Whanganui-raised student Tom Devine continues to push the boundaries on his potential after securing one of New Zealand's most prestigious postgraduate scholarships.
Devine has been awarded the William Georgetti Scholarship of $90,000 over the next two years, which will support his studies as he heads to American Ivy League university Columbia in New York City later in the year.
The William Georgetti Scholarship was established to encourage postgraduate study and research in a field that, in the opinion of the Scholarship Board, is important to the social, cultural or economic development of New Zealand.
Devine was awarded the scholarship to study healthcare redesign using the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Devine will spend the next two years completing his Masters in Public Health at Columbia.
Earlier in May, Devine met with the Scholarship Board at Government House. His proposition to the board was to use lessons learned from the pandemic to inform health system redesign and restructure in New Zealand.
He said Covid-19 had been one of the biggest threats to global health in the past century and the pandemic highlighted the importance of social determinants of health.
"It has also shown the unique needs and responses by minority populations and indigenous people. I am hoping to include this perspective in my research as well.
"Although New Zealand has had a hugely successful elimination strategy, I am interested in looking at countries that have had less-than-ideal experiences, to future-proof and prepare New Zealand's system for health crises where we might not have same level of success."
The board called him later that day to confirm he had been awarded the scholarship.
The scholarship has a unique tie to Whanganui; William Georgetti's family were some of the first Europeans to settle in the area in the late 19th century.
He was born to Augustine and Ellen in 1867 and the Georgettis played a pivotal role in the development of the town. The family's is impact still seen around Whanganui today.
The family owned Bastia Hill, which was named after the town Bastia, Augustine's place of birth on the Mediterranean island, Corsica. The road up to Bastia Hill, Georgetti Rd, stands as another testament to the family and their impact on Whanganui.
Devine, a former St Dominic's College student, said it was special to be recognised for such a prestigious award that had a connection to Whanganui.
"I think it is a really nice acknowledgment to my hometown. My passion is contributing to healthy futures for New Zealand, and that all started in Whanganui."
In October 2020, Devine was approached by the Ministry of Health to join the Covid-19 Directorate and is currently a senior adviser in the Covid-19 vaccination operations team.
"During my time at the ministry I have written a report for the WHO [World Health Organisation] on New Zealand's response for the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response co-chaired by the Rt Hon Helen Clark, written two academic articles on the nature of the virus that causes Covid-19 and worked in the EMT responding to community cases/outbreaks."
In October 2019, he was awarded the Fulbright Science and Innovation Scholarship and in May 2020 received the Gordon Watson Scholarship.
Devine said the three scholarships and the financial support they gave him would fuel his studies for years to come.
"It's quite an expensive undertaking. I've had to financially support myself through university in New Zealand and then also when I was going overseas, I needed financial support too. This really gives me that security."
Devine, who heads to Columbia in September, said it was an exciting, yet scary, opportunity.
"I hope to learn some lessons from them about their Covid experience and then come back and see if I can contribute to the health system here.
"I would really encourage other students who are thinking of pursuing postgraduate studies to apply for a Fulbright or Georgetti. These scholarships support meaningful research that is going to make a huge difference in Aotearoa New Zealand. They are always looking for people with a passion to make an impact."