Leaving home to study at university can be a big challenge for young rural students. As they adjust to self-directed study in a new environment while developing new social and support networks - the financial stress can be a burden on students and families alike.
Each year Gardiner Dairy Foundation offers four scholarships to tertiary students to ease the pressure associated with furthering their education.
"Gardiner has awarded 33 scholarships worth half a million dollars since 2007," chief executive Mary Harney said. "We support young people from Victorian dairy towns who are pursuing a career that will either directly benefit the dairy industry and/or benefit small dairy communities."
By assisting people to gain essential qualifications that are in high demand, the foundation is helping to attract, retain and develop talented people who will come back to rural and regional Victoria and strengthen their communities.
Mitchell Dodds Mitchell Dodds grew up on a hobby farm running beef cattle at Boolarra in Victoria's Latrobe Valley. Passionate about becoming a vet and working with cattle and the dairy industry, in 2014 he successfully applied for the inaugural Jakob Malmo Dairy Scholarship. Now in his third year of the Bachelor of Science/Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Melbourne, he is loving the opportunities the scholarship has brought him.
"The first year was interesting coming from a cohort of 50 people in year 12, in a small town where I knew everyone, to university where there were 2000-3000 people in my biology course," Mr Dodds said. "It was also really hard to find people who were interested in vet, specifically large animals and then the dairy industry as a whole."
Financially the scholarship enabled Mr Dodds to pay for some subjects up-front, buy a laptop and cover the cost of text books without the "massive financial strain" that some of his university friends faced. In his second year it also helped him to rent a share-house in Brunswick, enabling him to become more involved in campus and Melbourne life.
"The networks I am creating and the contact I am having with the industry is invaluable," Mr Dodds said. "For me it has been the most important aspect of the scholarship."
While his desire to work in dairy cattle has strengthened, his outlook has broadened and he hopes to extend his studies into the United Kingdom and the United States.
Laura Peters Laura Peters received the Gardiner Dairy Foundation Tertiary Scholarship in 2008 to support her physiotherapy studies at Charles Sturt University in Albury, NSW. Ms Peters came from a dairyfarming family of seven in the Mitta Valley. At this time the scholarship consisted of a one-off payment of $10,000, which Ms Peters welcomed as she was working to put herself through her four year full-time degree.
"It is a great initiative," Ms Peters said. "There is not much else like it. What the Gardiner Foundation has done for our valley is pretty substantial. It is very good."
Ms Peters is now working in private practice at Wodonga, Vic, and has moved back to Tallandoon in the Mitta Valley where she is active on committees in her local community and works on the family farm one day a week.
In the past two years she has taken the lead in building a new netball court in Mitta and is working on another at Eskdale. The Mitta building committee has just completed a new pavilion. Ms Peters provides pro-bono injury management for the netball and football clubs and is on the Mitta Muster Committee - a large community run event.
Scholarship evolution The tertiary scholarships began in 2007 as a way of supporting dairyfarming communities during the hardship of the millennium drought. Four students now receive $7500 annually for the duration of their university or TAFE course. Each scholarship is named after a dairy legend and this year Western Victorian Dairyfarmer Shirley Harlock was added to the list, joining Bill Pyle, Doug Weir and Jakob Malmo.
While many students study veterinary science or agriculture, scholars have also been supported to undertake medicine, commerce, nursing/psychology, environmental science and engineering.
Rebecca Sexton In 2008 Rebecca Sexton left the family farm at Dingee, Vic, to begin a Bachelor of Business at La Trobe University, Bendigo. "It made my transition from high school to university much less stressful and reduced the pressure on my parents to support me at a time when we were struggling emotionally and financially due to the drought," Ms Sexton said.
After working for Bendigo Bank at Deniliquin, NSW, she is now working as a business consultant for ORM in Bendigo and has recently been accepted into the Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program for 2016.
Monique McMahon-Hide Unlike most of the other scholars, the inaugural recipient of the Doug Weir Dairy Scholarship in 2013, Monique McMahon-Hide, didn't come from a farm. The year 9 Cows Create Careers program at her school at Wallington, near Geelong, first piqued her interest in the dairy industry and then work experience in year 12 took it further. She has just completed a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at La Trobe University, Bundoora.
In her second year at university Ms McMahon-Hide seized the opportunity to study for six months abroad at Washington State University in North America using her dairy scholarship to cover the costs. "It was an absolutely invaluable experience and taught me a lot both personally and academically," she said. Ms McMahan-Hide is yet to decide on how to venture forth from here but she has a keen interest in genetics and its potential within the dairy industry.
How to apply Applications for 2017 scholarships will open in August via the Gardiner Dairy Foundation website.
Scholarships will be awarded to four students who have to relocate to study and have the potential to make an impact in the dairy industry or its communities.
Contact: website www.gardinerfoundation.com.au, phone (03) 8621 2900.