The Victorian International Education Awards are an initiative of the Victorian Government to support the international education sector, promote best practice and raise awareness of its benefits to the broader community.

These prestigious awards recognise and celebrate leaders in Victoria’s international education sector and the outstanding achievements of international students.

We are excited the introduce the finalists for the Victorian International Education Awards for 2020.

International Student of the Year – English Language Training

Paola Pinzon (Colombia)

Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) Exam Preparation, Impact English College

Paola Pinzon

Paola started her studies at Impact English Collage in June 2019 at pre-intermediate level. Since then she has studied general English most of the time, passing through for pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate and finally advanced. She is currently attending a course called Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) Exam Preparation, as this is a prestigious certification to access to postgraduate programmes at universities and jobs around the world. She has been a Christmas on the Streets (COTS) volunteer for one and a half years. COTS is a not-for-profit organisation supporting men and women experiencing homelessness, founded in 2016. It is a movement supporting Victorian communities and she says ‘it has been my pleasure to contribute while I am a student here, especially through the Bushfire Relief Event and Crisis Accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ayesha Bibi (Pakistan)

Master of Teaching Secondary, Australian Catholic University

Ayesha Bibi

Ayesha has a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Botany, Zoology and Chemistry and was admitted to the University of The Punjab in the Master of Science Education (MS.Ed). She applied to attend Australian Catholic University (ACU) and undertook the 20 weeks of English Language study. Ayesha’s teaching philosophy is to help disadvantaged students, specially to help girls to get rid of gender inequalities and domestic violence by achieving quality education and observing equal rights. She chose to study at ACU because of its world class ranking, significant quality education and social justice thought. She hopes a Masters of Secondary Teaching (MTECH) would make her able to comprehend the best pedagogy, which in turn, will assist her to deliver her knowledge of science in the best way to students.

Maite Gonzalez (Spain)

Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE), Impact English College

Maite Gonzalez

Miate’s story started in January when she arrived at Melbourne with plenty of ideas and illusions that faded when COVID-19 appeared. As a biologist she was touched with the bushfires and she was willing to do something to help. But first she needed to settle into Melbourne. She found it a challenging time. Miate commenced studying English in January and started in the upper-intermediate level. After three months she was read to take the exam, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19. She took the entry test and progressed through to complete her CAE course. Miate is a Biologist and English is the language of science, which is why she came to Victoria.

International Student of the Year – Vocational Education & Training (VET)

Claudia Viloria (Colombia)

Diploma of Business, Insight Academy, iGrow

Claudia Viloria

Claudia started a project that has impacted hundreds of women in the Latin and Hispanic communities in Victoria and Australia. It started with a small private group on Facebook called Gals en Australia, where she wanted to build as a safe and trustworthy network to empower Latin and Hispanic students to succeed in their professional careers in Australia. Currently, Gals en Australia is a legally constituted company and the Facebook group, which is the main online communication channel, has grown to 5,000+ women. She has grown as a professional and understands that developing a business from scratch is not about making a profit but about creating innovative and holistic solutions to support disadvantaged communities. Claudia is looking forward to starting the Advanced Diploma of Business next year. She strongly believes that the time management, leadership, and design thinking tools she is equipped with after her first year of study at Insight Academy will firmly support her goals.

Somethea Siek (Cambodia)

Diploma of Information Technology, Deakin College

Somethea Siek

Somethea commenced his Diploma of Information Technology at Deakin College, where he joined the Student Committee. He was a mentor in two programs: Deakin College Learning Mentors and Deakin College Liaison Mentors. Once Somethea completed his diploma, his programming talents were recognised and he was hired by Psych Press as a Software Engineer to develop software solutions for Australian educational institutes and Australian government organisations. Somethea received a Deakin Academic Merit Scholarship when applying to study Diploma of IT at Deakin College. During the diploma, his WAM scores were very high, which helped him receive the Deakin STEM scholarship. His Diploma of IT course has helped him achieve one of his career goals, which is to become a Software Developer. His next step forward is to create a technology company specialising in Artificial Intelligence, particularly in the field of Machine Learning (ML).

