Horizon is limitless for new scholars

01.07.22

They may be 2500km apart but Caitlin Morgan and Jess Curran are both buzzing with excitement when they talk about the thing that connects them – their selection as AgriFutures Horizon Scholars, sponsored by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI). 

“For me, the Horizon Scholarship opens the doors to so many new opportunities and partnerships with a variety of industries, and deepens my passion for agriculture,” said Caitlin, a 2021 Horizon Scholar from the Mornington Peninsula studying Bachelor of Agriculture at The University of Melbourne. 

Jess, a 2022 Horizon Scholar in her fourth year of Bachelor of Veterinary Science at James Cook University in Townsville, says applying for the scholarship challenged her to think critically about life after graduation. 

“I’m amazed that the Horizon Scholarship gives you so many networking opportunities and placements. It aligns so well with the pathway I want to take as a vet, helping investigate livestock fertility and diseases and potentially research,” Jess said. 

Each year 20 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarships are awarded to students studying an agriculture-related undergraduate degree or a Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths/Finance (STEM) degree with majors that are relevant to agriculture. 

AgriFutures teams up with industry sponsors like AWI to provide a $5,000 bursary, professional development workshops and work placements for the Scholars, as part of its commitment to supporting the next generation of Australia’s rural leaders. 

So, what’s in it for AWI? 

“AWI sees the Scholars as a resource for the future. They’re bright and passionate young people who’ve gone out of their way to apply for this, so they’re the sort of people we want in our industry,” says George Lehmann, AWI’s Project Coordinator, Extension & Capacity Building. 

George grew up on his family’s wool and cropping farm near Wagga Wagga in southern NSW and studied agribusiness at Sydney University before successfully applying for AWI’s graduate program in 2020. 

“Wool has such a strong future, particularly with its sustainability story,” said George. 

Image: Caitlin Morgan

“AWI has made big gains in ag tech innovation too. In shearing, we’re working on a new race delivery system where rather than being caught and dragged out of its pen, the sheep is delivered on its back to the shearer. 

“We’re also testing a hand-held shearing handpiece that operates without a big motor hanging overhead, meaning people can shear anywhere.” 

In his current role, George gets to match the skills and studies focus of the AWI Horizon Scholars with placements in the wool industry. 

“For example, Jess is just starting her program and has expressed interest in working with a sheep vet and also a large commercial operation or a Merino stud. So, I’ll leverage AWI’s connections and relationships to find someone who’s a good fit for that,” he said. 

For Caitlin, who spent much of her childhood on her grandparents’ Angus beef stud in South Gippsland and managing her school’s Corriedale sheep stud, the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship also provides the chance to highlight two of her key interests – the need to increase the involvement of young people and women in agriculture, and to expand ag education programs in schools. 

Image: Jess Curran

“Our school, Flinders Christian Community College, had one of the champion high school teams in AWI’s National Merino Challenge in Sydney and they provided a lot of helpful tools when we were doing VCE, so I was really excited to find they were one of the Horizon Scholarship sponsors,” she said. 

At the Horizon Scholarship ‘Unconference’ in 2021 – held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Caitlin was invited to design a presentation for sponsors and stakeholders, as part of her Horizon Scholarship.

“George helped me tee up four successful women in agriculture for a Q&A. It was really engaging to see what the women had achieved in a previously male dominated industry, and I got lots of great feedback from it,” she said. 

As a Year 12 student she had also attended one of the biggest food summits held in the southern hemisphere, the 2019 Global Table Food Education Summit, as part of a program called Teenovators. 

“I ended up being part of a panel alongside female CEOs of huge food innovation companies and think-tanks, and it opened up a whole side of the industry we wouldn’t have known about,” Caitlin remembers. 

“We also met the Minister for Agriculture and ended up getting her to visit our farm at school. I remember being astonished that’s all it takes, people giving up their time to get these things organised.” 

Jess Curran is at the beginning of her Horizon Scholarship journey and says it’s definitely making her think about future directions. She grew up northwest of Longreach in western Queensland, where her family runs Santa Gertrudis cattle and recently restocked after the drought with 10,000 Merino ewes. 

“I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was a little girl, to help animals but also to engage with people. For primary producers, every interaction with their livestock matters, from the animal welfare aspect to weight gains, so there’s a big role that vets can play in that,” said Jess. 

“If you’re a person who’s passionate about what you do and are thinking of applying for a Horizon Scholarship, I’d say absolutely just do it. You have nothing to lose but so much to gain from the opportunities it presents.” 

Applications for the 2023 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship will open in November 2022.