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.

Find out about our 2020/21 Student of the Year below.

Student of the Year 2020/21

Jenna Volpert

Congratulations to Jenna, our Neil and Gina Smith Student of the Year for 2020/21! Jenna studies Medicine and has been recognised for her consistent academic efforts. A project Jenna led on, the long-term outcomes of patients following bariatric surgery, received First Prize from the Royal College of GPs. The quality improvement exercise Jenna carried out directly benefited patients and contributed to a change in practice.


On arriving at Keele, Jenna joined the talented athlete programme with hopes of representing England in hockey. This goal was reached in 2017 when she was selected for the English Universities team. Jenna is now the highest capped women’s hockey player in the programme and, for the last two years, has been in the role of Vice Captain.

Jenna has shared her passion for hockey to Keele through increasing students’ participation in the programme through mentoring younger players. During Jenna’s time at Keele, she has captained both the Women’s first XI and the Medics hockey team, whilst also helping with coaching over the years. Jenna was recognised for her sporting efforts by winning the AU’s ‘Female Sportswoman of the Year’ award. 

Jenna is passionate about equality which has led to roles such as President of ‘Students for Global Health’, founder of ‘Women in Surgery Keele’ and as a student ambassador on the Medical School Exclusivity Committee. Jenna has organised workshops with local charities to help medical students feel more empowered to contribute to improving health inequalities. 

With the onset of the pandemic, Jenna organised an informational event run by SFGH Keele in collaboration with Public Health England. Over 100 students and staff attended followed by PHE ‘Covid – A year on’ follow-up event, analysing what we had learnt and lost this year. 

When Jenna’s medical placements were cancelled, she worked as a medical assistant on the front-line filling in shifts at her local hospital suffering from staff shortages.

We wish Jenna every success in her next ventures.

Congratulations to our finalists this year too - you can read about them below. 


Megan is a current Adult Nursing student whose academic achievements have been exemplary during such a difficult year.

Megan joined Keele in the foundation year. During the first week of her first year of nursing, Megan discovered she was expecting a baby. Megan had moved away from her home town of Grimsby to study at Keele and so found herself without the support of family and friends. Megan discovered her unborn child had a heart defect whilst on placement on a cardiology ward which created additional anxieties. Eventually, Megan took a maternity leave of absence and relocated home to have her baby.

Following the birth of her son, Megan was determined to come back to Keele and found a home and nursery that allowed her to complete her intensive degree as a single mother with no family or friend network in the local area. Shortly after returning, Megan’s son had to undergo life-saving heart surgery and recovery.

Throughout the pandemic, Megan had many clinical placements and unfortunately contracted Covid-19 whilst working on a Covid-19 red ward.

Whilst working long weeks and being a parent, Megan still found the time to work as a Specialist Student Ambassador, answering questions and queries that aspiring students have about life at Keele, supporting students with anxieties and fears about coming to Keele, and alleviating them through reassurance and the sharing of her personal experiences.


Serena currently studies Biology and Mathematics, and she has pursued her passions for climate change and the environment within Keele and the international arena.

Serena has been a UK youth delegate at nine United Nations conferences as well as being elected as the youngest ever UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) civil society Focal Point (aged 20), facilitating all climate engagements for around 8000 youths aged 35 and below with the UN in 2019. She has used her platform to enable two additional Keele students to attend UNFCCC meetings through her youth delegation in the UK Youth Climate Coalition. Currently, she sits amongst UN officials as a youth expert on the UNFCCC’s Technology Executive Committee Task Force.

Serena’s Mathematics dissertation aligns UK renewable energy consumption with Paris Agreement targets, informing governments about her research. As a member of her School’s Sustainability Committee, she has also presented her work to the Head of School and is now looking to incorporate climate change into the School curriculum.

Serena is currently working on her second project for KRISP. Her first project involved creating a plastics usage tool for a Staffordshire-based client, who was exceptionally proud with her results, inviting Serena to present the work to the Staffordshire Business and Environment Network and DEFRA.

Alongside all of this, Serena has volunteered as a steward when Keele hosted the Environmental Associations of Universities and Colleges conference and has received a Crystal Volunteering Award from KeeleSU in 2019 for logging 500+ volunteering hours.

Serena has had to overcome hardships on her journey and is currently retaking third year, after taking a leave of absence in 2020 due to declining health. She has come back this year to excel in her course and this September Serena will be joining SSE, a top energy company in the UK, where she will continue to raise the university’s excellent reputation.


Sunna currently studies Medicine during a challenging year which has seen her working on the front line as medical assistance and as a Covid-19 vaccinator, alongside training and supporting her fellow colleagues in their roles. Sunna also set up a Facebook group for student volunteering contributions to help the community during lockdown, and for sharing real-time information about PPE, vaccines and other changes within the Covid-19 pandemic as they emerged. Sunna was also appointed hospital lead for a study launched to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on paediatric cancer patients.

At the start of this academic year, Sunna was elected as Chair of SSVC School Council, leading a committee resolving concerns, feedback and queries on all Medical School matters. There were unprecedented changes to each year group within areas such as education, learning, social, psychological and emotional well-being, and so the focus was on maintaining the morale of medical students in tough circumstances.
On campus as a Resident Adviser, Sunna helped fellow students with their wellbeing and isolation over lockdown too.

