in public health. Meeting her reignited my interest in public health, so I decided to start a Master of International Public Health.
I initially began this program online via correspondence, but moved back to Australia in 2015. I added a second Master degree, so I was doing a Master of International Public Health and a Master of Health Management.
At the same time, through my existing connections to UTS, I was able to work on another research project with the then UTS Health academic Caleb Ferguson. Caleb and I published a research paper together and at the end of 2015, I was offered a casual teaching position for a brand new degree called the Bachelor of Health Science which was due to start in 2016.
In Autumn 2016, I taught one core subject – Psychosocial Perspectives on Health. I felt that I had connected really well with the students; I was only 25 at the time and felt I had a lot of experience behind me, so I was able to share this with students who were not much younger than I was.
This was the starting point for me; I felt like I was in the right place at the right time doing the right job.
I loved teaching, and I had plenty of experience teaching a diverse range of students so it felt easy for me. Teaching those students from the first-ever cohort was very special. We were all new; they were new to UTS and I was new to the course.
UTS feels like a second home to me: I was a student here, and then I became a professional staff member and then a casual academic and now, I have been a full-time academic for three years. I have grown, and have watched the university and the campus grow and so it’s a very special place.
What are your plans for the future?
For the future, I’d like to produce more research, however I can’t do much of that as a Scholarly Teaching Fellow where my workload is heavily teaching. So, I am planning to complete a PhD so that I can divide my workload 50-50 between teaching and research. This way, I can produce more publications and eventually supervise PhD students.
My focus for the short-term is teaching and learning. I am interested in pursuing research in the future but for now, in my current position, I am concentrated on teaching. Funnily enough, my areas of interest are definitely things that I am currently teaching; for example, subjects such as Global Human Rights and Health Equity, Health Promotion and Advocacy as well as Communication and Technology explore key themes or issues that I’m interested in incorporating in my research later on.
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