“Follow your dreams” – students share their stories at Orkney College UHI Special Awards 2021

This year the Orkney College UHI annual special award presentations were a little different although no less special for those involved.

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L-R Ali Hepburn, Lesley Spence, Joanne Wallace (Photo credit: Ken Amer, Orkney Photographic)

While these special awards are normally presented as part of the annual Graduation Ceremony, this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the university partnership made the very difficult decision to cancel face-to-face graduation ceremonies in 2021. 

However, winners of this year’s special awards were recognised at a small event where Orkney College UHI Acting Principal, Jo Wallace, along with the sponsor of each prize, congratulated each recipient and presented them with their prize.

Jo Wallace said: “Many congratulations to all of our award winners this year. To be nominated by your tutors for your outstanding achievement, in what has been a challenging period, is testament to your commitment, tenacity and hard work. Everyone at Orkney College UHI is absolutely delighted to have been a part of a special day today and wish you every success for the future."

Higher Education Student of the Year at Orkney College UHI was awarded to Lesley Spence following a nomination by her tutor, Ali Hepburn.

In her nomination, Ali said: “Lesley has been a student with UHI for a number of years. Her lifelong goal has been to become a primary school teacher – a profession she is perfectly suited to.  From the first day of study on the PGDE Lesley showed enthusiasm and positivity.  At every stage Lesley was striving for excellence and achieved this both academically and in practice.

“Her first school placement was a great success until it was interrupted by school closures due to COVID.  Lesley continued to support children online, actively seeking out opportunities to make online and home learning fun and exciting.  She supported fellow students with a smile and was a ray of positivity.

“Her approach to studying during a difficult time was nothing short of astounding and admirable. Lecturers, fellow students and school staff alike are filled with praise for Lesley.  I can honestly say I found her approach to work and study inspirational.  Now in her own classroom I look forward to many more years of working with and learning from Lesley. Being recognised as HE Student of the Year goes towards congratulating Lesley for all she has achieved.”

Lesley, who has begun her probation year at St Andrews Primary School, said: “I am extremely honoured and somewhat overwhelmed to receive this award. Orkney College UHI have enabled me to fulfil my potential and reach my lifetime goal of becoming a teacher. Returning to full-time study was not a decision I took lightly. Having tried many times in the past and failed I knew it was imperative that studying became my main focus if I were to be successful. Inspired by my good friend and colleague Caroline Easton who also studied through UHI, I decided it was time to give it one last shot.

“Those who know me know that sitting still and concentrating are not my strongest assets but I knuckled down, worked hard and found that I absolutely thrived whilst studying. If I can return to study, anyone can - but only when the time is right! It took me to be in my 40s before the time was right. I first completed my BA in Child and Youth Studies whilst still working full time at Papdale Primary School. This was done with the support of my personal academic tutor Wilma Bichan and Kathryn Sclater.

“I then progressed to study the Post Graduate Diploma in Education with the amazing Ali Hepburn as my Personal Academic Tutor and Seminar Group Tutor. The support I have received from Ali has been exceptional, she really helped me through what was a very tough year. None of this would have been possible without the tremendous support I’ve had from my husband Erik, my amazing parents, my good friend and ‘advisor’ Irene Drever and all my friends.

“Sometimes I really have to pinch myself to check that I am not dreaming, I finally, after a lifetime of dreaming, have my own class!

“If one thing comes out of me getting this award it will be that I inspire others, regardless of their age, to follow their dreams. I also hope it gives reassurance to school leavers that they can return to education at any time so if they are not ready for that step now opportunities will always be there in the future.”

This year’s Further Education Student of the Year at Orkney College UHI was Jasmine Jamieson.

Kara Leslie, Lecturer and Stepping Stones Course Lead who nominated Jasmine, said: “The team in Inclusive Practice would like to congratulate Jasmine - we are delighted for her.  Jasmine's commitment to her studies in the face of constant change, disruption and the challenging circumstances brought about by COVID-19 during 2020 and 2021 - alongside her quiet, perceptive qualities are some of the reasons this award is so well deserved. 

