The Neil and Gina Smith Student of the Year Award

The Neil and Gina Smith Student Of The Year Award comprises a cash award of £5,000 to recognise a student of outstanding achievement at Keele University. It is open to all undergraduate final year students. The 2016/17 Student of the Year was awarded to Steph Lonsdale.

2016/17 Student Of The Year

SOTY Steph Lonsdale

 Steph Lonsdale.

Steph joined Keele as a mature student, returning to education after a 25 year break and with few qualifications.

Steph’s diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Condition gave her the inspiration to study Psychology and since joining Keele has dedicated a great deal of time and effort supporting students and members of the community who share an autism diagnosis.  Steph founded and is the current President of Keele SU’s Spectrum Society in addition to volunteering with the National Autistic Society.  She has also established new ties with LifeWorks Staffordshire including fund raising and organising an outreach visit.   Through her hard work, Steph has helped improve the lives of individuals with autism and received an Autism Ally Award in 2017.

Steph has received the highest mark ever given in the module Psychology and Community Action, going above and beyond in her work with a resident in a local supported residence to produce a book for the “This is your Life” inspired module.

Steph has also researched new and improved ways for staff and final year Psychology students to recruit participants for research.  By linking up with the SU Volunteering scheme, research participants can now be rewarded for their time.

Steph recently won the runner up award for Peer Mentor of the year and has also worked as an ambassador for the University.

2016/17 Student Of The Year Finalists

Jack Tacchi

SOTY-Jack Tacchi

Jack currently studies Computer Science and Psychology.

Jack’s final year project covers the fields of Artificial Neural Networks, Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life to name a few.  This has involved Jack having to quickly learn new programming skills and concepts in a short space of time.  Jack has not only achieved this but his piece of work is expected to be of publishable standard.

Complementing this, Jack is also the student academic representative (StAR) for both of his subjects, a Student Mentor and Senior Mentor for the School of Computing ensuring new students feel welcomed and settled in.

Jack teaches young children aged 9-11 in Code Club at the local Library.  Jack was the Libraries first registered volunteer and has been instrumental in encouraging other Keele student to volunteer in this role which has seen an increase in young children now using the library.

Jack also makes contributions to sport at Keele and is the current captain of Keele Judo Club.  As well as an active member of the club himself, he has established and teaches lessons for visually impaired students.  

Anne Gahart

SOTY Anne Gahart

Anne is an International student currently studying Computer Science and International Relations.  Coming to Keele was not only Anne’s first time in the UK but her first time she had left her country.

Anne has represented both of her subjects as the student academic representative (StAR) as well as School Lead StAR for the School of Computing and Maths.  Anne was one of the initiators of the reorganisation of the Computer Science student society, Hack Keele.  Under her leadership the society has gained a new brand and energy and provides an exciting and inviting activity programme to students.

Anne has spent a summer placement at the White House working at the Executive Office of the President under the Office of Administration in White House IT as a Digital Solutions Intern.  Currently under the State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service programme, Anne has also been interning remotely for NASA on their Virtual Collaboration team.

Closer to home Anne works on the IT Service Desk as an IT Connect Assistant and as a Digital Ambassador in the Marketing Team.  She also represents the School of Computing on Open and Offer Holder Days as a Student Ambassador.

Stacey Lyons

 SOTY Stacey Lyons

Stacey currently studies Educational Studies and Psychology and has been accepted onto a Masters in Educational Psychology at Oxford University.

Stacey has conducted her final year project on the barriers to learning for students with visual impairment and has successfully recruited around 75 university students with visual impairments from across the UK.  This is one of the first research projects conducted in this area using quantitative methods and hopes the project will help to inform best practice for these learners in the future.

During her second year at Keele Stacey was matched with a Guide Dog and shortly afterwards founded the Keele Guide Dog Society.  Having researched animal-assisted therapy in America, Stacey broached Guide Dogs with the idea of running a Keele puppy room as part of Exam Plus.  The charity along with the Student Union supported Stacey in making this a reality and now over 300 students attend this regular event each semester.

Stacey also provides online counselling of young people for an anonymised charity, conducts mentoring in schools as well as assisting with one of the Foundation Year modules at Keele on Visual Impairment.  

