Lara Pilcher first began her association with Excelsia College in 1997 when she commenced her Bachelor of Creative Arts in Dance. For Lara, studying at an institution that taught creative arts from a faith-based perspective excited her. From the get-go, she became involved in the community and was able to refine her creative talents, learning from creatives from all over the world. Lara also enjoyed being a student representative of the entire college in her final year of studies.

When reflecting on her studies, Lara explains, ‘The dance degree was vigorous and very full. I further pursued acting and singing and broadened my education after the strong foundation I gained from Excelsia.’ After graduating from Excelsia in 1999, Lara completed a Musical Theatre Certificate II at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and then a master’s in musical theatre at Arts Educational School in London. Now, she’s using her knowledge as a performer and arts advocate and she networks with Christian artists all around the world. She also produces high quality events in Sydney and London and has taught performance masterclasses in Paris, Beijing, and New York. Prior to relocating to London to further pursue performing, Lara ran her own dance studio in Perth. She has also married a man who shares her same passion for the arts as a specialist physiotherapist for artists and the couple have two children.

The creative and performing arts industry is fluid and ever changing, reflective of the number of roles and locations Lara has worked in throughout her twenty-year career. ‘I moved to Melbourne for five years to continue performing and be closer to family. I worked in Australian television, musical theatre and theatre. Then I worked as an associate professor of acting at Bethel Conservatory of The Arts in Redding, California.’ Now, Lara and her family are based in Atlanta, Georgia, working as part of films shooting for Netflix, Marvel and beyond in the region. This year, Lara also started her own self-titled business, providing coaching and courses for performers.

Undertaking study at a tertiary institution is a stepping stone on one’s journey to pursuing their dream career and for Lara, it’s an experience that she would do all over again! ‘Excelsia College made a huge difference to me. I’m grateful for my three happy years and I smile every time I remember it. I had the time of my life and still have many friends from College; we made lifetime bonds and have so many happy memories. My vision was broadened and passion ignited for the entire world and all the artists and creativity it carries. I believe deeply in faith-based artists and their impact on the professional world of arts,’ says Lara reflectively.

We are proud of Lara and for her drive and ambition to succeed in the competitive creative and performing arts space. She embodies Excelsia’s ethos of being a lifelong learner engaged with and positively impacting the world. ‘I love leading artists and still lead artists today,’ says Lara. It seems Lara has certainly found her calling in life and it will be exciting to see the places she will go!

Excelsia College offers creative and performing arts courses and many of our alumni have gone on to pursue successful careers across areas such as music, drama, performance studies and screen production.

With a daughter who was valedictorian at Excelsia College for the Bachelor of Dramatic Art, Tracey Deal had big shoes to fill when she enrolled in a Master of Educational Leadership at Excelsia College in 2017. Tracey had been working as an educator for many years and felt it was time to do further study to better equip herself for higher leadership positions within a school environment.


The course’s emphasis on a Christian biblical worldview and the flexibility of being able to start her studies at any point also appealed to Tracey. ‘I have known a lot about Excelsia College from a long time ago when it was Wesley Institute and being creative arts focused it was relevant to my life as a music teacher.’ Tracey is also passionate about developing students to reach their potential and she closely aligned with Excelsia College’s mission and ethos of making lifelong learners. ‘It is a friendly, dedicated and Christ-centred environment,’ says Tracey.


Tracey was one of only three students when she commenced her studies and was able to complete her whole course online even before online delivery became mandatory at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdowns. ‘As I did my whole course online, I didn’t really have a lot of in-person interactions, but I found the lecturers for the course extremely helpful. I also enjoyed getting to know new people from all over the country and world online.’


Tracey has been able to apply what she’s studied to her leadership-based role as Principal of Penrith Christian School, a role she commenced in 2019, a year after graduating. ‘I believe God taught me to consider relevant and contemporary issues through a biblical world view, rather than just in a school setting. Studying at Excelsia College gave more meaning to the subjects I did as I was at a Christian school. I believe studying at Excelsia certainly helped me attain my goal of becoming school principal.’


