GAI Sypher believes in the importance of preserving services in rural communities, and uses her focus and determination to ensure the Central Highlands has a voice in the field of tertiary education.
Gai is the operations and project manager at the Emerald campus of the Central Queensland University, where her role is to look at ways to grow student numbers and develop community engagement.
In addition, Gai lectures in the Faculty of Arts Business Informatics and Education subjects.
She deals with a different demographic to traditional universities, as students in Emerald are predominantly mature aged, or parents looking at getting back in the workforce.
“Our local young people tend to want to leave home and go away to uni, so we are looking at strategies to attract more of them to our courses,” she said.
Gai believes there are lots of alternative ways and times to gain an education, and her own experience confirms this.
“I was a bit rebellious and didn’t like school, so I left before finishing Year 12.
“Dad told me I could leave school if I had a job, but he didn’t think I could get one. I did – and then he couldn’t go back on his word! I stayed in the Emerald district until I was 20 and then went on a rural exchange in Canada for 12 months, which was a great experience.”
On her return, Gai’s parents had moved to NSW.
“I was homeless and broke, so worked around NSW for a while before returning to Emerald. I felt very connected to the Central Highlands region, even though I no longer had family here.”
Things started to change when Gai married and started her own family.
“I had reached a certain stage in my life – a friend’s husband had passed away, and I thought, what would I do in that situation to support my family and a mortgage?”
Believing if you want something, you will find the time, Gai set about creating a solution.
“I knew I would have to further my education, so I started from the ground up. I did a bridging program, which allowed me to enrol in a Bachelor of Arts at CQUni.
“I completed my degree in six years, working part-time at the university, and raising two small children.
“Working at the uni gave me motivation and inspiration to keep studying.”
Gai did keep studying, and went straight on to complete her Master’s degree in Management and Human Resources.
Gai enjoys living in a rural community, and is passionate about maintaining services and facilities.
“An example is the Science Centre – it was originally in Capella, and looked like it was going to fold up if it stayed out there. Once you lose something in a rural area, you never get it back, so I was keen for CQUni to be one of the major sponsors as a service to the community.”
As president of the management committee, Gai has been actively involved with fund-raising, staffing and developing this valuable educational facility, and is confidently planning for the future, despite the recent flooding which inundated the centre.
As a member of the Community and Engagement Committee for CQUni, Gai is also positive about what lies ahead for the university and the Emerald campus in particular.
“The committee is made up of the pro vice chancellor, Community and Engagement (head of campus Mackay) and the heads of campuses in Bundaberg, Gladstone and Rockhampton.
“It is really exciting to be part of the decision-making, and have the power to direct community engagement into the local region.”
With Gai’s commitment to maintaining facilities, it seems the future of our university is in good hands.
The Inspirational Women project is a joint initiative of the Central Highlands Development Corporation, Central Highlands Regional Council, Westpac and AgForce.
Born: Bourke, NSW.
Who inspires you?: Fred Hollows. He was a great man, who dedicated his life to helping ordinary people.
Favourite quote: You get out of the community, what you put into the community.
First job: Domestic at the Emerald hospital.
I never thought I would…: Be seen as an inspirational person.
If you could invite someone to dinner who would it be?: Mel Gibson!
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