The transformative power of scholarships is far from new. Offering talented young people the chance to attend university and experience opportunities otherwise not available to them is almost as old as education itself. But the First in the Family Scholarship, available to Bachelor of Commerce students at the University of Melbourne, is transforming young lives in entirely new ways.
Established in 2011 and supported by a community of generous donors, the scholarship encourages ambitious young people from diverse backgrounds to be the first in their family to pursue higher education.
Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics, Professor Paul Kofman, shared: “If your parents have been to university, there is a much higher probability you will be able to go. While it was clear that was a trend, it wasn’t clear how to break that trend. The First in the Family Scholarship cuts straight through that.”
Since its inception, the program has helped more than 100 students study and succeed in their career. 2012 recipients Caitlin Wan and Taylor Holub, both from regional Victoria, are just two remarkable examples of the program’s success to date.
From Bendigo to the Big Apple
Growing up in Bendigo, Caitlin was instilled with the value of hard work and was motivated in her pursuit of higher education for as long as she can remember.
“I had planned to go to university and my parents had always encouraged education. They were always encouraging me to look out for scholarships in order to assist when the time was right.”
Awarded a First in the Family Scholarship, Caitlin was offered an opportunity her parents had never had themselves. And, her acceptance into the University of Melbourne was just the beginning of a remarkable journey.
Thanks to the financial assistance provided by the scholarship, Caitlin was able to move to Melbourne and secure residence at Ormond College, which in turn unlocked an entire network of people and opportunities within the University of Melbourne and beyond.
“Through Ormond, I went to China on exchange. Then I spent a semester at Rutgers University in New Jersey as part of my Bachelor of Commerce degree."
Enamoured with the energy and opportunities of New York, Caitlin vowed to one day return to live and work in the city. And so, in 2019, she moved from Melbourne to New York to start a role in deals and acquisitions at KPMG.
It was a huge change for her, culturally and professionally. However, Caitlin rose to the challenge, and within a few short months was working on huge corporate deals.
“I worked on deals for Morgan Stanley, Jeffries, as well as a listed pharma company. I felt incredibly lucky to be doing this. But I still felt driven to see what else I could experience.”
After five years working with KPMG, Caitlin switched to the Siegfried Group where she now works as a financial consultant. Here, she’s responsible for one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hand sanitiser and skin care, Gojo.
Even though it hasn’t always been easy, Caitlin has made a habit of creating opportunities for herself by continuing to think big.
“A big part of me is always open to looking to what is right at the time and what’s the next big challenge. I have a pattern of stretching for something. I don’t know what will come after New York, but I know it will be right for me.”
Although she loves her work, Caitlin, like many of the First in the Family Scholars, has big ambitions for her future and wants to continue her passion of helping people and companies during periods of transition.
“I love driving change within companies, so I would love to be a part of something like a company listing or to become a CFO or CEO. I want to be at the heart of change and help people and companies change with the world.”
First in family success
Closer to home, Taylor Holub, a year 12 student from Phillip Island, was pondering his future after high school.
“My father had his own small business and from a young age I was always curious as to what he did in MYOB and how I could help him in the business. As soon as accounting was offered as a subject at high school, I enrolled and that’s when it all began.”
A discussion with his school careers counsellor, and the suggestion that he apply to the University of Melbourne through the First in the Family Scholarship, opened up an entirely new path.
Despite being the first member of his family to attend university, Taylor never doubted he would make it and succeed beyond his studies. Taylor believes his confidence can be largely attributed to the First in the Family Scholarship.
“The Scholarship gave me the confidence that I could actually make something of myself. Upon starting at the University of Melbourne I began to realise a lot of my peers' parents had also studied at university. It really gave me the confidence I needed.”
The financial support also enabled Taylor to unlock another invaluable resource: time. With this time came the space to focus more of his energies on his studies.
"Sometimes you need a helping hand to get ahead. You can’t be chasing your tail all the time. I found that more opportunities opened themselves up to me when I had that support, too.”
After graduating, Taylor secured a position in the Forensic Accounting team of KordaMentha, a national advisory and investment firm. In recognition of his hard work, he was promoted to a managerial position within four years.
Offered a career break soon after, Taylor took full advantage, spending time travelling Australia and reassessing his priorities. It was during this time he was contacted by a former colleague, asking if he’d be interested in coming onboard at MediPharm Labs, a medicinal cannabis company. For Taylor, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Now the Head of Finance for MediPharm Labs Australia’s operation, Taylor is looking forward to helping the company continue its incredible growth.
Supported to succeed
“The donors were this incredible group of people that I didn’t know, but who believed in me”
Reflecting upon their careers to date, both Caitlin and Taylor believe the First in the Family Scholarship played a pivotal role in their success. Both are humbled by and indebted to the University and the donor community who helped make their scholarships possible.
Says Caitlin, “The donors were this incredible group of people that I didn’t know, but who believed in me. It gave me confidence to go out and achieve extraordinary things that maybe I wouldn’t have reached for if I hadn't had that behind me.”
As for Taylor, “The scholarship might only seem like a nominal sum of money but it makes a huge difference. And it has the added benefit of helping you feel that you have the potential to get where you want to go in life.”