Whilst advancement within one’s career can be a daunting task, Tracey felt led by God and took comfort in her favourite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:5–6, which says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ Tracey has certainly learned to trust in Him as she reflects, ‘The words of the verses from Proverbs have been an encouraging and a gentle reminder daily that my calling to educate is not fulfilling unless it is through relying on God at the same time.’


Excelsia is proud of its graduates, including Tracey, who have gone on to be leaders within their communities. If you’re in the educational sector or are interested in upskilling, why not explore how the Master of Educational Leadership can help you achieve your career goals?

‘We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.’

– Malala Yousafzai


On 8 March, the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women are  celebrated on International Women’s Day. The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is ‘Embrace Equity’. Excelsia College’s CEO Peter McKeon joined a morning tea to celebrate International Women’s Day. Peter discussed the challenges and barriers women face, including gender discrimination, limited access to education and opportunities and wage inequality.


According to Workplace Gender Equality Agency, there is a 13.3 per cent gender pay gap, a disparity most prominent in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector. On average, for every dollar males earned, women earned 87 cents, amounting to $253.50 less per week (WGEA, 2023).


International Women’s Day also highlights the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. At Excelsia College, we are proud that women make up 68 per cent of our workforce and 62 per cent of our senior leadership positions.


Another key issue that International Women’s Day addresses is domestic violence, particularly gender-based violence and harassment. Every woman has the right to feel safe and secure in her home, workplace, and community. In his speech, Peter urged everyone to work together to end gender-based violence and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.


Historically, there is an imbalance of women being able to access quality education. An estimated 15 million girls – mainly those living in poverty – will never set foot in a classroom, compared to 10 million boys (Theirworld, 2017). Furthermore, Unicef reports that 129 million girls across the world are not enrolled in formal education.


At Excelsia College, we are proud to say that 75 per cent of our students are female. Excelsia strives to provide quality learning foundations which create a variety of career opportunities when female students graduate in fields of education, social work, counselling, creative and performing arts and business.


‘Let’s commit to taking action to end gender inequality and create a world where every woman has the opportunity to succeed and thrive. Let’s all choose to challenge and work

towards a more equitable world for women,’ says Peter.

A desire to develop her communication skills, a better understanding of people’s mental health and her own mindset were the key motivators that led Alison Crooks to enrol in the Graduate Certificate in Counselling at Excelsia College.

Deciding to re commence her studies in 2020 as a mature age student was a daunting prospect for the mother of two. Alison was working as a Foundational Skills Lecturer within the Army Indigenous Development Program (AIDP) in Darwin, teaching literacy and numeracy skills to army trainee cohorts.

Despite the new season of change, Alison was able to smoothly transition back into the study environment. ‘Excelsia offered so much support – there was workshops on how to do the assignments and lots of help if I needed it. I also had counselling from the free counsellors that Excelsia offered, as it helped me learn the skill of counselling.’

Whilst Alison completed her course 100 per cent online, she appreciated being able to learn in real time, foster friendship with her peers and feel supported by her lecturers. ‘The students at Excelsia were some of the friendliest people I have met. I still have friends that I made during this course. There were a lot of people in the course who were in a similar situation to mine – they wanted to improve their position in their job or transition into a new line of work. I also found the teachers at Excelsia so amazing. They had practical knowledge of what it was like to work as a counsellor.’

In her studies, Alison not only learned how to counsel others, but also how to understand her own mind and way of thinking. ‘In the course we constantly practiced our communication skills, not just what we say but how we say it. I’ve never really had that before. We are often too focused on learning information, but the Excelsia course really helped me apply the knowledge as well.’

After completing her studies in 2021, Alison moved into a more senior position within AIDP, working as a Program Coordinator and helping Indigenous recruits to meet the Army entry requirements. Alison has been able to see a direct correlation between the skills she learned in her study and in her interactions with others. ‘The skills I learned at Excelsia have been important in helping people deal with the stress that they experience coming into the course and any mental health or trauma issues they are dealing with. The skills I learned during this course will stay with me forever.’ As for describing Excelsia, she was attracted to the inclusive learning environment and describes the College as ‘loving supported education.’

Alison also appreciated the intersection of faith within her studies. ‘I think Excelsia has a really important place in teaching counselling that acknowledges and respects the role that religion has in helping people deal with their mental health issues.’

