Student wins prestigious award for supporting diversity and fostering inclusion

Professor Susan Elliot presents award to Neshan

Professor Susan Elliot AM, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education) presenting the award to Neshan

He did not want others to feel left out and alone. With this in mind, Psychology student Neshan Anantha Rajah started a peer support program that provides long-term peer support at Monash Malaysia. The support program, known as the Fireplace, also offers internal practicum opportunities for counselling students.

His outstanding contributions to supporting diversity and fostering inclusion at Monash and beyond won him the Vice-Chancellor's Diversity and Inclusion Award on 7 October 2019. Neshan was flown out to our Clayton campus to receive the award and certificate during the Diversity and Inclusion Week.

Neshan's journey with us began in 2015. It was the year his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Due to personal reasons, he changed his course from Bachelor of Psychological Science to Bachelor of Business and Commerce. Since his heart wasn't into business, he started focusing more on extracurricular activities. He joined the Monash University Volunteering Program and served as a liaison officer. He also volunteered at the Agathians Shelter and City Revival Children's Home, organisations that provide shelter and support to underprivileged children. He went the extra mile to organise picnics and park visits for the children.

When his mother passed away, and with his father grieving, Neshan found the Monash's Toastmasters Club, in which he found a second home. When the leaders of the club were set to graduate, Neshan took over the reins, became president and restructured the entire club. Within 12 weeks of helming the organisation, membership participation and retention doubled, intercultural sharing increased and the club went on to win the prestigious President's Distinguished Club award from Toastmasters International for two consecutive years.

After completing his degree with the School of Business, an accident made him reflect on his life goals, and he decided to pursue his passion. He re-enrolled in the Bachelor of Psychological Science program. He felt older and out of place. Hence, he decided to start a peer support program. Neshan met with the Counselling Department - the counsellors were supportive of his idea. The Department assisted with program structuring and connected him with Season Chan, the co-founder.

The Fireplace is an exciting concept. It is a setting for deeper conversations without prejudice. The program utilises many components from the Counselling Department to facilitate group conversations, and even develops its own tools. Currently, the program runs purely on word of mouth, camaraderie and trust.

Neshan hopes that more students will join the program to connect with others. From disbelief to the appreciation of receiving the prestigious award, Neshan hopes to do more for his peers by completing his honours and pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

The sky's the limit! Congratulations, Neshan!