Kimberly Mitchiko V. Clemencio (Philippines)

Diploma in Community Services, Southern Cross Education Institute

Kimberly Mitchiko V. Clemencio

Kimberly has obtained a Bachelor’s degree in the Philippines under the program Consular and Diplomatic Affairs also known as International Relations. In her first year in Australia she commenced Graduate studies of Law at Victoria University and became a member of Dictum Society. A year later, she decided to change to a Diploma in Community Service and once completed she will commence an Advanced Diploma in Community Service and Sector Management. Kimberley is a Study Melbourne Ambassador and has contributed in community roundtable discussions spearheaded by Vivienne Nguyen, Chairperson of VMC. She is also a contributing writer to The Philippine Times and ensures she stays connected to the Philippine Consulate for news and support available for Filipino students. She participated in the Department of Premier and Cabinet's initiative in producing a Coronavirus (COVID-19) PSA and used her language to explain the current restrictions in metro Melbourne and Victoria.

International Student of the Year – Higher Education

Varsha Devi Balakrishnan (Singapore)

Master of Counselling, Monash University

Varsha Devi Balakrishnan

Varsha is completing her second Masters degree, the Masters of International Development (MIDP) at Monash University. While doing her research for her thesis she realised her passion for helping those that do not have voice and the under-privileged. Through pursuing her MIDP and working with Friends of Refugees (FOR) and International Needs Australia (INA), she understood the importance of mental health and propelled her to pursue further studies by taking up a Master of Counselling. Supporting the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities in Australia is a passion project and through Friends of Refugees and her Masters in Development Practice, Varsha has been able to engage with various grassroots migrant community leaders to discuss the needs of the community. She also mentored Indigenous high school kids to improve their interest in higher education. Varsha has been counselling at-risk youths at Headspace Sunshine and when COVID-19 hit, the demand for such services drastically increased. She has also served as the National Secretary of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), the national peak representative body for international students.

Alejandra Bogado Tervit (Paraguay)

Master of Education, University of Melbourne

Alejandra Bogado Tervit

Alejandra is studying a Master of Education specialising in Leadership and Management at the University of Melbourne. After a month in Victoria, she was involved and contributing to the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) community by volunteering for the University Open Day. She has also completed her undergraduate law degree at the Catholic University of Asuncion and was awarded the Paraguayan Government BECAL Scholarship to study at the University of Melbourne. Alejandra became president of the Paraguayan Student Association (PSA) in November 2019 for the 2020 period. She volunteers within the larger community of the university through the Student Impact program in association with the Random Acts of Kindness Day in 2019, and became a peer mentor of the University of Melbourne Peer Mentor Program (MPMP) in 2020. Alejandra is a Spanish teacher in the Language Exchange Club, a student-run, not-for-profit club part of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) that provides a social language learning platform for second language learners.

Oanh (Olena) Thi Kim Nguyen (Vietnam)

Bachelor of Social Work, Victoria University

Oanh (Olena) Thi Kim Nguyen

Olena is currently studying a Bachelor of Social Work at Victoria University, she has also completed a Diploma in Business with Navitas Academic Merit Scholarship from La Trobe University. She has completed her first placement at Department of Health and Human Services. Olena has made significant contributions to her community through the Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations Group at Victoria University, Melbourne City Mission’s Youth Action Group, UCan2 Program – Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), and as a youth leader at Leadership Victoria’s New and Emerging Community Leadership Program (NECLP). Olena was invited to attend the Global Youth Leadership Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal and at the summit she presented on the topic ‘Youth – Peace – Democracy’. She was the Human Capital Director of 2018 Victorian International Student Conference (VISC) – an inaugural event and one of the largest student-run conferences in Australia. Olena is also a former Study Melbourne Ambassador.