If you’re interested in working as a counsellor and learning practical skills to help you relate to others in your workplace, why not explore Excelsia’s counselling courses? You will learn not only the theoretical knowledge but also the practical skills within a Christian worldview.

A Bachelor of Music at Excelsia College has the power to set you up on a variety of different pathways. Just look at Esther Moran. The 25-year-old is a vocalist and synth player in indie band Casual Fan and just under a month ago she performed on the main stage of the music festival Lost Paradise! This same main stage featured acts including Arctic Monkeys, Lil Nas X and Jamie XX.

Playing at Lost Paradise was a big step up for Casual Fan, who were used to the typical pubs and clubs circuit. ‘Playing at Lost Paradise was an awesome experience. Getting to hear your music through the highest quality speakers and gear was definitely a highlight. Knowing all the biggest acts were all on the same stage as you was a big step up from the usual venues we play as a band’, explains Esther.

For Esther, being a performer came naturally, but it was the skills she learned outside of her vocal major that she found particularly helpful. ‘Doing a placement as a worship leader at the end of my degree taught me useful skills like the recording process, knowing how to set up my stage if the sound guy is late, to using my scales I learned in my very first keyboard class.’ Studying music at Excelsia also helped Esther to feel confident in the music industry. ‘I know that I can walk into a wide variety of settings and trust in my own ability to hold my own,’ she says.

Throughout her studies, Esther not only grew as a musician but also as a woman of faith as she discovered what she wanted to do with music. ‘I look back very fondly on my time at Excelsia College. I went into my degree not knowing what I wanted out of it, never having had a singing lesson or written a line of music in my life. I walked away as not only an extremely better singer but also a well-rounded musician with a variety of skillsets I wouldn’t have imagined before.’

Esther’s long term dream is to see her music reach a wider audience and have the opportunity to pursue music full time. ‘When I was just about to start my degree, I had planned to go into teaching, which I will always have the option to return to. For now though I am going to put all my energy and effort into performing and recording with Casual Fan.’

For any other budding musicians looking to break it in the industry, Esther’s main advice is to never lose your passion and love for music. ‘It’s extremely hard work to push your own music and it takes up a lot of time. As soon as the passion and the love goes it can be hard to remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Music is a gift and if what you create impacts one person, I think that’s pretty awesome.’ 

Casual Fan have just released their single ‘French New Wave’ from their upcoming EP. To have a listen, head to their Spotify account and follow their updates on their Instagram page casualfanmusic. If you’re interested in becoming a musician or honing your musical gifts, why not explore our Bachelor of Music? You never know the places you could go!

Esther Moran | Casual Fan | Excelsia Music Alumni

With a master’s degree in business studies, Sushma Shrestha was working in the banking industry when she started thinking about doing further studies to enhance her knowledge and skills in leadership and business. While doing intensive research she discovered Excelsia College’s postgraduate degree. ‘The Master of Business (Research) was the perfect choice for a working professional like me due to the career advancement it offered.’


Sushma vividly remembers the day she arrived in Sydney in July 2018. ‘As an international student, I was both terrified and excited as everything was new to me and Excelsia College was the only place where I felt so connected with meeting students from my home country.’ She was able to firmly embed herself within the College community as not only a student but also as a staff member. ‘I considered myself very fortunate as I became a front desk receptionist in 2018 when I started my course. Being interviewed for this position and being selected was one of my key highlights at the College.’ Sushma also found comfort in the role as she adjusted to being so far from home. ‘The front receptionist role provided me with great confidence to go through life far from Nepal.’


Sushma was also able to get to know staff, senior management and lecturers and see the College’s values and beliefs reflected through the people she came across. ‘All the people were very amiable and supportive and they reflected Christ-like behaviour. I was able to align with Excelsia’s values and beliefs centred around a Christian learning environment. Likewise, as a student I was connected with different Bible verses throughout the course.’


