Natalia Brkic was studying for her HSC at Bossley Park High School and researching career options when she came across information that changed her life.

“I always knew I wanted to go to university but I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” Natalia says.

A law information evening had started her thinking about a law degree but Natalia wasn't sure she could get the required marks. Then she found out about the Ngoc Tram Nguyen Scholarship offered by UNSW Law.

Awarded to a student from a non-selective public secondary school in south-west Sydney, the scholarship provides $5,000 per year for the duration of an undergraduate Law degree.

Involved in her school’s student representative council, doing volunteer work at school and in her community – including as an ambassador for the mental health initiative RUOK Day – and working at two part-time jobs, Natalia embodied the qualities the scholarship sought. “I’ve always had a sense of community and as clichéd as it might sound, I wanted to give back to the community,” she says.

Natalia, halfway through her first year of Law, is the scholarship’s fourth recipient. On Friday she will attend the Ngoc Tram Nguyen Scholarship Dinner, designed to raise funds for and awareness of the scholarship. Held in south-west Sydney, it is a unique gathering of school students, law and finance professionals, alumni, current university students and staff, and members of the local community. Last year’s event raised more than $70,000.

“The scholarship is a wonderful representation of always working hard and going after what you want and being unforgiving in that,” Natalia says. “You don’t need to miss out because of your financial circumstances. I’m very thankful for the scholarship and the difference it’s made to my life.”


Ngoc Tram Nguyen with her daughter Tia.

Dean of Law Professor George Williams says the fund-raising dinner is a highlight of the UNSW Law calendar and the scholarship is an important part of UNSW’s commitment to helping gifted young people achieve their potential, regardless of their backgrounds. “This scholarship has already helped four disadvantaged students study law at one of Australia’s leading law schools,” he says.

The scholarship was established in honour of Ngoc Tram Nguyen, who came to Australia from Vietnam as an infant refugee. As a young adult, Tram met Professor Lisa Maher from the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW and former UNSW Law Dean Professor David Dixon when they were researching the impact of policing in Cabramatta. Tram was taken on board as a research assistant, co-authoring the report Anh Hai: Young Asian Background People’s Perceptions and Experiences of Policing

“Tram was an extraordinary young woman, someone who, despite limited formal education, was the intellectual equal of anyone in the Law school, and with the charismatic personality of a leader,” Professor Dixon says.

Encouraged by Professors Maher and Dixon, Tram began the University Preparation Program with ambitions to become a lawyer and a leader of her community. She said: “My main aim is to help my friends and my community, maybe not straight away, but some day. At least now I can see that day.”

Despite adversity, Ngoc Tram Nguyen wanted to live up to her potential and she really saw the value of education.

Tragically, Tram died before she could achieve her dream. Professors Maher and Dixon established the scholarship in her memory at UNSW Law. It expresses the priorities of Professor Dixon’s deanship: social justice; involving alumni, the profession and the community in UNSW Law; and broadening access for potential students.

“Tram wasn’t able to realise her vision but this scholarship is about helping others to do so. It helps financially but also, we hope, by telling young people from south-western Sydney that they should aspire to come to a top law school – or to do anything they want,” Professor Dixon says.

“Tram understood that education provides the key for individuals and communities to change. And she understood that – as Michael Kirby said at the 2012 dinner – studying law opens the door to the power needed to make change happen.” 

That message resonated strongly with Natalia: “Despite adversity, Ngoc Tram Nguyen wanted to live up to her potential and she really saw the value of education. My parents’ circumstances limited their opportunities but they always told me to be unforgiving in what I want to go after,” she says. “I don’t want to feel limited because of where I grew up or because I went to a public school.”

What: Ngoc Tram Nguyen Scholarship Dinner

When: Friday, 2 September

Where: Crystal Palace Function Centre, 219 Canley Vale Rd, Canley Heights

Tickets: $88 (includes eight-course Vietnamese banquet), available here