That connection is strongest in Toowoomba, home to creator Les Weis and the Weis factory for more than 60 years.
After the company’s new owner Unilever made the difficult decision to cease local production in December 2020, it sought to continue Weis’s contribution and connection to the Toowoomba community. That aim led to the inaugural Weis Scholarship in 2022 at the University of Southern Queensland, which supported three undergraduate and three postgraduate students.
“The Weis team were known for being passionate, being entrepreneurs, being really innovative – they did that starting with quality agricultural ingredients,” says Unilever Marketing Manager Annie Lucchitti.
“We wanted to ensure that future scientists and academics had that possibility to receive a higher education. So one third from the sale of the site – matched by the University – went into ensuring that there is a Weis Scholarship with the University in perpetuity.”
In 2023 the Weis Scholarship will support three more undergraduates, and over time this number is expected to grow each year. The maximum value for each scholarship is $12,000, to be paid over three years.
With the scholarship’s main focus on agriculture science and engineering (along with business studies), the unique partnership also represents a broader investment in advancing industry best practice.
“We wanted to ensure that as time goes on, the agricultural industry can continue to blossom through new minds being exposed to education in different forms. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling and easy process to work with the University. It was far simpler to get our ideas up and running than we had expected or that we've seen in other partnerships,” Ms Lucchitti explains.
For two recipients, the scholarship enabled them to focus on their higher degrees by research (HDR) without also juggling the demands of their existing jobs.
“Essentially, it’s giving us a buffer for life,” says Christina Harris, who completed her bachelor and honours degrees part-time while starting a family and working full-time.
Receiving the scholarship in the first year of her PhD allowed Ms Harris to leave her job and focus on her studies, without financial penalty.
Ms Harris’s research goal is to improve sustainability by increasing soil carbon levels and sequestration capability. She says many businesses are working towards net zero targets or a long-term sustainability plan.
Fellow Weis Scholarship recipient Terrina Bailey is also passionate about playing her role in a more sustainable world.
For three years, Ms Bailey juggled her HDR part-time while working full-time as a secondary science teacher. During a drought, Ms Bailey was concerned about the nectar sources for the beehives at her school – this is what initially inspired her PhD. Drought and climate change can impact when eucalyptus trees flower, the effect of this on honey production is the subject of Ms Bailey’s research.
Fruit tree pollination relies on bees and fruit is essential to Weis’s products – this full-circle moment is not lost on us and we’re proud that a UniSQ partnership has such holistic benefits.