While many teenagers with a weekend job spend their pay as soon as it hits their bank accounts, Maddi Eveleigh was so determined to pursue a science degree, that at 13 years old she sought out a job in a local bakery, knowing that saving her own money was the only way she was likely to afford her university dreams.
“It was definitely saving that was always in the back of my mind back when I was 13,” reflects Maddi.
“Uni was never a given for high school leavers down the coast, so I knew I had to make it happen for myself. I knew that if I was to move away from home and do uni properly, I had to start saving and have my own money.”
Maddi grew up in Moruya on the NSW south coast, a small town that she talks about with affection.
“It’s a really pretty small town where everyone knows each other. It’s got some of the best beaches I’ve seen so I did a lot of outdoor activities like camping and snorkelling. I loved that aspect of growing up.”
While university wasn’t always on the cards for her high school peers, Maddi’s science teachers quickly noted her capability and her passion.
“My science teachers were really supportive. I think they recognised my love of a challenge and fostered my ambition to continue studying beyond high school,” she says.
It’s clear when talking to Maddi that while she had the emotional support of those around her, her own determination, love of science and strong work ethic would have seen her succeed in her mission to get to university.
“I think my path to uni started with how comfortable I felt at school and how good learning felt. When I found science class, it was like I’d found my thing,” she says with a smile.
By age 17, Maddi had moved on from her bakery job to a role at the local pharmacy – something more aligned with her scientific interests. It was the end of a long shift when she found out about the success of her University of Sydney E12 Scholarship application.
“I finished about six o'clock, and I checked my phone for the first time in hours. I just remember seeing an email and then my heart raced. I saw the words E12 and I thought, ‘Oh, I'm going to pass out’.
“When I realised my application had been successful, it was such a relief. So much stress lifted in that moment.”
In Maddi’s words, the scholarship was her ‘saviour’. It enabled her to confidently move away from home for the first time, knowing she could pay her rent and buy the things she needed for her studies while she got settled in a big city. One of the first things she bought was a laptop.
“I remember getting a new laptop and it was the first time I’d had something so shiny and new. Just knowing I could take it to uni and it wasn’t going to die within the first 30 minutes was a game changer.”
The scholarship money didn’t just account for all the big moving expenses – it also had a huge impact on Maddi’s ability to settle into her new life.
“It’s the little things, like being able to socialise and meet new friends, but it all added up to me being a happy, thriving person at uni. I'm just so grateful.”
Maddi was homesick for the first few months of being in Sydney and says that the scholarship helped relieve some of the stress at that time in her life.
“That adjustment period was quite difficult. If I'd moved up without a scholarship, I would have had to find a job straight away, adding to the stress, and it would have been very borderline as to whether I would have stuck with uni or not.”
Being able to focus on her studies, build her network and her confidence, helped Maddi get to her graduation day and look back on her time with fondness.
“It was bittersweet. I made it! There were some difficult and very late nights at the library before exams, but I made it through and made some of my best friends to this day. So while it was amazing to be graduating, I was sad for it to be over. I loved being on campus and having all my study spots, it felt like home.”
Following her graduation, Maddi earned herself a place on the 'wall of fame' at her old high school. She has become a role model for young people in her hometown and regularly fields messages about pathways to tertiary study. Her advice to them and to her younger self is simple; don’t be scared because you can do it, and if you want it, you’ll get it.
“Believe in yourself. That's what I struggled with most coming from rural high school. You get to uni and compare yourself to people from very well-to-do high schools who are intimidatingly intelligent. But you realise, if I’d gone to that high school, I would have been in the same boat.”
Not content with just one degree, Maddi returned to the University and is now in her second year studying medicine.
“I think the idea of a career in medicine was sparked from my time working in the pharmacy. My mum and auntie also work in medical settings.
“I absolutely love the degree so far. It's all-consuming in every aspect, but I’ve also met the best people and experienced some pretty wild things in the hospital.”
Next year, Maddi plans to take up a placement in one of the University’s regional hospital affiliations in Lismore, Orange or Dubbo as part of her degree.
“I feel privileged to be at RPA and see the cutting-edge of medicine, but I want to see what rural health is and how I can get involved. I owe it to the rural town that raised me.”
This time around Maddi is funding her studies through a mix of savings and Centrelink payments, plus support from a University bursary that helped her get through a period of double rent when she needed to move.
When asked what the future holds, she says with a wry smile, “I’ll probably go back and do my PhD.”
By supporting education for all, you can help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access university through life-changing scholarships, ensure they feel supported throughout their studies and enable them to achieve their full potential.