"Support when it really matters"

Bachelor of Biomedicine student and 2020 Hansen Scholar, Elissa Abou Eissa, featured in University of Melbourne's 2021 Annual Report.

Original article published by the University of Melbourne in the 2021 Annual Report here.

Starting university for the first time can be challenging, let alone during a pandemic.

But for Elissa Abou Eissa, the security and support she received as a Hansen Scholar made the transition to university so much easier.

Originally from Damascus, Elissa Abou Eissa came to  Australia in 2017 with her mother, father and younger brother after the outbreak of war in Syria. Elissa learned about the Hansen Scholarship while still  in high school at St Francis Xavier College in Beaconsfield. Elissa had also been nominated for a Kwong Lee Dow Scholarship, the University of Melbourne’s academic enrichment program giving high-achieving Victorian Year 11 and Year 12 students the opportunity to experience university life, and get a head start on their future tertiary studies.

Pictured: Elissa Abou Eissa (Image credit - Peter Casamento)

So even before starting a Bachelor of Biomedicine in the School of Biomedical Sciences at Melbourne in 2020, Elissa was familiar with the Parkville campus and knew she wanted to continue her studies there.

The Hansen Scholarship Program is awarded to talented undergraduate students whose financial circumstances  present a challenge to accessing a first-class education. Each year 20 exceptional students are chosen based on their academic success, resilience to adversity, and a demonstrated commitment to helping and leading others.

Being chosen as one of the 20 Hansen Scholars in 2020  from over 500 applicants is something Elissa is very proud of and grateful for.

“Becoming a Hansen Scholar has meant a lot to me,”  said Elissa. “It’s helped so much in dealing with the challenges I’ve faced.

“It’s given me the opportunity to have invaluable mentoring and social connections and be a part of a group of future leaders and enthusiasts.

“It has eased the financial stress allowing me to focus on my studies.”

Pictured: 2020 Hansen Scholars with VC Prof Duncan Maskell

The Hansen Scholarship offers residence at Little Hall during an undergraduate degree, an allowance of $4,000 per year for general living expenses, and a further grant  of up to $4,000 to support programs such as international exchange, access to pastoral care and development programs. It also provides tailored mentoring and connections to  leaders in the students’ chosen fields, and priority access to graduate accommodation at Little Hall should they undertake graduate studies at the University.

Hansen Scholars come from the inner city, the outer suburbs, regional towns and farming communities across Australia,  but share a drive to succeed and have achieved academic success in the face of adversity.

Pursuing a career in medicine has always been what I wanted to do in life,” Elissa said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the human body, how it functions and how it fights disease.

Seeing people who’d been so badly affected, both physically and mentally, from trauma in Syria has impacted the way I view my place in the world. I believe that the advances we make in medicine today can improve the lives of those that have been changed by war and other traumatic events.

Even with a single-minded determination and strong will,  it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Elissa and she admits  that the past two years have been difficult.

“I faced so many challenges presented by the pandemic,”  she said. “As a student whose first language is not English, studying online for the past two years presented additional challenges that might not have been the case for native speakers.”

But as I have learnt through many challenges I’ve experienced, life is not about what happens to us, but rather about how  we react to what happens to us. I keep pushing and I have  been doing better and better at University every semester.  It proves that hard work pays off eventually.

Benefactors and program patrons Jane Hansen AO and Paul Little AO believe that an individual’s life trajectory should be guided by their determination to achieve their ambitions, regardless of any limiting social or economic barriers.

“The vision of the Hansen Little Foundation has been to  create a scholarship program that gives more opportunities  to young Australians to pursue their dreams and reimagine their futures through access to university,” said Ms Hansen, who is also Deputy Chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

“I look forward to watching the progress made by these extraordinary young scholars as they embrace new possibilities, and to continuing to support them during this formative stage of their lives."

Read 2021 Annual Report

For more information on the Hansen Scholars in the School of Biomedical Sciences please read Hansen Scholarships give outstanding students the chance to pursue their dreams.