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WELS Student Awards 2021 – meet the winners

Photograph of a trophy on it's side, spilling star confetti on to a clean, blue background. The text "WELS STUDENT AWARDS 2021" is overlaid on top of the image.

Every year, the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) recognises students for their achievements through the WELS Student Awards. This year another eight* talented students received awards in two categories, in a recent virtual ceremony.

The Student Inspirational Achievement Award recognises WELS students who have achieved a significant career milestone, overcoming challenges or barriers to succeed in realising their aspiration.

The Student Mentor/Ambassador/Buddy of the Year Award recognises the invaluable work of WELS students who support others in a formal role as mentor, ambassador or buddy. The winners of this award have gone the extra mile to act as a positive role model for other students.

Each award is particularly notable, as students must be nominated by their tutors to be eligible.

Student Inspirational Achievement Award 

The 2021 Inspirational Achievement Award winners are: 

Yasemen Dervis – Level 3 student (School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care – HWSC)

Yasemen has overcome several obstacles during her studies, from the breakdown of her personal relationship which led to caring for twins solo, to working in an Emergency Department during a global pandemic. Despite such challenging personal circumstances, Yasemen has remained calm, focused, and organised, bouncing back to complete the OU Nursing programme, despite many times wanting to give up. Yasemen’s tutor, Kate Storey, said:

Yasemen will make an inspirational nurse… many incidences could have stood in her way, but she has persevered and almost finished her programme. She will have complete empathy for future students that she will mentor.” 

Bhupinder Gill – Postgraduate Social Work student (HWSC)

Bhupinder has shown impressive dedication and efficiency to her postgraduate studies this year, tackling her studies with discipline and passion. Despite facing challenges around study leave and funding, she has shown an unwavering, positive attitude to her studies, working creatively in placements and never missing a deadline. Bhupinder’s tutor, Catherine Pestano, said:

Bhupinder has received high praise from her workplace colleagues and Practice Educator and is a pleasure to work with, maintaining a positive attitude in the face of challenges and disappointments.” 

Mihaela Popa – Level 2 student (School of Languages and Applied Linguistics – LAL)

Mihaela is an inspirational force of nature for the Roma community in Luton, of which she belongs. Despite being a lone parent with three children of her own, she has supported her community, especially young children, during lockdown. Mihaela also contracted COVID-19 herself in December, yet through it all she has been determined to continue working towards her degree in linguistics. Mihaela’s tutor, David Jacques, said:

Mihaela has overcome Covid and the challenges of being a lone parent of three this year. She is well on her way to gaining a degree which will not only be for her benefit but her community’s, and other children who learn English as a second language.” 

Sara Smith – Level 1 student (School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport – ECYS)

Sara is a truly inspirational student. Having come from an extremely disadvantaged background and overcome significant struggles with her mental health, Sara has shown courage and tenacity to continue with her module, whilst also navigating the practical challenges of finding the time and opportunity to study as a lone parent. Sara’s tutor, Catherine Eaton, said:

Sara has a fierce determination to understand and learn about the best ways to support her daughter, and other children and young people who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. She has a clear plan and undoubtedly has the will and the ability to achieve her goals.” 

Rachel Stephens – Level 3 student (ECYS)

Rachel used her learning from the Youth Work degree to ease the challenges of the pandemic in her community. The first lockdown meant that youth work in its usual face-to-face format could not continue; in response, Rachel developed an online cooking project delivering food, providing doorstep activities and 150 weekly ingredient packs to families vulnerable to holiday hunger. Amazingly, Rachel managed to meet the commitments of this project alongside the demands of her final work-based module on her degree. Rachel’s tutor, Kate Breeze, said:

Rachel has shown incredible creativity and energy in addressing the challenges of the pandemic meeting the challenge of food poverty head on, raising significant amounts of money, support and donations to make a real difference to her community.” 

Dawn Stewart – Postgraduate Nursing student (HWSC)

Dawn has demonstrated superb resilience, tenacity and professionalism over the past year. She has overcome the challenges of managing an acute psychiatric unit under increasing strain due to the pandemic, alongside caring for her two children who have been shielding at home due to being clinically vulnerable, all whilst maintaining an extremely high level of achievement in her studies. Dawn’s tutor, Shelley Peacock, said:

For Dawn, the impact of COVID-19 has been immense; she has demonstrated resilience, tenacity, professionalism, and the ability to carry on in the most challenging of circumstances. She is an inspiration.” 

Bahar Yanik – Level 2 student (HWSC)

Despite Covid and the many challenges of being a frontline school worker during the pandemic, Bahar's dedication to her studies has been unwavering. As a member of the BAME community at potentially greater risk on the frontline, she has consistently pressed on with achieving her study goal of a degree qualification. Bahar’s tutor, Catherine Pestano, said:

I have been very impressed by the dedication and efficiency that Bahar brings to her studies. Through her own great efforts, and supported by her OU team, she has achieved her vocational goals. It has taken great resilience and determination to achieve to this level while also being a carer and worker with a full-time study load.” 

Student Mentor/Ambassador/Buddy of the Year Award 

The 2021 Student Mentor/Ambassador/Buddy of the Year winner is: 

Jacqui Ross – Graduate (LAL)

Jacqui was a Student Buddy throughout the 2020/21 academic year, providing study advice, general guidance and moral support to her peers, alongside completing her own studies. She has been instrumental in facilitating student-led support initiatives within LAL, helping to increase access and participation for all LAL students. Jacqui’s tutor, Bärbel Brash, said:

In the current global pandemic, most OU students are facing difficult and complex situations. Jacqui moderated the L223 student forum during this time and always went the extra mile; her posts were empathetic, helpful, positive, timely and personal. She communicated and interacted with everyone, showing concern and encouragement, thus inspiring students to continue with studying even when it was tough.” 

The WELS Student Award winners were announced in a virtual ceremony, where the winners of the WELS Tutor and Teaching Excellence Awards were also announced.

For further details on the award winners in each category, please read the detailed stories:

We’ll be sharing more details about our 2021 Student Award winners’ stories over the coming months, keep an eye on our social media pages or check back here. 

*Please note, only those winners who have agreed to publicity are featured in this story.

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