Scholarship win for surf life saving champion

Friday, 5 March 2021

One of Australia’s shooting stars of surf life saving, Jemma Smith, has been awarded the inaugural Newcastle Knights Minerva Scholarship.

student pictured with her mentor sitting in the grand stand
Jemma Smith and her mentor, Roslyn Toms, Director at nib foundation

The $10,000 12-month scholarship will support the University of Newcastle student to complete her 2021 studies while continuing to meet her demanding training commitments.

Starting her sporting career as a five-year-old nipper with Umina Surf Life Saving Club, the now 21-year-old from the Central Coast is a 16-time Australian champion across life saving and surf events with her eye firmly on the 2024 Paris Olympics as a sprint kayaker.

Newcastle Knights Chief Executive Officer Philip Gardner and Minerva Network Chairman Christine McLoughlin congratulated Jemma at an event at McDonald Jones Stadium.

“This is a huge honour for me to receive the Newcastle Knights Minerva Scholarship, which will enable me to complete my Bachelor of Education studies at the University of Newcastle while I chase my dreams of higher honours in my sport,” she said.

“The support I have received from the Minerva Network has been immense and it says a lot about the quality of the Newcastle Knights as a club that they are so willing to get behind women in sport and young athletes of all disciplines in the community.”

Jemma is starting her fourth year of study for a Bachelor of Education specialising in secondary mathematics and physical education, with her aim to continue post-graduate studies at the University of Newcastle.

Mr Gardner said the Newcastle Knights were thrilled to be partnering with women's sporting network Minerva Network on supporting women in sport.

“We congratulate Jemma, an outstanding local athlete, on receiving the inaugural Newcastle Knights Minerva Scholarship.  Our club is committed to creating and supporting pathways for women in sport and the Newcastle Knights Minerva Scholarship will be offered to a deserving athlete on an annual basis.

“As a result of this scholarship, Jemma will be better able to realise her educational aspirations as she continues to make her mark as an athlete with her eye on Olympics qualification.”

The Minerva Network aims to enable elite sportswomen to maximise their opportunities on and off the field, through collaboration, sponsorship and mentorship - supported by a network of leading professionals.

Minerva Network Chairman Christine McLoughlin said Jemma was the third young Australian athlete to be awarded a scholarship under the Minerva Network Scholarships Program, which was launched in September 2020.

Fellow Minerva Athletes, Sydney FC and Future Matildas player Jada Whyman and Australian Rowing World Championship Medallist Georgie Rowe, have also received scholarships.

“The Minerva scholarships are an investment in our future as the level of skill and discipline shown by our Minerva Athletes in competing at the highest level are precisely the traits we look for in our community leaders and in the world of business,” she said.

“We know from working with elite athletes over the past four years at the Minerva Network that they juggle training, competing and part-time work to pay the bills, along with their studies. Sadly, when the pressure is on and they need to cover some of the bills, too often those studies are sacrificed.

“The Newcastle Knights Minerva Scholarship will enable Jemma to compete and train while she completes her studies.”

Jemma Smith was selected for a scholarship on the basis that she is an outstanding Minerva Athlete who is a role model on and off the field, has a long-term career goal linked to a proposed area of study, and a clear plan to maintain her level of sporting performance along with her study commitments.

“I’m a fulltime university student but still training two to three times every day and travelling regularly, and the financial strain of the past few years has been massive,” Jemma said.

“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to partner with the Newcastle Knights who do so much for the region and the community.”


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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.