During her studies, Sushma and her peers were provided with a choice of several different leadership areas for their final year Master of Business (Research) thesis. ‘I chose servant leadership around the premise of a leader who serves first. This topic reflects my beliefs in treating people with love, compassion and respect and implementing the values throughout my life to influence others and make a difference,’ she explains. Sushma presented her thesis at the College’s HDR symposium in November 2020, helping her to refine her research project even further. ‘Excelsia College provided me with immense love, support and guidance throughout my studies, as well as beyond the College in building my confidence to face life abroad. This makes me feel capable to utilise my principles of love, compassion, and respect towards every human being wherever I go.’


Sushma enjoyed celebrating her graduation held at the Wesley Centre earlier this year! She is now a mother and working in the retail sector with the aspiration to be in a leadership position in the near future.


If you are considering postgraduate studies or want to learn how to lead others with integrity within your organisation, why not explore our Master of Business (Research)? You never know where the course could take you!

The area of actor wellbeing has been of keen interest to Dr Mark Seton, lecturer in creative and performing arts at Excelsia College. During his own experience as an actor, Mark noticed how performing a role could have lingering effects and heard anecdotal accounts of actors who were traumatised by roles or experienced depression due to the uncertainty of their work. In his research, Mark identified a huge gap in addressing actor wellbeing. Mark perceived that actors are peculiarly different from dancers and musicians, not because of who they are, but because of what the profession asks of them. For over 20 years, Mark has steadily been gathering research, particularly around actors’ perspectives, on actor health issues including mental health issues as distinct from physical issues.


In 2006, Mark joined the steering committee of the new Australian Society for Performing Arts Healthcare (ASPAH), modelled on the American-based Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA). In 2009, supported by ASPAH, Mark was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to research the health and wellbeing of actors both in training and in the workplace. Through the fellowship, Mark travelled to the UK and spent five weeks researching at different acting schools. The report detailing his experience and findings motivated Actors Equity in Australia to conduct the first national study of actor wellbeing which, explains Mark, included ‘questions around actors’ quality of life, alcohol challenges, substance abuse and potential eating disorders, financial stress, relational stress, sleep deprivation and traumatisation of characters’.


Within his doctoral research, Mark identified that many actor training institutions actively promote vulnerability. ‘The capacity of actors to be vulnerable – their ability to affect and be affected – is what audiences go to see. They want to see authenticity or what might seem to mirror reality,’ explains Mark. However, this preoccupation with vulnerability can become a hazard if an actor doesn’t know how to process his or her character’s creation and emotional journey. This lack of process can create distress and dissatisfaction and the resulting pain can drive a desire for self-medication, including alcohol and both licit and illicit drug use. According to the 2015 Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study, around 35 percent of actors surveyed reported alcohol consumption as a strategy for ‘letting go’ after a demanding performance (Maxwell, Seton & Szabo, 2015).


Mark is currently part of AusAct: Australian Actor Training Conference which is a collaboration of acting schools around Australia empowering teachers in the teaching of acting, voice, movement, holistic health and career development. Mark has also designed and facilitated foundational training in actor wellbeing at various tertiary institutions, including Sydney Acting School, Academy of Film, Theatre and Television, and at Excelsia College. Excelsia College’s Bachelor of Dramatic Art includes a unit focused on ‘designing my creative career’, which includes strategies for managing self-care in the entertainment industry, intended for third-year students preparing to graduate.


Mark has been seeking to bring an even broader notion of actor wellbeing and sustainable practice to drama schools. Questions have been raised about acting schools providing appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs at a physiological and psychological level. According to the 2015 Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study, almost 40 per cent of actors surveyed had difficulty shaking off intense emotional and/or physical roles (Maxwell, Seton & Szabo, 2015). Within the acting community, this is sometimes known by the term ‘seepage’ (Taylor, 2017). Some drama schools still unintentionally traumatise students by giving them dramatic scenes and roles without teaching them how to take on a role in a respectful, careful way. Mark explains, ‘If actors are not given training for warming up and cooling down, they might not know how to let go of a traumatic character or scene. They can take it back home or the trauma it could continue into another job, or, because there is no next job, they may still be mulling over the character they played. It can seriously impact their personal relationships. I coined a term “post-dramatic stress” as a very deliberate provocation to start the conversation that I felt was lacking in the academic community and in the training community around potential for traumatisation of actors.’


