Why alumni like Michael leave a lasting legacy at La Trobe

For many alumni, a life-changing experience at La Trobe inspires a gift to the University in their Will. Discover what motivated alumnus Michael Hill (Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences; Master of Agricultural Sciences) to leave his legacy to future students passionate about sustainability.

As a young man, Michael Hill’s interest in agriculture was sparked by an innovative class at his school, Kingswood College. A short agricultural science program in year 10 taught him how to grow plants – and became the catalyst for a more than 30-year research career that’s spanned agronomy, ecology, biogeography and the remote sensing of land systems.

Today, after a long and highly renowned career in agricultural and earth system sciences, Michael has turned his attention to his legacy. Top of mind is how he can support future generations to pursue a higher education through a gift in his Will.

“I’m very committed to science and I’m passionate about the importance of education for young people. To the extent that I can, I want to enable students to avoid accumulating debt in doing a high education degree,” Michael says.

In 1971, Michael was fortunate to receive a Commonwealth scholarship, which gave him the chance to go to university. He chose La Trobe. Looking back, he was attracted by its new campus, which he remembers vividly for its ‘abundance of space, gardens and a lot of very shiny adobe-coloured buildings’.

He also valued the expertise of La Trobe’s founding faculty. Among them was Robert ‘Bob’ Reid (1921-1996), one of Australia’s most outstanding agricultural scientists and La Trobe’s Foundation Professor and Dean of Agriculture (1968-1979), as well as David Connor, a senior lecturer in the School of Agriculture at the time.

Against a backdrop of Vietnam War demonstrations, Michael toiled through his heavy undergraduate workload. Each day in first year, he took three buses to commute to La Trobe from Blackburn, until eventually, his parents bought him a motorbike, which ‘cut his travel time down to from two hours to 30 minutes’.

As a young graduate, Michael wasn’t sure what career path to take – but a phone call from David Connor offering a research assistantship led him to pursue a Masters degree by research. It’s this kind of educational support that Michael believes was key to his career success.

“La Trobe, along with my school, were responsible for my career. If La Trobe hadn’t had called me up to do a Masters degree, I wouldn’t have progressed. The School of Agriculture saw potential in me that I hadn’t necessarily realised was there myself,” Michael says.

Michael went on to complete a PhD, then spent 12 years working as a senior research scientist for the CSIRO’s Division of Animal Production and Livestock Industries. He moved to the Australian Government’s Bureau of Rural Sciences for six years, where he conducted research and managed projects in the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting. Then, in 2006, Michael relocated to the United States to become Professor of Earth System Science and Policy at the University of North Dakota, where he worked for 10 years.

Returning to Australia in his retirement, Michael’s reflections on his own educational pathway have inspired him to offer others the same opportunity. In collaboration with the principal at his former school, he’s created a scholarship commencing in 2021 to support a Kingswood College student to study for degrees in Agricultural Science, Rural and Urban Planning and Conservation and Wildlife Management at La Trobe University. He’s also extended his support to fund a second scholarship, open to any prospective student wanting to study in these disciplines from his legacy.

Initially, Michael planned his philanthropic support to be realised as a gift in his Will. However, as his vision evolved, he decided he wanted to bring part of his gift forward. Striking this balance ensures that Michael sees the impact of his gift now, while also ensuring his impact lives on through a gift in his Will.

“I wanted to support something while I’m still alive and while I’m financially able to see the outcomes during my lifetime,” he explains. “I also wanted to actively encourage a link between Kingswood College and La Trobe University as a thank you for their pivotal roles in my fortunate and wonderful life.”

Michael is one of many extraordinary La Trobe alumni who’ve chosen to support students and research in an innovative way: by continuing a legacy for the future through a gift in their Will, while also seeing the impact of part of that gift being realised during their lifetime.

For a confidential conversation to explore opportunities for you to continue the legacy through a gift in your Will, please email Rebecca Passlow (Development Manager, Bequests) at La Trobe University.