International Student of the Year – Research

Shruti Verma (India)

Doctor of Philosophy (Accounting), Deakin University

Shruti Verma

Shruti has completed a Master of Accounting and International Finance and a Bachelor’s Degree at Deakin University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in the field of Accounting. She was awarded membership into the Golden Key Honour Society for being in the top 15% of students in her course by academic scores, and was offered a full scholarship to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy at Deakin. Shruti is also a Non-Executive Director of Pinewood Community Bank Branch, Bendigo Bank, she contributes to help build banking institutions that also create a positive difference within the community. She is a lifetime member of Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), a premier international honour and service organisation based in the United States. Shruti is part of the United Nations Association of Australia, Victoria Division and contributes to advance the UN goals of engaging local communities with Sustainable Development Goals. Last year, Shruti was selected as one of the two students from the University to represent the international student voice at the ‘Student Voice Australia Symposium’ held at University of Technology, Sydney.

Fernando Gordillo Altamirano (Ecuador)

PhD in Science, Monash University

Fernando Gordillo Altamirano

Fernando completed his medical degree and commenced working as a general practitioner for a year in rural Ecuador. He then moved to Australia to study his Master’s degree in Infection and Immunity at the University of Sydney. His PhD project tackles one of the most threatening health crises the world is facing: antibiotic resistance and has received full scholarship funded by Monash University. He is currently developing a strategy called “phage therapy”. Phages are viruses that can kill these superbugs, without harming the patient. Fernando’s first publication on phage therapy won the awards for Publication of the Year at the School and Faculty levels last year. His second paper stemming from his research has recently been accepted for publication in Nature Microbiology, arguably the leading journal in Medical Microbiology in the world. Fernando has won the Nancy Millis Award for Outstanding Research by a PhD Student. Fernanda is a Graduate Teaching Associate for the Department of Microbiology at Monash University and has given online seminars to medical students at Universidad de los Andes (Venezuela) and biotechnology students at ESPE University (Ecuador).

Ruwangi Fernando (Sri Lanka)

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Victoria University / Institute Sustainable Industries Liveable Cities

Ruwangi Fernando

Ruwangi is currently a PhD research student at Victoria University. She has received a full scholarship for her research from Data61, CSIRO, which focuses on how computer algorithms can predict the traffic disruptions caused by major special events, such as football games or concerts. Ruwangi secured an APR Intern opportunity at the Victorian Department of Transport. As a successful applicant for Victoria University SSAF student experience initiative grant in both 2017 and 2018, she initiated STEM Sisters to retain, support and celebrate female international students and migrants (women of colour) in science engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) fields. Ruwangi was selected as STEM Women Changemakers by the Australian Academy of Science for her outstanding efforts in promoting gender equity in STEM. She joined Victoria University Postgraduate Association (VUPA) and held multiple student representative roles, and is currently the incoming president for 2021. She also joined IEEE WIE (Women in Engineering) Victorian section and is the current Secretary. She is a sessional lecturer in Victoria University’s College of Business, as well as a Research Ambassador, providing peer-to-peer support to other VU researchers. Ruwangi was previously a Study Melbourne Ambassador and has also appeared as a panellist for a range of events promoting women and diversity in STEM.

International Student of the Year – Regional

Justin See (Philippines)

PhD in Community Planning & Development, La Trobe University

Justin See

Justin is currently studying a PhD in community planning and development at La Trobe University. He has presented his research at numerous conferences, the Asian Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore, RMIT and La Trobe University,  shared his thesis results at the 2019 International Research Forum on the Philippines, Melbourne; the Southeast Asian Geography Association (SEAGA) Conference based in Chulalongkorn University (Thailand); and Hong Kong Geography Day 2020 based in Hong Kong Baptist University (all online due to COVID-19). Justin has also had his journal article published in the leading climate change journals, Global Environmental Change. He is currently engaged in the following roles – Intercultural Ambassador for the City of Greater Bendigo, Board of Directors Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, Committee of Management Phoenix FM Community Radio and Radio Host, Phoenix FM. He volunteers as a radio co-host for two programmes at Phoenix FM: The Filipino Show and The Multicultural Show.