Stacey has also set up and organised Disability Sport at Keele.

Who are Neil and Gina Smith?

Neil and Gina Smith 2014 Neil Smith graduated from Keele in 1980 with a degree in Physics and Economics.  Neil was President of the Students Union (1979), President of the Athletic Union (1978) and Speaker of the Union (1980).  At Keele, he earned full colours in Rugby, Football and Cricket, ran the popular Keele five-a-side leagues, produced “Keele Over” on BBC Radio Stoke (before KUBE radio), contributed to Concourse and was Honorary VP of the North Staffs Physically Handicapped. 

After graduating, Neil became a journalist with Thomson, freelancing with both the BBC and the Sunday Times. In 1982, Neil won a Knox scholarship to take an MBA at the Harvard Business School.  He earned first-year honours and became the first British President of the HBS Student Association. 

After Harvard, Neil joined management consultants McKinsey in New York, where he met his wife Gina.  In 1991 he bought Midlands-based Tudor Dairies, owners of the Loseley ice-cream brand, in one of the UK’s first leveraged buyouts. Neil later returned to the USA to found consulting firm, EHS Partners, with 2 former colleagues. In 2009, Neil joined the former US Comptroller of the Currency to found Promontory Growth and Innovation, which helps Chief Executives of Fortune 500 companies to dramatically improve performance.  In 2012, PGI was credited with helping Bank of America improve profits by $8 billion a year - the same year Neil wrote his New York Times Best-Seller (co-authored with Keele graduate Rick Levak) – How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things

Since the 1990’s Neil has been President of Keele in the USA, the organization and network for American alumni of Keele University.  With his wife, he founded the prestigious Gina and Neil Smith Student of the Year Award (now in its 10th year), which recognizes Keele students for their outstanding achievements. 

Neil was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of the University by Keele University in 2015.

Neil, Gina and their 4 children (Brianna, Alexander, Caroline and Charlotte) live in New York.

Criteria for 2016/17

The award is open to all final year undergraduate students who meet the following criteria:


Outstanding academic excellence / achievement together with outstanding achievement / contribution as an individual to student life and/or the university.

(i) To meet the criteria for outstanding academic excellence/achievement, applicants should demonstrate any one or a combination of:

  • An expectation at the time of the application to obtain First Class Honours in class mark aggregate
  • A Distinction, or equivalent exceptional achievement, in a major piece of examined independent work such as a project or dissertation


(ii) To meet the criteria for outstanding achievement/contribution as an individual, candidates should demonstrate any combination of the following:

  • An achievement or contribution in citizenship in the form of making a difference to the life of the University community (this could include work on or off campus such as volunteer activity)
  • An achievement or contribution specifically connected to a sport or sporting activity
  • Overcoming hardship, disability or other personal adversity

Notes for Guidance for 2016/17


Applicants must ensure that TWO signed references are provided to support their application from both:

1) An appropriate academic referee (e.g. Head of School, Director of Undergraduate Studies)


2) An appropriate referee for personal achievement (e.g. Head of HEACF/student volunteers, SU President, AU President, personal tutor, volunteer organiser)

It is the candidate's responsibility to ensure that references are provided by the closing date by email to


For a Staff Nomination

Nominations of candidates for the award by a Head of School or Faculty Dean must be submitted on the Student of the Year Application and Nomination Form below.

Nominators are advised to inform their nominee that they have been nominated, and to ensure that the nominee provides a personal statement and a non-academic referee to support their nomination before the closing date.

The Nomination Form must be completed as appropriate and by the closing date of 5pm on 24th April 2017.

Note: nominees must complete and send a personal statement and provide a non-academic reference, by email, to by 5pm 24th April.



The award Panel may invite shortlisted candidates for interview. Interviews will take place on 31st May 2017. Invitations will be sent out as early as possible, but candidates are advised that they may be given relatively short notice of an interview. 



The final decision will be confirmed after the Final Examination results are known, and the successful applicant notified within seven days of the results of the Final Examinations being published in June.

The Award will be presented at the Summer Degree Graduation Ceremonies. The Student of the Year will be invited to attend the Vice-Chancellor's Graduation Dinner in July 2017.

The name of the successful candidate will be recorded in an appropriate Roll of Honour to be established by the University.