Innovative MDS researchers celebrated at the 2023 Research Awards

Since 2019, The Torrens University Australia Research Awards has proudly recognised excellence, impact, and the synergy between research, teaching and practice at Torrens University Australia and Media Design School, as well as an alignment and commitment to Be Good philosophy as Certified B Corporations.  

Professor Kerry London, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research honoured the achievements of researchers who have contributed significantly to the growth, momentum, and maturity in research.

Joined by Professor Alwyn Louw, Chairman of the Academic Board of Media Design School, and Vice-Chancellor of TUA, and Dan Cockerell, Co-CEO Torrens Global Education, Professor London awarded prizes in the following categories: 

  • Research Excellence: Dr Elsa Dent  

  • Research Impact: Dr Moana Nepia  

  • Research-Teaching-Practice Nexus: Catherine Smith, Commendation: Robert Tuckwell  

  • Early Career Research Excellence: Dr Ranpreet Kaur, Commendation: Dr Cindy Lee  

  • Research Supervision Excellence: Associate Professor Justin Pierce  

  • Higher Degree by Research Excellence: Samantha Batchelor, Commendation: Dr Iveta Kohutova  


Renowned for a culture of rigorous inquiry and interdisciplinary collaboration 

Dr Moana Nepia received the Research Impact Award, and Dr Ranpreet Kaur awarded the Early Career Research Excellence Award at the 2023 Torrens University Australia Research Awards, acknowledged for their contributions to Media Design Schools’ research journey of discovery in design and creative technology through a culture of rigorous inquiry and interdisciplinary collaboration that encourages industry innovation and community engagement.   

Dr Sarah Elsie Baker, Head of Research at Media Design School, reflected on the grand strides the school has made in research since 2014 as it developed its research profile with the guiding belief that research is critical to teaching and learning. 

“In the last few years researchers at Media Design School have been making a great impact in their academic fields as well as in industry and community. As a small school we really are punching above our weight,” said Dr Baker. “I look forward to the great research that we have in the pipeline and potential national and international collaborations to come.” 


The 2023 Research Impact Award  

The Research Impact Award was awarded to Dr Moana Nepia, Media Design School’s Senior Research Fellow, for generating research impact through applying Māori knowledge, values and practices to co-lead project design, collaboration, partnership, and engagement strategies.   

“Dr Moana Nepia’s research is outstanding. His approach to working with community informed by Mātauranga Māori has made a huge impact on the fields of art, design and creative technology, and has enhanced the ongoing relationships we continue to build as a school,” said Dr Baker. 

Dr Nepia has been a significant asset to MDS and was a significant lead with Dr Sarah Elsie Baker on the first grant won by the school for Digitaonga: exploring new methods of repatriation using blockchain technology. The team was awarded a $213,000 research grant from the NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Urungi: Innovating Aotearoa Fund to finance the first stage of the project which will work with three iwi/museum partners.  

“This recognition of collaborative research really gets to the heart of what I've tried to achieve at Media Design School with the three major projects that I've been involved with, altogether the work is all related although it's been diverse,” said Dr Nepia. “I am indebted to all the people who worked towards these projects, and I feel this award honours that collaborative nature. Thank you very much to everyone involved.”    

The Digitaonga project was born from a student led project with colleagues Creative Advertising Programme Director, Kate Humphries, and alumni Shaun Peyman, Erin Rogatski, Bella Rakete and Sam Taunton-Clark, alongside a series of museums curators in different parts of New Zealand and different Māori communities of origin. The collaborative project investigates the application of new and emerging digital tech around the curatorial practice relating to taonga or Māori artefacts, with an international panel of advisors from Hawaii, Germany and Auckland.  

The second project is based on a senior Māori artist, Selwyn Muru, a media pioneer across radio, television, theatre, music and education who passed away early in 2024.  

“It was a real honour to work on this project in collaboration with a large number of people who contributed through interviews leading to a major touring exhibition through national and regional galleries in New Zealand, and a book project to come out next year,” said Dr Nepia.   

The third project followed Māori knowledge and practice and involved Dr Nepia as co-editor contributing to publications on critical stages for the International Theatre Critics Journal by interviewing six Māori theatre and dance practitioners and cinematographers.  


The 2023 Early Career Research Excellence Award    

The Early Career Research Excellence Award recognises an early career academic who has achieved the highest level of excellence in their research activity for the preceding three years and fosters the talent of outstanding researchers at the beginning of their research careers. Dr Ranpreet Kaur, MDS Artificial Intelligence Learning Facilitator (Bachelor of Software Engineering,) received the award for making significant contributions to knowledge and outcomes in developing novel software models for health problems.   

“Dr Kaur’s research heavily aligns with the ‘Here for Good’ strategy at MDS and is a wonderful example of research excellence and rigour,” said Dr Baker. “Ranpreet’s research has significant potential to make a positive impact on the lives of us all.”    

Dr Kaur’s research focused on creating a solution to a skin cancer diagnosis problem by developing novel AI models to detect it at early stages so that timely treatment can be provided. Many countries across the world face a high number of skin cancer cases each year, so this research is significant.  

Dr Kaur published five papers in Q1 and Q2 journals, and three research papers in different book series published by Springers and as a part of conferences - Deep Learning in Medical Applications: Lesion Segmentation in Skin Cancer Images Using Modified and Improved Encoder-Decoder Architecture, Deep Learning Model with Atrous Convolutions for Improving Skin Cancer Classification, and Melanoma Classification Using Deep Learning. She has also published more than 20 papers in international conferences and is also actively reviewing research papers for some referred journals.    

“My current focus is to extend the scope of this research project by embedding the software system into mobile apps so that people can conveniently use it for initial assessment of skin cancer at home,” explained Dr Kaur. “I'm currently working on identifying different types of cancers with the team of pathologists from New Zealand and USA.”      

“I feel really honoured by getting recognised as an early career researcher,” said Dr Kaur. “I believe to grow in research sector, along with individuals hard work, an organisation plays a huge role to smooth the process by providing support. Huge thank you for the recognition of this award, and massive appreciation to MDS, especially Dr Sarah Baker and Jordan Browne,” said Dr Kaur. 


Torrens University Australia Research Awards showcasing innovative researchers 

Now in their fifth year, the Research Awards have provided an annual pause to reflect on the impressive momentum achieved in such a short history. Each year the ceremony showcases experts in various fields and benchmarks maturity of the university’s research.  

“We're demonstrating the breadth and depth of our expertise through both our increased research output, and the growing level of recognition our researchers are receiving locally and particularly globally,” said Professor Louw.  

Congratulations to all the nominees and award winners.  

Dr Ranpreet Kaur is a lecturer at Media Design School
Early Career Research Excellence winner, Dr Ranpreet Kaur
Dr Moana Nepia is a Research Fellow at Media Design School
Research Impact winner, Dr Moana Nepia