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.

Applications are open until Friday 17 April 2020 (deadline extended).

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 11th 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.

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

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

When to apply

Applications are open Monday 3 February - Friday 17 April 2020 (deadline extended). Apply here.

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 by the closing date of Friday 17 April 2020.

Note: nominees must complete and send a personal statement and provide a non-academic reference, by email, to by Friday 17 April 2020.


The award Panel may invite shortlisted candidates for interview. Interviews are expected to take place on 27 May 2020, though we will let you know if this changes. 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 2020.

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

Rose Bridgewater

Student of the Year finalist 2018_19 Rose Bridgewater

Rose currently studies Forensic Science and joined Keele as a mature student having taken a BTEC in Drama and with a limited scientific background. Academically, Rose has consistently achieved high grades in all her modules, with first class grades in all of her second and third year modules as well as receiving the highest grade overall in her final year dissertation, which is a testament to her hard work.

In addition to her academic achievements, Rose has also made significant contributions to the Forensic Science programmes including volunteering on open and offer holder days, being a student representative and the Chair of the student staff voice committee, and the student forensic science representative on the school sustainability committee. Rose was also one of the founding members of the Keele Forensic Science Society.

During her time at Keele, Rose has struggled with personal adversities which she has not only managed to control but to also, despite her anxiety, become the Chair of the Show Choir which is currently the largest music society at Keele, putting on 3 shows a year for both students and the wider community to enjoy.

Rose was also a student ambassador, twice being nominated for welcome week ambassador of the year.

Alexander Bailey

Student of the Year finalist 2018_19 Alex Bailey

Alex currently studies Law. Prior to returning to education, Alex lived in Australia working in a country pub as a customer service manager. To achieve his goal of returning to education and studying Law, Alex had to complete an Access to Higher Education Diploma before attending University.

Alex’s grade profile includes some of the highest first class marks achieved by a law student, entitling him to a number of sponsored prizes, one of which was the Best Year 2 Student along with School prizes for the highest marks in many modules. Externally, Alex had been awarded the Lord Neuberger Prize, a Full Advocacy scholarship to attend the Bar Professional Training Course at BPP University and the Lord Denning scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn. Each of these awards are highly prestigious, and to receive all three is unheard of.

Alex also helps with fund raising for St Lukes Hospice, regularly supporting events for them as well as other local charities due to his father being diagnosed with bowel and latterly lung cancer just prior to the commencement of his studies.

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.

Dhanesh Mahmood

Student of the Year finalist 2018_19 Dhanesh Mahmood

Dhanesh currently studies Pharmacy. Dhanesh has been an exemplary member of the student community in the School of Pharmacy from when he first arrived in 2015. He has embraced all of the possible ambassadorial roles within the School including Student Voice Representative, British Pharmaceutical Students Association representative, NICE Student Champion and a student guide on Open and Offer Holder days. All of these extracurricular activities led to Dhanesh being awarded the School’s Rosemont Prize for student professionalism and contribution to university life 2018.

Dhanesh was the first person in his family to go to university and he started his journey reserved, anxious and with low self-esteem. Dhanesh has thrown himself into volunteering and has exceeded 500 hours of voluntary work. This has included supporting other students in his role as a resident adviser, walking students home late at night as part of Street Team, working as an SU part-time officer and sitting on several society committees, most prominently being a founding member and current President of the Ambassadors Society. Dhanesh has also taken a lead on campaigns on behalf of the student body such as engaging with the SU and Vice-Chancellor around accommodation issues and engaging students in elections. As an alcohol impact ambassador, Dhanesh helped combat excessive alcohol intake among students and helped to raise awareness of alcohol related issues.

Alongside this, Dhanesh has engaged and raised the aspirations of 1000s of young people in local schools and colleges as an award winning Higher Horizons+ student ambassador 2018 and more recently awarded Keele Ambassador of the Year 2019.

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.