Nikhil Krishnaprasad (India)

Master of Engineering (Professional), Deakin University

Nikhil Krishnaprasad

Nikhil is currently studying a Master’s degree, which is a dual degree with a major in electrical and renewable energy and minor in project management at Deakin University. He was elected Postgraduate Officer for Deakin University Student Association (DUSA). Nikhil is an International Student Ambassador for Study Geelong, to assist students transition to a new environment and includes International Students Welcome Week, Aussie Communication Bootcamp, Games and Trivia Night, Workshop on lodging a tax return, Welcome Event at Avalon Airport and Youth Strategy Discussion. Earlier this year he became a volunteer for two more roles at Deakin University – Peer Support Network Mentor for School of Engineering and Orientation Ambassador. Nikhil co-founded Indian Students’ Association of Victoria which acts as a peak representative body for all the Indian student clubs in various universities of Victoria. His goal is to build a leading industry in electric vehicle technology, an eco-friendly approach, which will help to build our future.

Mehzabin Elma (Bangladesh)

Bachelor of Electrical & Electronics Engineering, Deakin University

Mehzabin Elma

Mehzabin is currently completing an Honours degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Deakin University. She is the first Bangladeshi to receive the Vice Chancellor’s Academic Excellence scholarship. This scholarship has also opened doors to the Vice Chancellor’s Professional Excellence Program (VCPEP). She has been awarded the "EESA Power Engineering Student Award 2020" for the Victorian chapter of Electric Energy Society of Australia. While Mehzabin was part of the student ambassador program, she joined LEAD (Ladies in Engineering at Deakin) which hosted empowering events for female staff and students. She is a Student Ambassador for Outreach of School of Engineering and been involved in activities, such as designing and conducting STEM workshops. Mehzabin is a Deakin International Peer Mentor who supports international students as they transition into their overseas student life and start their university journey.

Victorian Student of the Year – Internationalisation

Christian Bayfield (Australia)

Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws, Deakin University

Christian Bayfield

Christian is studying a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws at Deakin University and a Diploma of Arabic at Deakin University. In 2018 he was awarded an NCP Global Mobility Scholarship an exchange program in Lima, Peru and in 2019 was awarded an NCP Global Mobility Scholarship to volunteer with the Seven Women Foundation in Nepal. He is part of the Study Geelong Mentorship Program, which connects international and local students with community leaders, business leaders and industry professionals. Christian is a Study Geelong Ambassador with the City of Greater Geelong to assist international students with a sense of belonging and celebrate the diverse community. He undertook an internship with Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine with Study Geelong to promote Geelong and the region to international students. Christian works with the Deakin University English Language Institute (DUELI) to support international students in the community and with their English language.

Laurence Daniel William Cashin (Australia)

Bachelor of Biomedical Science, La Trobe University

Laurence Daniel William Cashin

Laurence is currently studying a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at La Trobe University. He was awarded the LIMS Summer Research Scholarship and Dr Grant Drummonds research team provided a further scholarship. He is working towards gaining admission to postgraduate medicine to further his academic career. He has made significant contributions to the community through being a Scout Leader in training at 4th Brunswick Scout Group, in2 Science mentor at Antonine College, and while in Arusha, Tanzania, he volunteered at Mother's Mercy Orphanage and as a Medical Volunteer at St Elizabeth Hospital. Laurence has volunteered for three years at Two Birds One Scone and as President (2019-2020), developing and initiating a program that provides 800+ meals weekly to community members in hardship.

Tarik Zepcan (Australia)

Master of Education, University of Melbourne

Tarik Zepcan

Tarik is currently studying a Master of Education at the University of Melbourne. He also completed an undergraduate degree in Animal and Veterinary Biosciences with full Honours at La Trobe University. While at Latrobe, he completed several online accredited courses including; Scientific Writing with The University of Stanford, Equine Health 1 & 2 and Emergency Epidemic Training with the University of Edinburgh. He discovered his passion for STEM education and communication and enrolled in a Master of Education program, majoring in Science/STEM education at the University of Melbourne. In 2020, he became part of the mentor program at the University of Melbourne where he contributed to helping international students. He has made significant contributions to his community through the Collingwood College Kitchen-Garden program, Mentor Program of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), Master of Education Student Ambassador, Guest panellist in the first-ever online conference 'Paraguay Speaks, Australia 2020',  The Leaders in Community Awards and Play-Without-Boundaries PWB.

