Indigenous honours support for bright young minds

This article featured in Illuminate Newsletter Autumn ‘22
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In its inaugural year, our Chism Indigenous Honours Scholarship program will nurture budding researchers, thanks to generous support from WEHI alumni

Stan and Karen Chism’s relationship with WEHI started in 1974. Stan was a newly hired Assistant Professor at the University of California San Francisco with a strong interest in cancer immunology. Upon reading about the advances made by WEHI scientists Emeritus Professor Jacques Miller AC, Dr Noel Warner and Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet, Stan made a pivotal decision to postpone his new faculty position and undertake a post-doctoral fellowship at WEHI.

Stan and Karen had an incredibly fruitful two years in Melbourne – forming lifelong friendships and significantly contributing to our understanding of oncofetal antigens, proteins found in adults with certain kinds of cancer.

Stan said one of the most important things about their time at WEHI was the people and how knowledge was shared so freely.

“The scientists were so approachable at teatime; it was a great boon to postdocs for the exchange of ideas, interdisciplinary problem-solving and learning.” Upon Stan and Karen’s return to the US, Stan continued to recall their time at WEHI fondly.

“For many years I thought about the unusual environment WEHI provides for young scientists to learn, grow and be productive in their scientific endeavours. It was specifically due to our gratitude for faculty members like Noel Warner and others at WEHI that we finally decided to make a donation,” he said.

In 2019 Stan and Karen were able to visit WEHI again. Between catching up with old colleagues and friends they found time to ask how they could support WEHI with larger donations. Giving charitable donations overseas could be difficult, Stan said.

“It was through an intermediary agency, the Chapel & York Foundation, that we gained a mechanism for transferring international support.”

Supporting young scientists to flourish

This year, thanks to Stan and Karen, the Chism Indigenous Honours Scholarship was established. Professor Doug Hilton AO said the program represented an important part of WEHI’s broader commitment to reconciliation and to providing opportunities for the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and medical researchers.

“Involving First Nations medical researchers in research is essential to attracting the brightest minds to solve some of the most important health problems we face,” he said.

Stan said he and Karen were committed to investing in the next generation of researchers, especially in people who may otherwise not have the opportunity, connections or resources to succeed.

“We want to enable budding scientists to experience the supportive environment we believe WEHI still offers,” he said.

“Helping to support bright young talent at WEHI for the advancement of medical research to benefit Australia and beyond means so much to us.”

First published on 01 March 2022
This article featured in Illuminate Newsletter Autumn ‘22
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