Imperial College London

Celebrations in full swing as staff win 2021 President’s Awards for Excellence

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Dr Sunday Popo-Ola, Research and Teaching Fellow, is one of the winners of a President’s Medal.

Dr Sunday Popo-Ola, Research and Teaching Fellow, is one of the winners of a President’s Medal.

Winners of this year’s President’s Awards for Excellence have been announced.

In a virtual celebration event, staff in the Imperial community have been recognised for their contributions to the College. In attendance were Imperial’s President, Professor Alice Gast, along with the College’s Provost, Ian Walmsley, who thanked staff for their determination and resilience during the pandemic.  

The President’s Awards for Excellence have four streams: Culture and CommunityEducationResearch, and Societal Engagement. Those awardees judged to have made particularly exceptional contributions within each category are selected to receive the President’s Medal. Garden Party nominees were also thanked during the ceremony for their outstanding work. 

"It is important to pause to reflect on what we do and recognise what we have accomplished together, and this event is an opportunity to do that.”  Professor Alice Gast President of Imperial College London

Imperial’s President, Professor Alice Gast, said: “As we look back on an unprecedented year, we are all the more grateful for your dedication and proud of your resilience. We have adapted well to new ways of connecting and collaborating with each other and it’s a joy to welcome and bring together our College community to highlight all of your achievements and raise a virtual glass.  

“My congratulations to all of you for your internal accolades over the past year, we depend upon one another to do our jobs and do them well. Too often in the rush and busyness of the day or in the distance between us now, we don’t find the time to thank one another. It is important to pause to reflect on what we do and recognise what we have accomplished together, and this event is an opportunity to do that.” 

We spoke to this year’s medal winners about their success. 

Imperial As One: “A pivotal moment in the history of our struggle” 

Collage of co-Chairs (left to right is Sarah, Des and Wayne) This year, Imperial As One’s co-Chairs were awarded the President’s Medal for Excellence in Culture and Community. Imperial As One is the College’s staff network for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and is led by Dr Sarah Essilfie-QuayeDesmond Samuel, and Dr Wayne Mitchell. 

"This is just the start. With our plans for an Imperial As One Media Academy, we are looking to further empower, inspire and develop our Imperial community." Dr Sarah Essilfie-Quaye, Desmond Samuel, and Dr Wayne Mitchell Imperial As One co-Chairs

Imperial As One co-Chairs were singled out for their hard work and creativity in tackling racial inequalities, bias, and barriers across the College. Among their various activities, they were acknowledged for the numerous events and initiatives they are spearheading, such as as their weekly Belonging series, which shares the experiences of BAME staff and has amassed over 12,000 views since the first video was launched, as well as virtual coffee mornings and afternoon tea events that help to bring the BAME community together. In April 2021, Imperial As One had 458 members, a number that continues to grow as the year goes on. 

In a joint statement, they said: “Winning the President's Award is a pivotal moment in the history of our struggle to change attitudes towards diversity, inclusion and justice at the College. By accepting this award, we acknowledge a debt to those who came before us and to the Imperial As One community, and the friends and allies who inspire us - especially our former co-Chair, Yani King.  

“We recognise that everyone has a need to belong and with the continued resourcing and commitment from College leaders and the community, we know our ambitions can become a reality. This is just the start. With our plans for an Imperial As One Media Academy, we are looking to further empower, inspire and develop our Imperial community."  

Rebecca Sie: “I honestly feel that I’ve just done my job as best I can” 

woman wearing glasses smiles to cameraRebecca Sie, Teaching Facilities Manager in the Faculty of Medicine, was awarded the President's Medal for Excellence in Supporting the Student Experience. Rebecca has been recognised for going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure a high-quality educational experience for Imperial students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rebecca’s efforts have included helping to keep our students and staff safe on campus by ensuring technical support for remote teaching, carrying out risk assessments, and setting up social distancing-compliant room layouts and signage for over 70 teaching spaces on four sites for the 2021-22 academic year.  

“I can’t say it’s been an easy time, but I think the changes in teaching during the pandemic will translate into a better student experience and more effective teaching in the future.”  Rebecca Sie Teaching Facilities Manager

Rebecca was nominated by Lisa Carrier, Head of Technology Enhanced Education, Faculty of Medicine. As part of Rebecca’s nomination, Lisa said: “Rebecca has been one of the heroes of the COVID-19 crisis response and I will echo a number of her colleagues, our students and the Faculty of Medicine leadership when I say that had it not been for her work to risk assess and prepare all Faculty teaching spaces, our Faculty of Medicine students would not have been able to return to campus for their educational experience for the autumn term 2020-21.” 

