‘A second family’: How the Skyline Foundation supports female students in STEM

by Women’s Agenda
Wednesday 21 June 2023

The first time Cindy Nguyen heard about the Skyline Education Foundation was at a secondary school assembly. Despite initially lacking the confidence to apply to the Foundation’s scholarship program, one of her teachers encouraged her to try, and she got in.

Now that Nguyen is studying a double degree in Engineering/Science at Monash University, she looks back at the program that supported her through her last two years of secondary education and describes it as a “second family”.

“I felt like I could reach out to them and ask for help and it could have nothing to do with school,” says Nguyen.

“And I just think that’s pretty incredible,” she adds, noting that the scholarship program differentiated itself from others by going above and beyond providing financial support.

“This one was like a family,” says Nguyen.

“And even if I’m not directly associated with Skyline anymore – like they’re not funding me anymore – they still haven’t forgotten about me.”

The Skyline Education Foundation in Victoria supports students through the last two years of their secondary education, providing them with opportunities to pursue study and employment options. 

Founded in 2004, the Skyline Program is the first of its kind in Australia to offer educational and emotional support to program students – many of whom stem from single parent households or have faced other adversities. 

Nguyen says Skyline took away much of her financial stress by covering the cost of items she needed at school such as textbooks, a backpack and school uniforms.

“It was really impactful because it took off a lot of stress and a lot of burden,” she says. “Because before that, I couldn’t actually afford textbooks and I would have to rely on physical copy PDF files, and I think at one point I printed the textbook by pages to bring to class”.

The program also allowed her opportunities to consider what university degree she would pursue after secondary school by meeting with people working in a variety of industries.

“Beforehand, I didn’t like talking to people,” says Nguyen. “I was a big introvert but when you’re with Skyline, you’re around a lot of people who are just as passionate as you or come from a similar background. They create a really good environment where you just want to meet people, learn and talk a lot.”

Other aspects of the program that Nguyen found helpful were the educational excursions that Skyline took students on – which allowed her to network even further – and the support that was offered for her mental wellbeing.

“When I was in year 12, I had a really hard time with my mental health and Skyline provided free therapy,” she says.

Now studying at Monash University, Nguyen has found her way into studying what she loves – engineering and science.

“I’ve always been a science person,” she says. “I’ve always really, really liked science. Studying science has always been something I’ve been certain about. Engineering, I think it started in year 10…I just really like building things and seeing how things come together.”

As for her future career goals, Nguyen is still exploring her passions but says, “as long as I can build something and use creativity or the knowledge I gained from uni, I’ll be really happy.”

The importance of schooling for those coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds cannot be overstated, and Skyline’s program recognises this.

CEO of the Skyline Foundation, Bridget Sutherland says education and employment are “the way out for any kind of disadvantage that is entrenched.”

“I have seen the impacts of different levels of social disadvantage,” says Sutherland. “There is so much optimism around getting students at this stage, and through to university. You really see how anything is possible if you know the opportunity exists.”

So far, 100 percent of students supported by the Skyline Education Foundation have completed the program and made that next big leap to university or employment.