Intimacy direction workshops, which Excelsia seeks to provide for its drama students, play a key role in helping actors cope with the potential trauma in their work. ‘Part of an actor’s warm-ups and cool-downs now involve working alongside intimacy directors who will help actors safely enact intimacy of a violent nature or intimacy of a loving or familial quality and how to play them without being confused about whether it’s the actor or their character being intimate with that person,’ says Mark.


Mark has written a paper with Excelsia College Bachelor of Dramatic Art graduate Courtney Patten on what happens when actors play morally questionable characters (Seton & Patten, under review). The pair will present their findings at the Australian Society for Performing Arts Healthcare (ASPAH) Conference this December. If you want to learn from amazing academics such as Mark, why not consider studying a Bachelor of Dramatic Art at Excelsia College?



Maxwell, I., Seton, M., & Szabo, M. (2015). The Australian Actors Wellbeing Study: A Preliminary Report. About Performance: The Lives of Actors, 13, 69–113

Seton, M. (2022). Mental health for actors. StageMilk.

Seton, M. & Patten, C. (under review). Wellbeing in enactment of morally questionable characters: Negotiating moral and spiritual values within professional identity formation. [Submitted for publication]. Excelsia College.

Taylor, L. (2017). Out of character – how acting puts a mental strain on performers. The Conversation.

Not many aspiring actors can say they’ve played a centipede, old man, pastor, biblical character, and Shakespearean role, but Tim Lim can! Tim’s effervescent personality embodies every role he plays, both onstage and offstage. The Bachelor of Dramatic Art graduate most recently played one of the lead roles as Elihu, the comforter of Job and his three friends in Excelsia Productions’ movie 18. The Book of Job. It was filmed onsite at Excelsia College and saw the auditorium transformed into a desert setting, full of sand! For Tim, learning lines is part and parcel of being an actor but having to memorise five chapters of the biblical book of Job was no mean feat! Tim also graced us with his acting skills in last year’s inaugural CAPAxFest, which highlighted our creative and performing arts students’ works, and in Excelsia’s productions James and the Giant Peach, A Twelfth night and The Chairs. He also wrote a play, Rapture (2021), as part of his third-year major project, about a pastor who lost his family and cried out against God.

Since finishing the Bachelor of Dramatic Art last year, Tim now works as a student services assistant and receptionist at Excelsia College. ‘At Excelsia my days involve me greeting everyone that comes in and being the first point of contact for anyone who needs help with directions or information.’ In dealing with people’s inquiries on a daily basis, God has taught Tim the value of patience, revealed to him in his personal faith journey. ‘God’s grace has no bounds. He is always here even when he seems absent.’ It is God’s grace and character that Tim seeks to embody through trying to make everyone’s day a little bit better by being a positive force in the environment. ‘Carry yourself with love as if you were someone you were responsible for looking after and in turn you can look after others.’ This ties closely to Tim’s favourite Bible verse, Jeremiah 15:16, which says, ‘When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.’

Tim describes Excelsia as inspiring, ambitious, and versatile and it is this passion for the College that makes him a perfect ambassador. ‘The sheer amount of diverse age groups, cultures, faculties and people create a fascinating environment where interactions, events and conversations are constantly riveting,’ he explains.

Earlier this year Tim was given a Bible reading plan from a friend which included a passage from Job. ‘This was a book I had been meaning to read for a long time since it dealt with the concepts of suffering and justice in the world. The timing was too uncanny and coincidental as I was then cast in Excelsia Productions’ 18. The Book of Job. I loved the idea of bringing this piece of biblical literature to a format more easily consumed such as screen or theatre, where characters can be seen living and breathing not just talking in biblical verses. I was satisfied to finally serve God using my craft.’

Outside of work, Tim likes to keep a busy and active lifestyle and boils down his interests to four Fs, ‘Faith, fitness, fashion, and food. When I’m not working, I’m trying to improve or explore these aspects of life. I like to try different restaurants around Sydney or make colourful outfits for going out. Then I try to exercise and pray that the clothes still fit!’ he explains. As for his acting aspirations, Tim says, ‘I mainly want to be in films and commercials or as a voice actor. For now, I’m just excited to see where the wind blows.’