On her medal win, Rebecca said: “I was very surprised to discover I’d won! Without a doubt the last 18 months have been very challenging for everyone but having started in this role only a few weeks prior to lockdown, I’ve certainly felt far more challenged than I expected, so it’s been quite emotional to be recognised in this way. 

“While it’s lovely to be acknowledged, I honestly feel that I’ve just done my job as best I can. We were able to continue teaching thanks to a huge number of people within the Faculty Education Office (and affiliated to it) who have put heroic amounts of time and resource into ensuring our students can continue their education.  

“I can’t say it’s been an easy time, but I think the changes in teaching during the pandemic will translate into a better student experience and more effective teaching in the future.” 

Dr Rodrigo Ledesma Amaro: “It is a great honour” 

Dr Rodrigo Ledesma Amaro, Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering, was awarded the President’s Medal for Outstanding Early Career Researcher. Dr Amaro’s nomination comes three years after joining the College and reflects his success in being awarded prestigious grants, such as a £3.8 million European Research Council Starting Grant. As well as securing other studentships, Dr Amaro has rapidly expanded his group to include more than 20 members and seven postdocs – one of the largest in the Department of Bioengineering.  

Professor Anil Bharath nominated Dr Amaro for the Excellence in Research award. Professor Bharath commented: “Since joining the Department of Bioengineering in 2017, Rodrigo has been awarded nearly £4 million in research income, published almost 60 peer-reviewed articles and quickly established a diverse research group. He has delivered a new industry-oriented course that includes significant levels of external interaction in its content and delivery and has been well received by students. A highly responsive and dynamic individual, Rodrigo’s achievements speak for themselves.” 

man smiles at cameraDr Amaro said: “It is a great honour to receive recognition for my research. This award encourages me to keep working hard and makes me feel supported by both my Department and the College. The merit behind this medal is shared with my team who have been doing a fantastic job pushing the boundaries of research in synthetic biology, despite the unique and tough COVID-19 situation.  

“Collaborations with academic groups and industrial labs have also been a key to developing my career. Meeting great people with great ideas along the way is very inspiring and is enriching personally and professionally.  

“The diversity of research going on at the Department of Bioengineering, the Centre for Synthetic Biology, and Imperial networks and hubs (e.g. Microbiome, Wound healing and Regeneration, and Industrial Biotechnology) have opened my mind to new project ideas outside of my comfort zone, which are both challenging and truly exciting.” 

Dr Sunday Popo-Ola: “A bright new era” 

  • Sunday (centre) is surrounded by school children in an African rural setting
  • Sunday (centre) is surrounded by school children in an African rural setting

Dr Sunday Popo-Ola, Research and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won the President’s Medal for Excellence in Societal Engagement. Dr Popo-Ola was nominated for his work to improve learning opportunities for disadvantaged young people after he drew 4,950 participants to outreach events over 12 weeks throughout the lockdown. 

“I can truly recommend outreach as an activity that benefits the teacher as well as the students. My thanks go to the many people who have shared the duty on all my projects." Dr Sunday Popo-Ola Research and Teaching Fellow

Dr Popo-Ola has a strong record of organising campus-based outreach activities. Most recently, he received funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering to train industry engineers and Imperial alumni to deliver outreach programmes for BAME students and those with a Specific Learning Difficulty and was able to move this online during the pandemic. 

Professor Nick Buenfeld, who nominated Dr Popo-Ola, said: “Sunday’s experience and leadership skills as a networker make him an excellent advocate for outreach. Upon lockdown, he demonstrated great leadership in moving events online and expanding them beyond their original expectations. His events for Imperial and the Royal Academy of Engineering reached almost 5,000 students internationally over 12 weeks last year. Sunday’s persuasive altruism is particularly valued because it takes so much effort and brings so many schemes and people together.” 

“Privilege brings great duties towards others” 

Dr Sunday Popo-Ola added: “This award makes me feel like we are in a bright new era. When I started doing these activities two decades ago, we would tend to hide our outreach work. Our academic career mentors warned us that only research really matters for careers. But this award celebrates reaching school students in the UK and in Africa, the Middle East and Caribbean countries. It was not about the numbers of students reached but about outreach flexibility, education innovation, and leadership. 

“I can truly recommend outreach as an activity that benefits the teacher as well as the students. My thanks go to the many people who have shared the duty on all my projects.  

“Membership of our world-leading scientific university is a great privilege. And privilege brings great duties towards others. Imperial's work and reputation mean that what we say and do matters to others. I feel that we are free to say with some pride that Imperial matters to the world and that outreach and diversity matters to Imperial.” 

Reporters

Sarah Saxton

Sarah Saxton
Communications and Public Affairs

Martha Salhotra

Martha Salhotra
Communications and Public Affairs

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Contact details

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

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