How Vera Boyarsky's unwavering passion for engineering allows her to support students through times of crisis
Having forged a long and successful career in a historically male-heavy industry, Vera Boyarsky knows a thing or two about grit and persistence. Now, through her philanthropy, she helps UNSW students access opportunities she never had.
As Executive Director of ANKA Property Group, Vera Boyarsky spends her days overseeing the company’s financial strategy, projects, acquisitions, sales and dealings with government bodies. Outside of work, she’s a passionate philanthropist, who supports UNSW students through giving and mentoring.
With many of our students facing significant challenges as a result of COVID-19, Vera has recently made a generous donation of $30,000 to UNSW’s Student Emergency Response Fund (SERF). The fund provides financial support to domestic and international students experiencing hardship because of the pandemic.
I think that it’s very important to stand behind these young students. They leave their home to come here to study – it doesn’t matter if it’s from overseas or from remote areas – and then struggling to provide for themselves.
A career driven by a love for engineering
Vera started a mechanical engineering degree at UNSW at a time when female engineers were exceptionally rare. She first fell in love with engineering while working with her father – an engineer himself – in his factory.
"During the holidays I used to help my father in the factory by interpreting for him – his English wasn’t as strong as it needed to be. I’ve always loved fixing and doing mechanical things," she says.
I always wanted to do engineering from the time I could remember. Of course, UNSW was the university you went to, because it had the best engineering school – if you could get in, that’s where you went. I was thrilled to qualify so I began Mechanical Engineering there.
As one of two women studying engineering at the time, Vera’s path was not an easy one.
It was quite difficult for girls in those days … you couldn’t open your mouth in a lecture; as soon as you did the guys spoke over the top of you. It was really uncomfortable.
After a conversation with her lecturer, Vera decided to transfer to an arts degree. But her passion for engineering never wavered. “As the saying goes ‘all roads lead to Rome’,” says Vera, who continued to pursue her engineering dream through Harvard University. She eventually joined ANKA Property, which her husband Alex founded in 1968.
Even then, there were bumps in the road. “I have to be honest; the only women on site were in the site sheds, wearing bikinis, boots and a helmet – on a calendar. So, it was an interesting time, but I kept pursuing it because I just love it. I love the creativity of it all, so on it went.”
Having now been in the industry for 50 years, Vera’s knowledge and experience is incomparable to any textbook, and she enjoys sharing her time and expertise with students. “I’ve just signed up to mentor a female engineering student through the Career Ready Mentoring Program at UNSW, because having lived that, and being in the industry I’m in, I feel like I can really help young women to feel more confident in this field.”
The importance of giving back
Vera and her husband Alex, who is also a graduate of UNSW, have a long history with philanthropy. Both having been born overseas – Vera in Hungary and Alex in China – and emigrating to Australia with their families, they are passionate about empowering students to overcome financial difficulty.
I love helping young people. There’s no greater gift you can give to someone than to make them capable and know their full worth – you can never take away education.
In 2001 Vera and Alex established the Boyarsky AGSM International Travel Scholarship Endowment for students to undertake overseas study. The fund provides one $7,000 scholarship each semester to a student enrolled in a Master of Business Administration in UNSW’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) and to undergraduate students in Built Environment, Engineering and Architecture.
“We wanted to create opportunities for young people who don’t necessarily already have many – like we didn’t have it in those days – and offer them something that they can’t afford to do by themselves. When my husband went through structural engineering, his friends were traveling the world and looking at the great structures overseas, and he was simply looking at books,” Vera says.
Travelling is an extension of your learning, to be able to visualise the things that you discuss, plan and replicate to understand design. And we wanted to give that opportunity to young people that we didn’t have and would have really valued and benefited from.
A true UNSW family
Vera’s family is closely connected to UNSW. She and Alex met while they were students at UNSW, and both of their children are also UNSW alumni.
“We have a history with UNSW. My husband and I decided that this institution has really contributed enormously to our wellbeing and our lives. And of course, on top of it, our children went there. UNSW has played a highly significant role in who we’ve become. Therefore, we decided that we would give back."
I’m very proud of UNSW, I think it’s cutting edge in so many ways. It’s a great privilege to be a part of UNSW and I hope that a lot more alumni will see it as such.
“To set someone on their path to be able to support themselves from the skills which they’ve acquired is, to me, the greatest thing you can do. It’s much more helpful than money. Everyone needs that helping hand. It makes all the difference.”
Vera’s latest donation to SERF has provided valuable support to the many UNSW students who – due to the pandemic – have lost employment, have been unable to return home or who are facing significant financial stress. The fund helps both domestic and international students through emergency support payments, supermarket e-vouchers and grants.
“I personally believe the University is absolutely amazing in the fact that they picked up on that straight away and enabled us to help these students, because they will remember this for the rest of their lives. And when they do, I hope they’ll come back and do the same for someone else.”