Two female recipients of the of the Gabby Robberds scholarship standing together holding their awards and smiling to camera

Talented graduates scoop scholarship award

Two university of Canberra students were thrilled to be recipients of the annual Gabby Robberds Scholarship at a presentation in Canberra last week.

Physiotherapy student Adelaide Armstrong and Occupational Therapy graduate Liana Matthews were presented with the annual scholarship that combines a $1,500 financial award with a 1-2 month clinical placement with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance ACT.

The scholarship is based on academic performance, demonstrated community service for people with a disability – and most importantly, an interest in paediatric physiotherapy and helping children with disabilities.

During her placement with CPA in May 2023, Ms Matthews utilised her Master of Occupational Therapy skills across a variety of areas, from school visits, to taking measurements for wheelchairs and developing home programs for carers.

Ms Matthews worked as a teacher for 35 years, with a focus on supporting children experiencing learning difficulties, before she decided to pursue postgraduate studies.

“I’m very excited about developing my skills in disability care,” she said. “Witnessing the work of allied health professionals at the CPA and the difference they make, especially for young children and their families, was really remarkable and inspiring.”

Ms Armstrong, who is in her final year of a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University, decided to pursue an allied health career after seeing a lack of support systems in developing countries.

“Growing up, I lived in several developing countries, and so often people with disabilities just fell through the cracks and there was no place for them in society,” she said.

The scholarship honours the memory of Gabby Robberds, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and passed away in 2010 just before her third birthday. It was established by Gabby’s family to acknowledge the commitment of the therapists who supported them during Gabby’s short life and is awarded each year to one Physiotherapy student and one Occupational Therapy student at Canberra University.

Physiotherapy and occupational therapy for people with cerebral palsy focuses on developing the ability to function on a day-to-day level, improving strength and dexterity, and fostering independence and productivity.

Faculty of Health Deputy Dean, Professor Stuart Semple said the CPA and the Robberds family have been long-term supporters of the education of allied health students at the University.

“It’s partnerships like this that help us achieve our mission to produce high-quality graduates who are passionate about working in allied health, and go on to really make a difference in the disability sector,” Professor Semple said.

The scholarship is also a wonderful homage to Gabby, a little girl who changed the lives of everyone who became a part of hers.

Gabby Robberds Scholarship

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was born, Gabby passed away in 2010 when she was just two years old, after a massive seizure from which she never recovered.

After Gabby passed away, her sister Charlotte wanted to honour her memory.

“Charlotte was 11 at the time, and she came up with the idea of doing some fund-raising to help other kids with cerebral palsy,” said Craig.

“She initially thought of doing something small at school, getting everyone to wear a funny hat and make a gold coin donation. But few of the kids did, and so she asked me if we could try a fund-raising dinner instead.”

The family held the Raise a Smile fundraising dinner – and raised $125,000 in just one night, surpassing all their expectations. This amount enabled the possibility of creating an ongoing means of support and philanthropy, rather than a one-off donation. The scholarship is also open for public donations.