It has also been Sunna’s mission to maintain efforts in integrating more equality, diversity and inclusion into the curriculum and medical school. Being actively involved in many committees in a voluntary capacity, helping set up and recruit for EDI committees and 'Raising Concerns' as Lead Student Ambassador, including the involvement of active bystanders. In previous years, Sunna co-founded and led the Women in Surgery Network at Keele.

Sunna has also set up her own Charity Foundation last year in the memory of her late Father, which was halted by the pandemic in terms of being able to recruit a Trustee board. This charity aims to raise money for hospital funds and medical aid in developing countries.

2020: Euan Malpas-Vernon

Student of the Year finalist 19-20

Euan currently studies Geoscience which requires not only extensive laboratory classes but extended periods of fieldwork, which can be challenging and exhausting for most students.  Euan though suffers from chronic pain syndrome as well as cancer which has resulted in the amputation of his right arm along with undergoing more than 5 major operations during his time at Keele, all which required long periods of recuperation.

As a result, Euan takes strong pain medication that has adverse effects on his concentration, daily energy levels and mobility.  Despite this though, Euan remained cheery and positive, determined to get a good degree and go on to a PhD in palaeontology which he has got lined up at the University of Manchester.  

Independently of his degree Euan has written several scientific papers for future publication in journals.  Euan was nominated for, and won, the 2018 Jones- Fenleigh award for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, where Euan’s research was presented at the International SVPCA conference.  Euan is the only undergraduate ever to win the award, and had to compete with other candidates all of whom were at MSc level or beyond.

Beyond Euan’s studies and University, Euan has been chosen for the Paralympic Great Britain pistol shooting team all achieved despite Euan’s health complications.

2019: Alice Gwyn-Jones

Student of the Year finalist 2018_19 Alice Gwyn Jones

Alice currently studies Medicine after already completing an undergraduate degree. Alice has been the Chair of the Keele Trauma Course Society for the past 2 years and an active committee member for several years prior to that. The Society is responsible for organising an extremely successful 1 day trauma course for around 100 medical students, junior doctors and allied health professionals. Alice was instrumental in the organisation, building links with partner organisations and for writing the course manual.

Despite the demands of a busy medical course, Alice was also on the committee for the successful second Keele Anaesthetics and Critical Care Conference in 2018. On top of this, for the past 4 years Alice has also been a member of the Keele community first responders (CFR), a charity that works in the local community attending 999 calls in order to reduce the pressure on the ambulance service. Both through this charity and running the pre-hospital emergency medicine society, Alice has organised and been a part of multiple sessions teaching university staff and students, the local parish and primary school children basic life support and CPR.

For the past 2 years Alice has also been a resident adviser, working for Student Services in the evenings supporting students who live on campus with a range of issues and providing advice and guidance to them.

2018: Lauren Mullan

SOTY Lauren Mullan

Lauren studied Psychology. She showed drive and resilience throughout her education due to becoming estranged from her family at a young age and taking on the caring responsibilities of her now late grandmother.

This drive propelled Lauren into succeeding academically, reflecting a combination of sound intellectual ability, self-discipline and time-management. This was also shown in her non-academic work,
progressing from working in the SU bar as a member of staff, to bar manager and now duty manager.

Lauren was an advocate for students facing similar situations as herself and has worked with Student Services to write a blog encouraging others to pursue university.

Through great personal adversity, Lauren has responded in the best possible way to what Keele University offers. Whilst studying for her degree Lauren found a new and vibrant family in the Keele community and continued to contribute to this community when she took up her place on the Social Work Masters programme in 2018/19.

2017: Steph Lonsdale

Steph Lonsdale 200

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 was President of Keele SU’s Spectrum Society in addition to volunteering with the National Autistic Society. She also established new ties with LifeWorks Staffordshire including fund raising and organising an outreach visit. Through her hard work, Steph helped improve the lives of individuals with autism and received an Autism Ally Award in 2017.

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

2016: Adrian Craig

Adrian Craig student of the year

Adrian Craig graduated in 2016 after studying Medicine. Adrian's time at Keele was a little longer than an average student; taking a year out to read for an intercalated Masters in Medical Ethics and Law.

He volunteered with Marrow and Anthony Nolan during his time at Keele, eventually becoming National President, acheiving outstanding results in signing up students and others for the bone marrow register. He ran the London Marathon in 2016 with the aim of adding 34 new donors to the register.

Adrian was club captain of the Boat Club helping them to become the AU Club of the Year for its charitable and sporting efforts. He co-led and delivered the Keele International Anaesthetics and Critical Care Conference which saw students from across the UK and some students from Europe come to Keele for a day of lectures and workshops. And, as part of his degree in Medicine, Adrian undertook projects outside of the curriculum to further his interest in anaesthesia. This resulted in presenting at the World Airway Management Meeting in October 2015.

Adrian also volunteered with the Army Cadet Force and had done since before coming to Keele.

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

Neil was President of Keele in the USA, the organization and network for American alumni of Keele University from the 1990's-2016.  With his wife, he founded the prestigious Gina and Neil Smith Student of the Year Award 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.