Caroline Kennedy praises solar initiatives during visit to UNSW

17 Aug 2022
A group of people in the SIRF building

The US Ambassador to Australia met with UNSW leaders, researchers and students as well as attending a friend’s graduation ceremony during her visit to campus.

United States Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy visited UNSW Sydney’s Kensington campus last week, where she had a tour of the Solar Industrial Research Facility (SIRF), met with American students, and attended the graduation ceremony of long-time friend Dr Melissa Chiu.

“Thank you to the entire UNSW community for the warm welcome and inspiring visit. Congratulations to all the graduates and to alumna Dr Melissa Chiu, Director of the U.S. national museum of modern and contemporary art, who embodies the close ties between the US and Australia. I can’t wait to come back and see more of the cutting-edge research on solar and renewable energy that is helping to address the climate crisis,” Ambassador Kennedy said.

Ambassador Kennedy is the daughter of former US President John F. Kennedy and is the former US Ambassador to Japan. She was appointed US Ambassador to Australia in July of this year. 

Mr David Gonski AC, Chancellor UNSW Sydney and Professor Attila Brungs, Vice-Chancellor and President accompanied Ambassador Kennedy during her visit.

“It was quite a special occasion to have Caroline Kennedy on campus,” Prof. Brungs said. “Particularly wonderful was that she had the opportunity to experience a UNSW graduation ceremony, speak to American students and hear first-hand details of our solar research. Ambassador Kennedy will address many important issues, such as climate change, in her new role so it was fitting to demonstrate the latest developments in solar energy research, one example of the work our university does to benefit society at large.”

While visiting SIRF, Professor Renate Egan, Scientia Professor Martin Green and Professor Alistair Sproul provided Ambassador Kennedy with an overview of solar photovoltaic research and development at UNSW.

The UNSW researchers explained how the facility accelerates the commercialisation of photovoltaic research through solar cell research and development and is a training ground for the future leaders of the photovoltaics industry.

Scientia Professor Martin Green provides Ambassador Kennedy and Dr. Edwin Schlossberg with an overview of solar photovoltaic research and development at UNSW. Photo UNSW/Richard Freeman.


While on campus, Ambassador Kennedy met with three international students from America – Elizbeth Surovic, Tommy Wagner and Riley Elliott – who shared their experiences of UNSW, and also attended the graduation ceremony of her friend Dr Melissa Chiu.

UNSW student Elizbeth Surovic from Texas is undertaking her PhD, specialising in evolutionary biology. Riley Elliot and Tommy Wagner from California are both studying computer science at UNSW and playing rugby for the local Randwick rugby union club during their time in Australia.

“I first heard about UNSW while I was working on my Masters degree and read an article in The American Naturalist written by Associate Professor Terry Ord about fish becoming terrestrial. The paper inspired me to do my PhD and I came to UNSW to study with A/Prof. Ord who is an expert in this field,” Ms Surovic said.

Mr Elliot and Mr Wagner said that they were attracted to UNSW as it offered a world class education, and the three-term system was particularly accommodating for international students.

Ambassador Caroline Kennedy meets with American students while visiting UNSW Kensington Campus. Dr. Edwin Schlossberg, Tommy Wagner, Riley Elliott, Ambassador Kennedy, Elizbeth Surovic. Photo: UNSW/Richard Freeman.


“It was heart-warming to hear the students speak so positively about their time at UNSW, reinforcing the vibrant and strong relationship Australia has with the US,” Prof. Brungs said. “And UNSW graduation ceremonies are one of the most enjoyable events to attend on campus. I’m thrilled that Ambassador Kennedy could attend that of her friend, internationally acclaimed curator and director, Dr Chiu.”

Dr Chiu graduated from UNSW in 1995 with a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from the College of Fine Arts. She and Ambassador Kennedy first met during her time as Director of the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.

She was the first international director in the history of the museum. Dr Chiu has transformed the American national gallery of modern art into an inclusive and leading voice for contemporary art and culture. Under her stewardship, for the first time, museum attendance records have reached over one million.