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Medical scholarships for Indigenous students  

[by Ken Robinson]

Optical Superstore Co-Founder and Director Margaret Douglas signs the scholarship agreement with Bond University Vice Chancellor and President Tim Brailsford. Image: supplied

A former medical student who struggled at university but went on to co-found the Optical Superstore chain has announced new funding for scholarships for Indigenous students at Bond University.

Margaret Douglas says she wants to make sure the students receive the support she missed out on as a young woman moving from rural Wangaratta in Victoria to study in Melbourne.

The scholarships were announced during NAIDOC Week 2020 celebrations at Bond University.

“I remember the government gave me $32 a week to pay for my accommodation, my food, my books, everything. My family had no funds to support me, although there was plenty of love from them,” she said.

“I managed to get through the first three years of the medical degree but in the fourth year we entered the hospitals and I was overwhelmed by what I saw. I had no support mechanisms and unfortunately I dropped out.”

Ms Douglas is now Director of the Optical Superstore chain which was founded in Queensland almost 31 years ago. Today, the thriving business has 63 stores across Australia.

“I understand very personally the value of supporting students during their studies and you can do that on so many levels,” she said. “They need support financially, emotionally and academically.”

Ms Douglas said she decided to provide scholarship support for Indigenous students after hearing a report on ABC Radio National about massacres of Indigenous people during the Australian frontier wars.

“I was thinking, I didn't know about this. Why wasn't this talked about when I was at school? It was a cover-up of our early history.”

Ms Douglas then recalled her daughter Stephanie Melrose, a Bond alumna, had forged friendships with Indigenous students while studying at the university.

“I thought, I'll see what Bond is doing to support its Indigenous students and the more I discovered about the program, the more I felt comfortable in getting involved.”

Ms Melrose graduated with a Bachelor of International Hotel and Resort Management and a Bachelor of Business in 2016 and is now Marketing Manager at the Optical Superstore.

“I had some close friends who went through the Nyombil Centre and it opened my eyes to seeing what Indigenous people have gone through to get here (on campus),” Ms Melrose said.

“It's nice to know that people who may not be as fortunate as me are going to be able to have those same opportunities here.

“It’s very important to be closing the gap and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Ms Douglas intends to meet the recipients of the scholarships when they are awarded.

“I hope they will use their degrees to help fellow Indigenous people but life has many changes in direction and they shouldn't feel restricted to that.

“I want them to know that we are backing them and recognise their contribution.”

The scholarships are up to 100 per cent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students commencing in the 2021 Medical Program. They also cover accommodation and a living bursary for the first semester of studies to assist with the transition of the students to the Gold Coast.

They will graduate as medical doctors in four years and eight months with Bond’s intensive learning program.

Vice Chancellor and President Tim Brailsford told Ms Douglas the students would be supported throughout their degree by the University’s Nyombil Centre for Indigenous students.

“Education is truly the key to unlocking opportunities for our young Indigenous people, and Bond University is extremely proud to play its small but important role in developing the skills, knowledge and confidence of the next generation of leaders.”

He thanked Ms Douglas for her generosity and trust in the University.

“Thank you so much on behalf of the future students who will benefit in so many ways from your generosity,” Professor Brailsford said.

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