From a budding scientist using lasers to combat superbugs, to an agricultural researcher tackling food scarcity in the face of climate change, our 2024 Westpac Future Leaders are tackling some of Australia’s greatest challenges head on to drive positive change.
Westpac Scholars Trust has awarded 17 postgraduate coursework and research students from nine partner universities a Future Leaders Scholarship, each valued at $120,000.
The scholarships are the latest to be announced as part of the Trust’s commitment to award 100 new scholarships a year, forever, in the areas of innovation & technology, sustainability, strengthening ties with Asia and social change.
The Future Leaders Scholarship, one of Westpac Scholars Trusts’ five programs, supports individuals with ambitious visions for the future of Australia. These scholars are engaged in studies or research within four key focus areas identified by Westpac Scholars as central to the nation's future prosperity: technology and innovation, sustainability, inclusion and fostering ties with Asia.
Among the scholars named this year, is Harriet Cooling, a scientist from The University of Adelaide who is combining the worlds of Microbiology and Optical Physics to tackle urgent global challenges, in particular, developing new approaches to combating antimicrobial resistance.
“I will use lasers to test the light absorption “fingerprint” of different bacteria,” said Cooling. “These signatures will then be used to help destroy superbugs in different environments, helping to reduce the impact of bacteria on food production and public health.”
Also working in the health space is Seamus Horan, a doctor working at the Royal Melbourne and the Royal Children’s Hospitals specialising in infectious diseases. He will be undertaking a Master of Public Health and Global Health at UNSW, looking at neglected tropical diseases (like intestinal worms and scabies) - a group of infections that disproportionately affect areas of the world with the least capacity to treat and control them.
The Westpac scholarship will also allow him to travel within Australia to further his research.
“This scholarship means that rather than working full-time in a hospital this year, I will be able to travel to the Northern Territory and explore rural outreach health clinics to gain invaluable, on-the-ground, remote clinical experience.”
This year, the focal point for numerous scholars in the Westpac Future Leaders program revolves around addressing the pressing concern of climate change. They are approaching this challenge from all angles, examining the potential impact of agriculture on food scarcity, delving into climate anxiety, exploring ways to utilise chemistry for converting carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals and developing community-driven solutions for climate change and conservation.
Ella Burgun is conducting research in Arctic and marine science at The University of Tasmania, investigating the impact of climate change on deep water systems and taxonomic diversity in cold water environments.
“I believe that understanding how climate change affects cold, deep-water ecosystems will provide us with a greater understanding of how to help our environment and how important our ocean is to our survival,” said Burgun.
Burgun also has a passion for increasing inclusivity and diversity in STEM.
“I want to focus on accessibility in STEM and create access for women and girls, from all backgrounds, but particularly in regional and rural Australia,” she said.
Beyond financial support, each Future Leaders scholars also participates in a nine-month bespoke leadership program, including a weeklong residential experience in Sydney. These embedded activities make the Westpac Scholars program truly unique and encourage scholars to build on their personal strengths and capabilities as leaders of tomorrow.
“As we seek to build a sustainable and inclusive future, Australia is looking to a new generation of leaders,” says Westpac Scholars Trust CEO, Amy Lyden.
“This unique program aims to challenge the Scholars’ thinking and give them access to new networks and opportunities. The calibre of this year’s scholars is exceptional, and they are tackling a broad range of issues including health, climate change, inclusion and diversity.”
Westpac Scholars Trust awards 100 scholarships, valued up to $4M, every year to university students, early-career researchers and social entrepreneurs to help transform the future of Australia.
Welcoming our 2024 Westpac Future Leaders:
• Lenah Ankliss (The University of Melbourne)
• Emma Bond (University of Western Australia)
• Jack Boyse (The University of Sydney)
• Ella Burgun (University of Tasmania)
• Adrian Cheng (UNSW)
• Harriet Cooling (The University of Adelaide)
• Taylor Cowell (The University of Adelaide)
• Alexa Dietrich (The University of Melbourne)
• Isabel Dunn (Monash University)
• Brynlea Gibson (University of Queensland)
• Seamus Horan (UNSW)
• Michael Kassara (The University of Sydney)
• Urvi Modak (The Australian National University)
• Natasha Naidu (UNSW)
• Peter Panizza (University of Western Australia)
• Madeleine Stewart (The Australian National University)
• Bethany Yates (University of Tasmania)
Published 7 February 2024