Umina surf star awarded Newcastle Knights Minerva scholarship

(from left to right) Minerva Network Chairman & Co-Founder Christine McLoughlin, Minerva Mentor and nib Foundation Director Ros Toms, Minerva Athlete Jemma Smith and Newcastle Knights CEO Phil Gardner, at McDonald Jones Stadium, home of the Knights Photo: Zech Nissen

The inaugural Newcastle Knights Minerva Scholarship has been awarded to the ex-Umina Surf Life Saving Club nipper, Jemma Smith, aiding in her studies at the University of Newcastle.

In conjunction with the Minerva Network, the Newcastle Knights have awarded this $10,000, 12-month scholarship to Smith in recognition of her ongoing achievements in life-saving and surf events, as well as to support pathways for women in sport.

Now 22, Smith began her surf life saving career at the age of 5 with Umina SLSC and is now a 16-time Australian champion across life saving and surf events who has her eye firmly on the 2024 Paris Olympics as a sprint kayaker.

She received her scholarship on Thursday, March 4, from Newcastle Knights Chief Executive Officer Philip Gardner and Minerva Network Chairman Christine McLoughlin at McDonald Jones Stadium, the home of the Knights.

“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 Newcastle Uni while I chase my dreams of higher honours in my sport,” said Smith.

“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.”

“I’m a fulltime Uni 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.

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

Gardner also commented on the intentions behind the 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,” Gardner said.

“As an NRL club we have a strong focus on developing rugby league pathways for girls and women, but we also acknowledge the enormous efforts of all women in elite sport and therefore this scholarship is available to all sporting disciplines.

“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.”

For McLoughlin, the scholarship is a chance to build on the athletic potential in local communities and enable young athletes to train at their sport while studying tertiary education.

“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.”

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 University of Newcastle.

Media Release, Mar 4,
Robyn Danzey, Minerva Network and Ross Smart, nib Newcastle Knights