Supporting new thinking in nursing
A chance meeting in London led David and Josephine Skellern to set up a scholarship that will benefit PhD students at Sydney Nursing School. Michael Visontay reports.
In 2011 David and Josephine (Jo) Skellern were in the UK, visiting their grown-up children, when they received an unexpected invitation to a University of Sydney alumni dinner. “Tim Dolan [the University’s Director of Development] heard we were over there and invited us to a dinner at the House of Lords. It was a beautiful occasion,” says Jo.
During the dinner, Jo bumped into Professor Jill White, the Dean of Sydney Nursing School. The two had crossed paths before when Jo was working for the University of Technology, Sydney, supervising nursing students during their hospital placements (Professor White was Dean of Nursing there for 10 years before moving to the University of Sydney).
“The chat with Jill got my mind thinking and some time later I approached the nursing school with some ideas for supporting nursing at Sydney. When we returned to Australia, we approached Jill and Daniel Martin [Development Officer at the Sydney medical and nursing schools], and settled on a scholarship as a useful way to contribute.”
“My background is in paediatrics and midwifery, and maternal and child health,” says Jo (GradDipNursEd ’79), who studied nursing at what was then Cumberland College of Health Sciences, which became part of the University in 1990. “Nurses’ work is of vital importance to society and I wanted to support postgraduate research.”
A little over 18 months later, in the middle of 2012, David and Jo initiated a $700,000 gift to establish a fund for the award of PhD nursing scholarships within Sydney Nursing School at the University of Sydney. Each Skellern Family PhD Scholarship will be awarded for a maximum of five years, and the first one will be awarded in the second semester of 2013.
Competition for external funding across faculties and disciplines is intense and this is one of the reasons Jo says nursing needs extra support. “There is no other obvious source of funding for nursing research, compared with areas such as science or medicine. When it comes to caring for patients there is not an easy source of hard evidence to draw on.”
Supporting new research
For David and Jo, the nursing scholarship is the latest in a series of gifts to the University over the past decade. “We have been very lucky and we decided to commit a large sum of money to charity. The challenge was: who to give it to?” says David (BSc ’72, BE ’84 PhD ’85), a former Senior Lecturer in Electrical Engineering at the University of Sydney, and later Professor and Head of the Department of Electronics at Macquarie University.
While the nursing scholarship continues the Skellerns’ spirit of generosity, this gift is different in one important respect. Up until now, David and Josephine had made all their donations to various institutions in private, specifically asking to remain anonymous. “So this donation process was quite a difficult decision for us,” David admits.
So why the change this time? “We believe it’s good for others to see an example,” David explains. “We hope that if others are aware of donations from people they know, it might inspire them to give too.
“This is a way of giving something other than money. You don’t grow the culture of giving by being quiet, or by keeping private.”