Imperial College London

Societal engagement recognised in 2019 President’s Awards for Excellence

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Group of students standing in front of construction of building

A group of students who have built an education centre for marginalised villagers in Borneo were one of the winners this year

From building education centres in rural villages to empowering minorities in STEM, we celebrate the achievements of this year’s winners.

The President's Awards for Excellence in Societal Engagement recognises staff and students who have gone above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities to better connect the work of Imperial and our research with society – whether that’s schools, communities, or patients. 

Professor Maggie Dallman, Vice-President (International), Associate Provost (Academic Partnerships), said: “This year’s winners have set the bar very high in their work to support, empower and inspire communities outside of Imperial. I am full of admiration for our staff and students and congratulate them on their very well deserved win.”  

We spoke to some of the award winners below. 

The Rural Education Development (RED) Project Borneo Team: “We have reflected Imperial’s vision to make an economic and social impact on the world.”

students stand in front of house
The RED Project Borneo Team standing outside the education centre they built as part of their expedition to Borneo last year
"Not only this, but our team demonstrated that Imperial students have the skills, perseverance and will in tackling global issues beyond their academic studies.”   Sher Wong MEng Civil and Environmental Engineering

Students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have won the Student Award for their work with RED Project Borneo, a student-led initiative that helps to create sustainable educational development for rural communities in Borneo. 

Undergraduate student Sher Wong was the leader of the RED Project Borneo Team. Last summer, the team visited a rural village in Borneo in collaboration with a local partner, Berhad.

During their visit, the RED team built an education centre to provide a new learning environment to meet the growing number of pre-school students in the village. Despite experiencing frequent power cuts and working long hours, Sher says that everyone remained motivated to complete the builds on time. 

“The team's commitment has been crucial in ensuring the success of our projects,” explains Sher. “Everyone worked together so that all our builds were completed within the set time frame of five or six weeks, which is the team's proudest achievement!” 

As well as building the education centre, volunteers held tutoring sessions for children and teenagers twice a week in the village church. Sher feels that RED Project Borneo has positively shaped a large part of her university experience. She added: “We have reflected Imperial’s vision to make an economic and social impact to the world. Not only this, but our team demonstrated that Imperial students have the skills, perseverance and will in tackling global issues beyond their academic studies.”  

“The RED team, including our founding members and past members, feel extremely happy about winning a President’s Award,” Sher said. “We set up this project for a great cause that all of us are very passionate about. It is great that the College recognises our efforts to alleviate the problem of education disparities between Borneo’s urban and rural areas in a sustainable way.”

Dr Jess Wade: “I am extraordinarily lucky that I have been so well supported along my educational and career journey.”

woman smiling at cameraDr Jess Wade, Research Associate in the Department of Physics, has won the Leadership Award for Societal Engagement.

Over the course of her time at Imperial, Jess has made a significant contribution to raising awareness of women and minorities in STEM subjects. 

“It feels great to have won a President’s Awards – it is a real honour,” Jess said. “I love being part of the Imperial community and to be recognised in this way feels great. I have a lot of respect for those who have won a President’s Award in the past, and for those staff and students that I have been named alongside this year.”

"Alongside my editing, I train others, so that collectively we can improve the quality of information on one of the world’s most viewed sites." Dr Jess Wade Research Associate, Department of Physics

From serving on the Women's Engineering Society Council to her work with Imperial’s Women in Physics group, Jess has been at the forefront of highlighting and promoting the wonder of science to young people.

Jess was nominated for a President’s Award for her work to kick-start a global effort to support the distribution of the book Inferior by Angela Saini. Last year, she successfully raised £15,000 via a crowdfunding campaign so that one copy of the book could be sent to every state school in the UK.

“I am extraordinarily lucky that I have been so well supported along my educational and career journey, but I recognise that not everyone has that support,” adds Jess. “Since I realised that, I have been trying to address that inequality – on the one hand to make more people interested in physics, and on the other, to make sure that they feel welcome and valued.”

Jess has not stopped there. In 2018, after noting the severe underrepresentation of women and scientists of colour on Wikipedia, Jess started a campaign to write one entry a day – so far, she has written over 620 profiles of women and minorities in STEM in an attempt to address the imbalance.

“There is a surprising amount of value to editing Wikipedia pages,” Jess explains. "Alongside my editing, I train others, so that collectively we can improve the quality of information on one of the world’s most viewed sites.  Wikipedia is a phenomenal opportunity to democratise access to information, influence the direction of research and recognise people’s contributions to society. My favourite part is Wikipedia’s offline access to medical information for people in the developing world.” 

Dr Anandha Gopalan: “People still think that computing is about sitting in a dark room full of pizza boxes staring at a screen, but that isn’t true.”

man smiling at cameraDr Anandha Gopalan, Senior Teaching Fellow from the Department of Computing, has won the Achievement Award for Societal Engagement. He joined the College in 2007 as a postdoc and has been leading high-quality engagement activities ever since. 

Most notably, this includes volunteering every Saturday for the past ten years at the Baraka Community Association supplementary school, where he mentors and teaches young people from diverse backgrounds to help them achieve better results in their GCSEs. 

“This is just a small way to give back to the local community. I love offering up some of the knowledge I have to children who may otherwise not consider studying science or maths at A-Level or at university,” Anandha says. 

"We can only really show that we care if we take outreach to people who need it, so that the local community engages better with Imperial." Dr Anandha Gopalan Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of Computing

“One of the benefits of reaching out to young people is that I get to dispel myths about computing. People still think that computing is about sitting in a dark room full of pizza boxes staring at a screen, but that isn’t true. Computing is at the forefront of the world.” 

The Baraka Community Association work primarily with the Somali community in west London - a group who are underrepresented in both STEM educational and work environments. As a result of Anandha's tireless work, a large number of the students he has supported have chosen to study a STEM subject at university – and some have even graduated from Imperial. 

Anandha added: “It brings me sheer joy to see young people learning – especially those who are an underrepresented minority. We can only really show that we care if we take outreach to people who need it, so that the local community engages better with Imperial.  

“It is humbling to have won a President’s Awards for Excellence in Societal Engagement – there are some amazing people on the list of winners and I feel this level of recognition at the College is truly special to be part of.”

Reporter

Martha Nahar

Martha Nahar
Communications and Public Affairs

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6708
Email: m.nahar@imperial.ac.uk

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