We can’t wait to see Tim in 18. The Book of Job once the film is released next year! If you want to be part of a nurturing community where you can tap into your creative side and build your confidence, why not explore Excelsia College’s School of Creative and Performing Arts?

Combining her passions for teaching and dance and being able to juggle overseas work and study was what attracted Tracey McKenzie to Excelsia College when she commenced her Master of Teaching (Secondary) in 2019.


‘I chose to study at Excelsia as it allowed me the flexibility of travelling and working overseas while completing my studies in my own time, with no locked in online weekly classes to attend and content delivered up front so you could work through the course at your own pace,’ explains Tracey. At the time she commenced her studies, Tracey was working as a professional dancer with contracts including Moulin Rouge in Paris, Benidorm Palace in Spain and Carnival Cruise Line, a role she had been doing for twenty years. ‘I didn’t always have a goal to work overseas, however getting paid to travel and do what I loved was a dream. I started studying for my degree while I was away on contracts as a plan for after my dancing career.’


Due to completing the course 100 per cent remotely, Tracey missed out on College experiences such as socialising with fellow classmates and teachers, attending Bible studies, chapel and onsite functions. Despite the distance, Tracey still found the College to be flexible, understanding and nurturing. ‘I always felt included as a valued student and part of the Excelsia community. I must give credit to all the teachers that checked in on me and took a genuine interest in my teaching specialty and professional career in dance. I could not have completed the course without their support,’ Tracey reflects.


Alongside her professional dance career, Tracey found content and coursework both relevant and relatable. ‘I was studying subjects such as “leadership, creativity and innovation” and “transformation in education”. In my first year of teaching, I found myself referring to teaching strategies and leadership tools I had learned during my time at Excelsia when I was managing casts of dancers and singers. These tools allowed me to successfully facilitate maximum growth of performers throughout the contracts and also ensured the cast stayed positive and motivated to achieve their own goals. Excelsia enabled me to see the value of my own skills I had acquired through dancing and apply them in an education setting, which is one of the greatest benefits I have found that assisted me through transitioning careers.’


Despite not coming from a Christian background, studying through a Christian framework at Excelsia College realigned Tracey with her core values in cultivating compassion and understanding, while also practising daily acts of gratitude. ‘I learned to trust not only in myself but the process, believing that the universe will provide me with the right tools in times of need and giving me purpose in my life once again,’ she explains.


Tracey completed her Master of Teaching (Secondary) in December 2021 and now teaches Dance at Strathmore Secondary College in Melbourne and works at The Australian Ballet.


If you want to study teaching in a supportive Christian environment and explore your faith, why not consider Excelsia’s Master of Teaching (Secondary)? You could combine your two passions just like Tracey has!

Filmmaking is a lifelong passion, and for students like Luke O’Donnell studying the craft now is laying the groundwork for a lifetime of screen storytelling.

As the inaugural winner and scholarship recipient of the Excelsia & Sydney Film School Award (ESFSA), Luke O’Donnell shares an update from his experience and journey so far as a first-year student studying the Bachelor of Screen Production:

‘Being a part of Excelsia College and Sydney Film School’s Bachelor of Screen Production course for the past year has been an absolutely fantastic experience. Being in an environment with like-minded students and teachers has been incredibly valuable and really contributes to the overall practicality of the course. Learning from teachers with years of industry experience and knowledge enhances our studies and provides a firsthand insight into the opportunities available within the film industry. The mix of both theory and practical classes and activities alongside the interactions with both Excelsia’s acting students and those at Sydney Actors School provides a fantastic learning environment where we can easily understand the broader aspects of the film industry while developing connections with our future colleagues.’

Luke’s ESFSA-winning film Until the End was predicated upon a longing for the past. It recalls the fleeting nature of existence within the human experience and seeks to lament the true reality of relationships which often mean so much to us. 

‘Things come to an end. People move on, some for better, some for worse but memories linger and that’s what keeps us going, keeps pushing us forward until the end.’

If you have stories to tell and want to pursue a career in filmmaking like Luke, we welcome your submission to the Excelsia & Sydney Film School Award. Select award winners will receive a scholarship for their first year of study in the Bachelor of Screen Production.

Entries close 27 January 2023, find out more today!