Meet Ben Olijnyk, Carnegie Mellon University in Australia’s new Deputy Head

Posted 24th February 2021

Carnegie Mellon University in Australia (CMU-A) is excited to announce Ben Olijnyk as its new Deputy Head.

Mr Olijnyk was previously CMU-A’s Director of ICT and Infrastructure and takes over from Professor Danura Miriyagalla, who has resigned to pursue other opportunities but remains a key Adjunct Faculty member.

CMU-A Head Emil Bolongaita said Mr Olijnyk has a strong track record in successfully leading and managing programs that harness ICT for education and learning innovations. He also praised Ben’s role in successfully transitioning CMU-A to online learning at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To get to know Mr Olijnyk better, we asked him some questions about his background and what he wants to see at CMU-A moving forward.

What excites you most about your new role?

Carnegie Mellon has always inspired me. I mean, what's more inspiring than working for an organisation founded by an entrepreneur giving back to their community?

I’m excited about taking on more responsibilities and working closely with our leadership teams here in Adelaide and in Pittsburgh. I’m looking forward to having a greater influence on the university’s growth and direction, especially with the world’s rapidly increasingly reliance on technology.

I’m an optimistic person with a sense of ownership and collaboration. I’m excited about helping our community work more synergistically to take advantage of every opportunity. CMU-A thrives on its diversity of perspective and it’s been shown time and again to foster fresh thinking to solve tough problems.

Tell us a bit about your background and the professional journey that led you to CMU-A… 

My career in education started in 1989 as a part-time teacher and later as the IT manager at the Technology School of the Future, an initiative of the Department of Education of South Australia aimed at integrating ICT into educational institutions' teaching and learning curriculum.

I subsequently established the Education Development Centre, the Internet-Infrastructure to all South Australia government schools and the ICT systems of the Australian Science and Mathematics School a state-of-the-art facility to serve students and teacher training in STEM in South Australia.

In 2006, I was appointed by CMU to be its Manager for ICT services and eventually its Director for ICT. From 2009 to 2017, under my leadership, CMU-A also managed the Adelaide campus of University College London's ICT services. My creative nature stems from studying lateral thinking with a dual focus on Education and Design, and from 1989 onwards spending five years in several start-up computing companies.

Ben in front of the Torrens Building, CMU-A campus in Adelaide

What do you hope to achieve in your new role? 

One of my aims is to improve awareness of CMU-A within the Australian and Asian IT and public policy communities. I want to build on our reputation of providing high quality graduates by continually improving the experience we provide for our students, staff and alumni.

I also want to refine and explore the technology we use to teach our students and the role remote learning will play in our future without overlooking the values that come from our strong traditional teaching models.

What do you see for the future at Carnegie Mellon University in Australia?

I think there’s a lot to be excited about with CMU-A’s future. One of the most exciting things is that we’re always improving the services we provide our exceptional students and I think there’s a lot of scope to continue to enhance this.

Over the next 10 years, I think Australia will become even more renowned for the quality of education available here. Higher education institutions here have been forced to reform and innovate in the face of COVID-19, and I’m sure that will continue to lead to improvements.

CMU is known for its work on artificial intelligence, robotics, smart cities and autonomous vehicles. Are our students going to see any of these technologies at the Australian campus? What are your plans for the Futures Labs? 

There are other roles that CMU-A can play for these types of initiatives, especially with the recent influx of multinational IT companies into Adelaide and Australia. CMU’s reputation makes it easier for our students to explore these exciting avenues.

When the pandemic dust settles, the Adelaide campus offers a gateway into our region that no other USA-based university has. With the ‘Futures Labs’ initiative, I look forward to students excelling in their internship opportunities.

Away from work, what do you enjoy doing? 

I enjoy spending time with my wife Jayne and supporting my two children, Sophia and William, as they start their own university studies. I’m an avid cyclist and windsurfer. Many years ago I sailed “Tornado Catamarans” in several Olympic trials in Australia. These days I’m more casual with my sailing pursuits, but still love spending time on the water.