Investing in our future

By Nigel Bartlett

Scholarships provide the means for many students to reach their highest goals

Scholarships provide the means for many students to reach their highest goals. From creating advances in the production of much-needed drugs to exploring different cultures, here is what some of our scholars have been up to in the past year.

Education is seen by many as a right rather than a privilege, yet the fact is it still needs to be paid for. Thanks to donations from generous benefactors to the University, numerous students are reaching milestones and achieving breakthroughs that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

Samantha Cheung

Samantha Cheung

Samantha Cheung has been able to put the Faculty of Science’s 2011 Selby Research Award to good use as she carries out her PhD. Thanks to the $14,000 award, she is hoping to genetically engineer a bacterial enzyme that can produce epoxides (a type of chemical compound) for the pharmaceutical and fine chemicals industries. She aims to make epoxides available to be produced on a large scale for drugs such as Indinavir, which is used to treat HIV.

“If we can provide a cost-effective, environmentally friendly method for producing these compounds, then ideally we can make the drugs more accessible to people who need them,” says Samantha, who is working with Dr Nick Coleman in the School of Molecular Bioscience. She adds that making pharmaceuticals using biologically produced enzymes, or biocatalysts, is far safer than using man-made chemicals.

“There are some wonderful examples of biocatalysts that have been integrated into industry, such as in the production of beta-lactam antibiotics, where they have overtaken chemical production, but these are isolated examples,” says Samantha. “The holy grail would be to create a whole library of biocatalysts capable of catalysing any chemical reaction.”

International conferences

Around $2000 from the award paid for a piece of equipment known as a Chiral GC Column, which can physically separate smaller epoxides – up until now the School of Chemistry has had GC Columns capable of separating only larger compounds. Samantha also hopes to travel to international conferences in Germany and the UK, presenting her work and learning from others in the field.

I love research, It’s not about the money. No-one goes into science for the money. Rather, it’s a tangible means of making a contribution to society.

Even after she completes her PhD Samantha plans to continue academic research, preferably in biocatalysis. “I love research (when it works) and the end goal of biocatalysis is application – to change the way we currently do things, for the better,” she says. “For me, it’s not about money – realistically, no one goes into science for money – but rather it’s a tangible means of making a contribution to society within my own capabilities.”

Daniel Kim was one of four recipients of the Littrell-Cartwright International Exchange Scholarship, which awarded him $6000 to spend a semester at Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea. He was born in Seoul but was brought to Australia when he was less than a year old, so he was keen to experience academic life in Korea and to improve his written skills in his mother tongue.

“I’d never had the chance to discover the country my parents and I came from. The exchange program allowed me to discover Korea and enrich my cultural awareness,” says Daniel, who also received a $3000 International Exchange Asia Pacific Targeted Scholarship. “I also wanted to add a Korean perspective to my business studies, particularly learning about how firms such as Samsung have become so successful.”

He is now in his final year of a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in accounting, finance and Chinese Studies. While on exchange, Daniel found the way of studying quite different to that in Australia, particularly the familiarity between students and staff. “In Korea, it’s acceptable and common for students to dine with professors, because having good relationships is a vital characteristic of the country’s culture and society,” he explains. “I was able to network with my professor and make new contacts, which turned out to be a really great opportunity.”

Korean pop festival

As well as studying, Daniel also volunteered as an English teacher and took part in Yonsei’s huge student festival, which he describes as “absolutely astonishing”, with thousands of students participating. “It involved major Korean pop stars as part of the entertainment, seeing students perform musical and dance acts, group cheering activities and so on,” he says. “It’s definitely something you won’t see anywhere other than in Korea.”

Tom Fenton

Tom Fenton

For some students, scholarships are the lifeblood of their whole University experience, particularly for those from rural areas. Tom Fenton is the 2011 recipient of the Sydney Business School’s four-year David W. Johnson Scholarship, which has enabled him to travel from his hometown of Orange, NSW, to study at the University. Being able to live on campus at St Paul’s College and not having to work during the semester to fund his accommodation leaves him free to gain as much as he can from student life.

“Essentially, coming from a country area, my scholarship allows me to prioritise my degree and enjoy the full range of activities at the University,” says Tom, who is in the second year of a Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies) degree.

Last year Tom helped organise the St Paul’s Jazz Dinner Dance, appeared in the Fresher Revue and competed in the Rawson Cup inter-college sporting event, representing St Paul’s in swimming, rugby and athletics. “The atmosphere and competitiveness between the colleges is fierce,” he says, “and to be part of it has been amazing and memorable.”