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A rising tide lifts all boats

How a $1 million private donation – the largest single gift in support of University of Tasmania scholarships – is set to change countless lives in Tasmania’s West, North-West and King Island.

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For Dr Ian and Jill Wilson, university scholarships paved the way to greater opportunities, opportunities they are now keen to share with a new generation of Tasmanian students.

To this end, the couple have provided an endowment of $1 million which will allow students from the West, North-West and King Island to study at the University of Tasmania in any discipline – with each student to receive $10,000 per year for the duration of their degree. Initially it is planned that three students will receive the scholarship each year.

It is the largest single donation for scholarships received by the University and is intended to improve access for students experiencing financial barriers to entering tertiary study.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black said the generosity of Ian and Jill is both inspirational and humbling.

"This endowment will support hundreds of future students at the University of Tasmania and will deliver tangible benefits for those students and indeed for the State for many years to come,” Professor Black said.

“Increasingly, the University is seeing a rise in philanthropic support from the community and our alumni. We are sincerely grateful for this. We know well that this kind of support changes students’ lives and the communities they are a part of for the better. Helping to enable their success underpins our mission as a university to make a positive and lasting difference for the island.”

Dr Ian Wilson says the Jill and Ian Wilson Scholarship, which will continue in perpetuity, stems from a desire to “give back in some way”.

“Both Jill and I were scholarship recipients and without these scholarships we wouldn’t have been able to attend university,” he said.

“We would like to see the students take new ideas back to their communities and become local leaders, whether as nurses, school teachers, scientists, engineers, professionals, primary producers or business people. They will make a difference and be role models for the next generation.”

Ian and Jill now live in Melbourne after careers in science and teaching/library management respectively.

“Everyone who gets to University will help ‘raise all boats’ in the country, either directly or indirectly by setting an example or providing inspiration,” Ian said. It’s a fitting image for a man who grew up in Burnie never far from the water, watching the rising tide lift all the boats at once. His great-grandfather, a ship’s carpenter, settled in Zeehan and worked as a mine carpenter, as did his grandfather, before the family moved to Burnie during the post-WWI mining slump.

Ian, who graduated from the University of Tasmania with Honours in Science in 1973 followed by a PhD in Physics in 1977, worked as a physicist at CSIRO working his way up to Chief Research Scientist and Deputy Chief of his division. He had the opportunity to commercialise his research and started a spin-off company with a team of engineers and scientists making airborne equipment for remote sensing in mining, agriculture, environmental monitoring and defence.

Jill (BA Dip Ed 1969) likewise has a strong association with the North-West of the State, having taught English and French at Smithton High School, her first placement following her teaching degree. She went on to retrain as a librarian.

Although she had a scholarship to study teaching at the University, she didn’t have income or a scholarship during her retraining.

“I ate a lot of tomato soup and lived in a big share house – I needed a student loan at one point,” Jill said.

She went on to work at the University’s Morris Miller Library, before becoming the acquisitions librarian at the State Library of Victoria, where she was in charge of the book budget, including  bequests. She later moved to Monash University Library and joined the senior management team as Director of Information Resources.

“I hope the students who receive our scholarship will be passionate about their subjects and can spend more time studying and less time working part time,” she said.

“Living away from home in rental or student accommodation is expensive, and then there are the day-to-day living costs. We hope this will free the students to do well in their courses … on an individual level, we’d like the students to feel enthusiastic about their studies and not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.”

“Moving away from home and being independent was a big learning curve for us and a very valuable one.”

Ian said he hopes to provide an example to inspire others of the baby boomer generation to make a difference through philanthropy for education.

The Jill and Ian Wilson Scholarships will be open for the first applicants later this year.

Dr Ian and Jill Wilson signing their scholarship agreement. Image Credit: Dan Simmons

First published in Alumni and Friends eNews.

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Top of page:  Dr Ian and Jill Wilson.