Talent and hard work are no guarantee of a university education. For one gifted current student, the only thing that allowed him the chance to work towards his full potential was a scholarship.
“I’ve always had that aim and dream I would end up here,” says Michael Jeffrey of his studies at the University of Sydney. “I never really thought of anything else, to be honest.”
Michael’s high school talent for maths and physics is now taking him through his Bachelor of Science (Advanced) studies. He already knows what he’s aiming for, “I’ve always had a keen interest in astronomy and the cosmos,” he says. “So when I was first introduced to astrophysics, I knew it was the career for me.”
Still, coming to Sydney to study was never a given for Michael. He hails from Dubbo in central-west NSW, where economic disadvantage is prevalent. He says his hopes of going to uni set him apart somewhat. “I was a little bit of an outsider in my community, actually wanting to go to university,” he says.
Michael excelled in his studies at Dubbo College, where he was also a member of the school’s Indigenous Youth Leadership Program, through which he mentored younger students who were interested in attending university. In 2015, he was named the college’s Youth of the Year for his dedication to the school and his community. He also received the local 2016 Young Citizen of the Year award, presented on Australia Day by the Mayor of Dubbo, Mathew Dickerson.
With students like Michael in mind, the Abrahams family donated funds, through the Rosebrook Foundation, to establish a scholarship to support an undergraduate Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student, allowing the student to study in the faculty of their choice. Dr Alex Abrahams (BDS ’82), a dentist and founder of dental care chain, Pacific Smiles, is an alumnus of the University.
Valued at $15,000 a year, the scholarship helps with accommodation and living costs and is designed to enable young people from remote or regional areas to study at Sydney.
“This scholarship has been a saving grace,” says Michael, whose funding began in 2016. “Without it, I couldn’t afford to be here. Being from rural NSW, accommodation is without a doubt my biggest university expense, and the scholarship goes a very long way towards paying for it.”
Michael comes from a family with modest means and his parents are still supporting his younger brother. “I am the first member of my family to go to university and while at times it has been hard, it is definitely a challenge I have embraced,” he says.
Michael is also keen to share his good fortune with his community. “I believe the reason many Indigenous Australians don’t aspire to go to university is the lack of strong role models who have done so,” he says. “Hopefully, I can help change these stereotypes and make it easier for the next generation to aim high.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree, Michael hopes to undertake an honours year in physics, then a PhD in astrophysics. He’d like to become a researcher or join a leading space agency. “Who knows where my degree may take me?” he says. “By the time I’m finished, Australia may even have its own space agency and if not, I will certainly be campaigning for one.”