Incredible alumni firsts!

UNSW's trailblazing graduates

UNSW has a wealth of incredible graduates who have gone on to achieve some notable ‘firsts’ – whether it be the first at our University, the first in Australia, or even first in the world. We are very proud of our many trailblazing alumni who have achieved incredible feats across the physical, social and political realms. To celebrate this trend, we’ve listed a selection of our stand-out graduates who defied the status quo and led the way for many others on the path to success. We salute you!


Professor June Griffith

BChem '52

June was UNSW’s first ever female graduate in 1952 and was among the first cohort of graduates in the 1950s. She also went on to achieve a Masters and PhD. She returned to UNSW School of Chemistry in 1966 as a teaching academic where she stayed with us for many years. Sadly, June passed away in 1978 following a battle with cancer – she was only 54. To honour her legacy, we award the annual June Griffith Memorial Prize to our top performing Chemistry students along with a June Griffith Fellowship for Academic Women in Leadership.


Pat O'Shane AM

LLB '76

Pat O’Shane AM was not only UNSW’s first Indigenous graduate; she was also Australia’s first ever Indigenous Law graduate. A Kunjandji woman from Kuku Yalanji people, Pat achieved many firsts in her career, starting with being the first female Aboriginal teacher in Queensland before moving to NSW to study Law. Once she graduated in 1976 she went on to become Australia’s first Indigenous barrister, Australia's first Aboriginal magistrate, and the first woman and indigenous person to be the head of a government department in Australia, with the New South Wales Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.


David Wong

BCom '76, LLB '77

Justice David Wong, who graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1976 and Bachelor of Laws in 1977, was appointed to the Federal Court of Malaysia on 30 April 2018. This officially made him the first person in UNSW Law history to be appointed to the apex court of a nation. Justice Wong paid tribute to the faculty as being instrumental in his career. Before this appointment, he served for seven years in the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak until his appointment to the Court of Appeal of Malaysia in 2013 where he served for five years. He recently returned to Australia March this year and attended the Law’s 40th Year Alumni Reunion. Read more here.


Senator Mehreen Faruqi

MEngSc '94, PhD (Eng) '00

This year Dr Mehreen Faruqi became the first ever Muslim woman to be sworn into the Australian Senate. A member of Greens party and the NSW Legislative Council, Mehreen’s portfolios have included the Environment, Marine Environment and Fisheries, Transport, Healthy Lifestyles, Roads and Ports, Status of Women, Sexuality and Gender Identity, Multiculturalism, Animal Welfare, Healthy Lifestyles, and Young People. Mehreen enrolled at UNSW after her father had previously studied with us under the Colombo Plan in the 1950s. She completed a Master of Engineering Science degree in 1994, and later received a doctorate in environmental engineering in 2000. Read more here.


Justin Jones

BSc '05

Justin Jones paddled his way into the history books as one of the first to successfully cross the Trans-Tasman by sea kayak, unassisted. His epic journey of 3,318 km across the Tasman Sea, shared with friend James Castrission in 2008, took a total of 62 days, and also represented the longest transoceanic double kayak expedition. Four years later, Justin and James (Jonesy and Cas) became the first to trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back unsupported. The journey took 89 gruelling days, and they made it back to the coast after having skied 2,275 km with everything they needed to survive in the harsh environment. Read more about his journey here.


Anita Lawrence

BArchSt '55

Associate Professor Anita Lawrence graduated as the University’s first female architect in 1955, before beginning a 32-year teaching career at UNSW, where she specialised in acoustics and design. She was also one of the founding members of the Australian Acoustical Society. In her honour, UNSW has established the Anita Lawrence Chair in High Performance Architecture in the Faculty of Built Environment.


Do you have a great story or achievement you’d like to share with the UNSW Alumni & Engagement team? Get in touch at