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.

2020 applications are now closed. 

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 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.

Alana Wheat

Student of the Year finalist 19-20

Alana currently studies Geography.  Academically, Alana has been an exceptional student having achieved the GGE Alan Walton Prize for academic excellence and extra-curricular work and contribution to the School along with the School First-Year prize for Geography.

Alana founded the Wildlife Society in 2018 which now has 41 members and has organised and participated in 43 events this academic year including organising the ‘Big Climate Fightback’, planting 300 trees in Keele woodlands along with partaking in the Hedgehog Friendly Campus and creating cohesion between residents, staff and students.  The Wildlife Society was recognised by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust in 2019.

In 2019 Alana was successful in gaining the Sustainability Internship role with Green:Keele.  From attending conferences, running Green:Keele social media and helping organise events and opportunities for both Keele students and local schools to learn more about sustainability, these activities have all contributed to Alana’s breadth of knowledge in this area.

In addition to her academic and society achievements, Alana also volunteers with a local Youth Club, and now helps to runs events for 60 young people every Friday.  Alana also refounded Gaming Potion, a board-game and Nerf club giving 80 young people the opportunity to spend time away form screens and to socialise outside of school.  Alana, representing independent youth organisations, became a trustee for SCVYS.

Alongside this Alana is also a Student Ambassador and a HigherHorizons+ Ambassador, delivering Student Life talks to prospective students.


Emma Crabb

Student of the Year finalist 19-20

Emma currently studies Psychology and joined Keele hoping to complete two weeks due to multiple health issues including CFS/ME, dysautonomia and Autism, requiring frequent hospital visits.  Only able to be active for a few hours each day and being primarily housebound for three years prior to coming to Keele, Emma’s expectations were that she would not succeed. 

However, Emma’s determination and perseverance is truly admirable. Her attendance record is excellent, and on occasions has been advised by her academic school to take a break and allow some recovery time.

Emma embraced university life and was determined to use her own experience to help others.  As a team member on The Student Room for four years, Emma supported members to continue studying despite their challenging life or health circumstances. At Keele she is secretary of the Music Union (KUMU) and has also been on the Concert Band committee for 2 years.

Emma also volunteered to run a creative writing camp for looked after young people as part of the White Water Writers project taking responsibility of running the week long camp independently, leading young people through planning a novel, writing, proofreading and being published.

Emma will shortly be presenting the disadvantages of ABA therapy in autism at the JSLUG Conference, as both an autistic person and a psychologist.  Using this unique perspective in autism research and practice is something Emma would like to do more of in the future. Her final year project has had over 500 autistic participants.

Alongside this Emma has also been a Keele transition mentor, volunteered for the National Autistic Society and performs with the RAF Cosford Voluntary Band.


Shaquilla Linton

Student of the Year finalist 19-20

Shaquilla currently studies Psychology and from the first day starting at Keele, knew she wanted to work alongside her studies, helping other students.

Shaquilla works as a steward in the Students’ Union aiming to keep fellow students safe during night events.  Working 2-3 shifts weeks has enabled Shaquilla to see first-hand the support she can provide students and to prevent any possible situations occurring.

Shaquilla also volunteers on-campus as a Keele peer supporter.  Peer Supporters are trained student volunteers who offer confidential mental health support to fellow students.  The success of this role, alongside Shaquilla’s empathetic nature led her to also volunteer with the Samaritans as a listener, offering emotional support in a confidential way, helping those at their lowest point and providing them with a safe place to discuss their feelings.

During the summer of 2019 Shaquilla travelled to Ghana to participate in a 4-week Mental Health and Psychology placement volunteering in the psychiatric hospitals and shadowing mental health nurses. On the return of the trip, Shaquilla wrote an article about her time spent there, which was then published by the British Psychological Society’s magazine “The Psychologist…” in October 2019.

Alongside volunteering, Shaquilla is a member of the Keele dance society improving her versatility and collaboration.


Tom Bedford

Student of the Year finalist 19-20

Tom currently studies Environment and Sustainability.  Throughout his time at Keele Tom has been a key contributor to the Keele community making the most of available opportunities as well as creating his own to contribute to positive change within the University.

Tom volunteered as a steward when Keele hosted the 2018 Environmental Associations of Universities and Colleges conference, the annual highlight of sustainability in higher education.  Further opportunities arose to contribute to workshops run by Keele at the CTRLShift summit in Stoke in 2019, and a Responsible Futures workshop in 2020, sharing student voices about co-curriculum learning opportunities and engaging students as partners for change.

During summer 2018, Tom was accepted as a UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) member, gaining a platform to share experiences and empower others, promoting Keele along the way, leading to unique opportunities including creating and running the UK’s first Local Conference of Youth; Creating a UK youth policy position at the 25th UN Conference of the Parties; Co-hosting Radio 4’s Costing The Earth and Speaking on the guest panel of BBC 1’s The Big Questions.

Tom has also worked within the local community in Audley, consulting on becoming carbon neutral along with applying his knowledge from Keele as a committee member of Climate Matters Staffordshire. This group works across Staffordshire bringing together MPs, councillors, activists, business leaders and educators to enable Staffordshire to reach net carbon zero.  Sitting on the Executive Committee, Tom imparts knowledge and expertise gained through his degree to support and become a change agent within the local area, whilst demonstrating the value that students can have in their communities.

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.