Celebrating game changers and problem solvers: Last month, Imperial recognised remarkable alumni leaders at the inaugural Alumni Awards ceremony.
The new Awards programme is part of Imperial’s overall commitment to celebrate outstanding achievements within its community.
In her opening speech, President Alice Gast thanked the winners, who had been selected by a panel of judges out of more than 200 entries and travelled from as far as the US to attend the ceremony, for their contributions to the wider society: “To find out what our alumni have done with their Imperial education and to watch their successes is truly inspiring and it makes us remember why we’re all here and what it’s all about. As an institution that is dedicated to excellence, it is an honour to recognise that excellence amongst our alumni with an award, and to have you all sharing your stories with us.”
During the ceremony, guests heard from the two winners of the Distinguished Alumni Award, Harris Bokhari and Professor Angela Vincent. Both stood out to the judging panel due to their dedication to improving other people’s lives and their ability to approach big challenges head-on.
From Westminster Hospital to world renown
Professor Angela Vincent (Westminster Hospital Medical School 1966) has made an outstanding contribution to the field of neuroimmunology through her research. One of her most significant research achievements was the finding that maternal antibodies can be pathogenic to the development of the fetus.
In 1977, 11 years after graduating from Westminster Hospital Medical School, Angela helped to set up the first Neuroimmunology Group at the Royal Free Hospital. In 1992, as a University Lecturer, she established the Oxford Neuroimmunology Service, which she led until 2016.
I think I need to feel needed, so when I go and talk to people and help them with their careers, they are doing me a big favour. Professor Angela Vincent Distinguished Alumni Award winner
A self-proclaimed “Westminster woman”, Angela reflected on her first touchpoints and childhood encounters with the field of science: “I think I was a scientist from the beginning. I liked nature, I liked drawing things, and I read a lot about science - and in those days reading about science was not popular stuff, it was science textbooks. I was quite serious about it and I was fascinated by it.”
It was this love of science, combined with a great respect and admiration for her colleagues and their work, that has motivated her from the very beginning of her career. While Angela’s work has largely been conducted in laboratories, she has always been aware of the human aspect to her research: “Of course, the inspiration has actually been the patients, where we have been able to make a discovery that has really helped them and others subsequently.”
For several years now, she’s been helping young people to reach their career ambitions. Angela insists that she benefits just as much from sharing her experiences with aspiring medicine professionals as they do from learning from her. She explains: “I think I need to feel needed, so when I go and talk to people and help them with their careers, they are doing me a big favour,” she explains with a smile.
Watch Angela’s award acceptance speech below.
Helping young people find their voice
The second winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award, Harris Bokhari, devotes most of his time to voluntary projects, which have earned him numerous awards including an OBE.
Since graduating from Imperial with a BSc in Mathematics with Management in 1999, Harris has established two charities: the Naz Legacy Foundation and the Patchwork Foundation, which has helped over 40,000 young people from communities that are typically under-represented in UK politics, raising their aspirations and equipping them with vital life skills.
In his speech, Harris insisted that his accomplishments are in fact a result of the hard work of the people around him. He expressed his gratitude to his late father, his mentees and other young people whose ambition continues to motivate and inspire him: “Receiving this award has been very humbling. For me it’s always about the young people I work with. It is great to have some of the young Patchworkers, who are graduates of our programme, present here today. They’re the reason why I’m here, they inspire me every day and I’m very honoured to be able to accept this award on their behalf.”
I’ve got a great deal to thank Imperial College for. Without their support, I wouldn’t be here today. Harris Bokhari Distinguished Alumni Award winner
Harris reflected on how his Imperial education equipped him with the skills and, perhaps even more importantly, the mindset needed to give a voice to those who struggle: “Imperial really opened up my mind. It enabled me to meet international students for the first time, and to have those kinds of difficult conversations you wouldn’t have growing up as a young teenager at school, and it really enabled me to broaden my horizons. I’ve got a great deal to thank Imperial College for. Without their support, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Even though it’s been more than 20 years since he graduated from Imperial, he kept in touch with some of his former classmates and the people who have helped him along the way: “Since I graduated, Imperial’s alumni community has been amazing. I think when you become friends at Imperial, you become friends for life and I have many people who have mentored me when I was an undergraduate, continue mentoring me after I graduated from Imperial. The lasting friendships are things that really mattered to me and I’m very grateful that those mentors have now become good friends.”