“Her developing self-confidence and self-assurance were evident throughout her time on the Stepping Stones course.  The way she coped with all the changes presented to her - while producing consistently high-quality work from home and when in college, as well as being an active and intelligent contributor to online classes – showed strength of character and commitment to learning.  

 “In a year which, for many folk has not been an easy one, Jasmine illustrated perfectly how a course like Stepping Stones can foster independence and the development of skills, whilst giving students time to make decisions about their future paths.  She grasped a challenging situation and made the very best of it.  The quality of her work in social, language and art-based subjects was especially commendable. 

 Jasmine is now continuing her journey in personal development and education on the NC Art & Design course at Orkney College UHI, where she continues to produce beautiful work and is a responsive student.

On receiving her award, Jasmine said: “I am really pleased with myself for pushing through all the difficulties and challenges of the past year. Receiving the Student of the Year award was a pleasant surprise which I’m very happy about.’’

Highlands and Islands Students’ Association Orkney Local Depute, Francesca Meneghetti, said: “It is with great pleasure that I want to congratulate this year’s special award winners. A huge thank you for showing us the value of going the extra mile for ourselves and the people around us, especially within an academic context.  Your hard work, dedication, and strive for continuous improvement are inspiring all of us to work hard and reach our goals. Thank you and congratulations!”

OIC Chair of the Council’s Education, Leisure and Housing Committee, Councillor Gwenda Shearer, said: “Congratulations must go to all students for their considerable efforts during these ongoing challenging times and the tutors for continuing to deliver, encourage and ensure all learners reach their full potential.”

Below is a list of all special award winners:

Award Name Awarded to Sponsored By
Orkney College UHI Further Education Student of the Year Jasmine Jamieson Orkney College UHI  
Orkney College UHI Higher Education Student of the Year Lesley Spence Orkney College UHI
Agriculture Student of the Year Jansen Garrett Orkney Agricultural Society
Judith Robertson Memorial Prize (Orkney Archaeology) Holly Young Orkney Archaeology Society
Best Performance in Undergraduate Archaeology Student Mairead Morgan Andre Artymiuk 
Best Undergraduate Archaeology Student Dissertation Mairead Morgan Andre Artymiuk 
Best Performance in Postgrdauate Archaeology Student Rachel Nicholson UHI Archaeology Institute
Freya Rose Dalrymple Memorial Award Arwen Haselden Art Dept
The Pier Arts Centre Award for HE Art & Design Student of the Year  Ruth Tait Pier Arts Centre
Soulisquoy Mal Cowtan Award for Experimental Print Molly Shearer Soulisquoy Printmakers 
Excellence Award for Academic Achievement (Business Dept) Graeme McCulloch Orkney College UHI Business Dept 
Part Time Higher Education Business Student of the Year Donna Wishart Orkney College UHI Business Dept 
Full Time Further Education Business Student of the Year Rachel Vincent Orkney College UHI Business Dept 
Full Time Higher Education Business Student of the Year Inga Antonio Orkney College UHI Business Dept 
IT Student of the Year Scott Stewart Orkney College UHI Computer Science Dept
Bricklaying Apprentice of the Year Award Ewan Scott Orkney Construction Training Group
Carpentry & Joinery Apprentice Award Gary Johnston Orkney Housing Association Ltd
Wood Machining Apprentice Award Andrew Harvey Orkney Construction Training Group
Best Graduating Student (Culture and Heritage) Charlene Forbes Orkney College UHI Culture and Heritage Dept
Best Interdisciplinary Project/Dissertation Jan Lloyd Orkney College UHI Culture and Heritage Dept
Best National Certificate in Professional Cookery Louis Pottinger Pierowall Hotel
Best Professional Cookery at SCQF Level 5 Kristen Norquoy Hospitality Dept
Best Hospitality Supervision & Leadership Student Sinead Mulpeter Kirkwall Hotel
Industry Award for Hospitality Student of the Year Amanda Kirkness Merkister Hotel
Gaelic Legacy Prize Gabrielle Barnby UHI Institute for Northern Studies
Gaelic Legacy Prize Catriona Weiser UHI Institute for Northern Studies
Best Dissertation Neil Conway UHI Institute for Northern Studies

Photos of special award winners can be viewed on our website here.