It is one of those moments of poetic beauty, that there is a place in far-northern New South Wales called Come By Chance. Ellen Ash grew up on a grazing property nearby in the 1940s, when people made a living on the land with toil, and a little luck.
“I did correspondence school lessons for most of my primary schooling,” remembers Ellen. “I didn’t see many other people.” Eventually, Ellen came to Sydney to study at the Teachers College. She always had a sense that it was harder for country people to realise their ambitions.
Ellen is thrilled that through the Stanley Chisholm Ash Scholarship in Engineering, she has helped her first young person from regional Australia to study at Sydney and build a future in engineering.
“Growing up, my main hobbies were tinkering with electronics and reading,” says Sandin Jayasekera, who came to Australia from Sri Lanka when he was eight and now lives in Wagga Wagga, five hours southwest of Sydney. “Then I discovered computer programming and the incredible things you could do when you mixed programming and electronics.
“I still clearly remember the moment I found out I had the scholarship. The first emotion was disbelief. The change it has meant for me is truly momentous.”
The scholarship is named in remembrance of Ellen’s husband, Stanley. In some ways, Sandin is following in Stanley’s footsteps. As a child, Stanley was fascinated by how things worked. At the age of three, he dismantled a clock and knew how to put it back together, but couldn’t – his little fingers didn’t have the power to compress the springs.
Ellen and Stanley met through a bushwalking club, and over many happy years together, Ellen watched Stanley become a highly respected engineer.
His career started with an apprenticeship at Qantas, where he designed tools and constructed parts for the flying boats, which took off from Rose Bay. He was made an Engineering Fellow in 1999, and later finished his working life in charge of the Test Branch of Sydney County Council, checking the complicated mathematics of new inventions before they were accredited.
Upon retirement, Stanley became something of an inventor, and designed the house where Ellen still lives.
“Stanley had a strong sense of values, a real love of engineering and an enthusiasm for learning,” says Ellen. When Stanley sadly passed away in 2016, she wanted to establish a scholarship to represent his life. She contacted the University, and was offered a guided tour of the University’s Faculty of Engineering.
“This was a wonderful experience,” she says. “I was thrilled to see a demonstration of agricultural robots. Also, I’d always wondered how 3D printing works and it was great to see this process. Another highlight was seeing students assembling a full-sized kit plane. It reminded me of Stanley’s early career.”
For all the things that have changed since Ellen and Stanley studied, one challenge has remained – country students being able to afford to live in the city.
Thanks to the Stanley Chisholm Ash Scholarship in Engineering, Sandin doesn’t need to find work to pay his way, so he can focus fully on his studies.
“My degree has already been a greatly rewarding experience,” Sandin says. “It’s giving me a deeper understanding of something I’ve been passionate about most of my life. I’m looking forward to applying my skills beyond university to build things that improve the world.”
Written by George Dodd for the donor publication. Photography supplied.