Watch Harris’ award acceptance speech below.
The next generation of game changers
The Emerging Alumni Leader Award recognises and celebrates alumni under the age of 40, who are remarkable leaders in their field, have demonstrated outstanding achievements or are making a substantial impact on society. The 2020 winners of the category are:
Arjun Panesar (MEng Computing 2006) is the Founding CEO and Head of AI at Diabetes Digital Media, an organisation which provides evidence-based health interventions for people with diabetes and other long-term health conditions. With over 1.4 million active members, the organisation is redefining the understanding of chronic disease and wellness.
Dr Aula Abbara
Aula Abbara (MBBS Medicine 2005, MD(Res) 2017) has gained an international reputation in the fields of refugee and humanitarian health. She led a project which provided primary healthcare for refugees in Greece for the Syrian American Medical Society, led and completed a consultation for WHO EMRO on healthcare access for refugees and is on the advisory group for the Code of Practice on Healthworker Migration for WHO.
Driven by her ambition to “democratise property investment” and make the UK property market more accessible to underrepresented groups, Ayesha Ofori (MSci Physics 2007) launched Axion, a investment business for property investors, which is also focused on helping to deliver more affordable housing in the UK. She is also the founder and CEO of PropElle Network, a property investment community for women and Black Property Network which aims to improve financial literacy in minority communities.
Dr Mohammedabbas Khaki
Recognised as one of Pulse’s Top 50 most influential UK GP's, Mohammedabbas Khaki (MBBS Medicine 2010) is an award-winning doctor and TED speaker. He is dedicated to inspiring change on a global level through his roles in media, humanitarian aid work and as the founding chair of the international charity Who is Hussain, a global NGO spanning 30 countries that tackles social injustice through positive action.
Dr Veronica Bray Durfey
Veronica Bray Durfey's (PhD Earth Science & Engineering 2009) research in the field of planetary science has led to significant advances in the analysis of surface features on planets, moons, asteroids and comets. An emerging leader in both science and spacecraft mission design, planning and operations, her work has been integral to the development of future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Dr Veeru Kasivisvanathan
A world expert in the field of prostate cancer diagnosis, Veeru Kasivisvanathan (MBBS Medicine 2009) was awarded the British Medical Journal best research paper of the year in 2019. His work in prostate cancer research has led to changes in the NICE guidelines and paved the way for a new standard of care across the UK and internationally.
Imperial’s alumni community: Source of new solutions and inspiration
The diversity of backgrounds and achievements among the six winners of the category reflects the diversity within the College’s alumni community itself. What all of them have in common, however, is an exceptional degree of intellectual curiosity for the world around them that goes beyond degree qualifications and professional background.
This sentiment was shared by the judging panel. David Keene, one of the alumni judges and CMO of Funding Options, said: “This Awards ceremony was such a long list of incredible stories, a wide range of different backgrounds from medicine through to technology, from people who are saving lives through to people who are putting people in space. It was a phenomenal range. It was very humbling to look at the huge list of nominations that were in there and it was a little sad that we couldn’t give everybody a prize.”
He also highlighted the importance of the Alumni Awards in recognising role models within Imperial’s alumni community who can inspire current Imperial students to aim high and broaden their horizons: “The support of these people as role models to other alumni and also to people who are currently studying is invaluable. People studying here today are looking for role models, they are looking for what they are going to do with their life. They may be a little afraid and they don’t know where to go. This kind of award and these role models are phenomenal to help them cast their own path and decide where to go.”
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