International Alumnus of the Year

Feifei Liao (China)

Feifei Liao

Feifei is an entrepreneur and the co-founder and managing director of Story is Connection – a not-for-profit built upon the success of Act of Translation, Be You Be Scene, Feifei Curiosity, After 4:30 and Cefood. She participated in the Lord Mayor’s Student Welcome program as a regular volunteer and part of the flash mob at AsiaTOPA and performer in Act of Translation at the Immigration Museum. Feifei was selected for the QTEM program and accepted in the Banking and Finance International Study Program, which provides students opportunities to go overseas to broaden data and finance perspectives in a global context. Feifei has completed a Master of Banking and Finance at Monash University which assisted in helping her understand how to build and run a start-up business.

Souphaphone Thoommavongsa (Laos)

Souphaphone Thoommavongsa

Souphaphone initiated, organised and delivered a virtual Sexual Health Conference series in June 2020. She worked to bring key stakeholders together including the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), Study Melbourne, Victoria Police, Crime Stoppers, Victorian Women’s Trust, Family Planning Victoria, Victoria University, Holmesglen, ANU and other key public health organisations. Souphaphone undertook a work placement with Power Neighborhood House to create and manage a meditation and mindfulness program designed to contribute to strengthening the health and wellbeing of the community. She is currently developing an online counselling platform with support of Global Sister, an organisation making business ventures possible for women. Souphaphone’s academic achievements to date are: Australia Awards Recipient, Coordinator of the Human Right Conference, support with course curriculum improvement, Dean’s Awards and placements and recipient of the Holmesglen Outstanding International Student of the Year 2020 award.

Lin Zhang (China)

Lin Zhang

Lin is a PhD candidate at the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne and Centre for Cancer Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre/Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC). He founded the Moyi Health Tech (, which is a leading Melbourne-based health technology company focusing on Education and Artificial Intelligence in medicine. Under Lin’s lead, Moyi Health Tech works closely with three Melbourne-based institutions (University of Melbourne – School of Population and Global Health, Monash University – School of Public Health, Monash University – eResearch Center/Articial Intelligence Group) and one global partner (Shanghai Yuecheng Medical Investment Management) to develop the colorectal cancer prediction algorithm. He won various Entrepreneurship Competition Awards in Victoria and China – Champion of “2018 Sunan Cup of Entrepreneurship Competition” launched by the City of Melbourne and Australia China Association of Scientist and Entrepreneurs (ACASE). He has received four scholarships from the University of Melbourne during his PhD, including Melbourne International Research Scholarship, The Melbourne International Fee Remission Scholarship, Melbourne Abroad Travelling Scholarship and Population Health Investing in Research Student Training.

Alejandra Angeles Gonzalez (Mexico)

Alejandra Bogado Tervit

Alejandra co-founded a Facebook Group to connect with other Latin and Hispanic women living in Australia – Gals en Australia. She was invited by the Embassy of Australia in Mexico, Central America, Cuba, and Dominican Republic to share her journey living in Melbourne in a campaign about Mexicans living in Australia. Alejandra completed a Masters of Management in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at La Trobe University. She was invited to be a member of the Excellence Academy & The Golden Key International Honour Society for my outstanding academic achievements. She was a Finalist of The Victoria Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) Student Entrepreneurial Award 2019 representing La Trobe University. She was invited as a guest expert to facilitate a workshop on 'Growth Hacking for Startups' at the 2020 Future Founders Festival, organised by Study Melbourne and the State Library of Victoria to support international students and alumni being included in the wider Victorian economy and society.