UEA Engagement Awards recognise inspiring figures

From a professor who brought an entire literary festival to Norwich to a student creating a sustainable cosmetics company, via one of the UK’s most highly respected experts on the COVID-19 crisis, students and staff across the University of East Anglia (UEA) were today (Tuesday 23 June) recognised for their achievements at the UEA Engagement Awards.

The awards, now in their 12th year, acknowledge members of staff and students from UEA and the Norwich Research Park (NRP) whose work has made a public impact over the last 12 months, whether by sharing their knowledge with others or inspiring the next generation of academics and students.

17 UEA Engagement Award winners were announced in total, with prizes given out in Achievement, Outstanding Achievement, Group Achievement, Project and Student categories. Normally held on campus, this year the awards were presented remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emeritus Professor Christopher Bigsby, from UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies, was given the Outstanding Achievement Award, having founded the Arthur Miller Institute and his years of tireless work in directing the Arthur Miller Institute Literary Festival.

Christopher directed the festival from its inception in 1991, before stepping down last year, during which time he brought names including Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, Ruth Rendell, Toni Morrison, Harold Pinter, Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Paul McCartney and Kazuo Ishiguro to UEA campus.

Over 11,000 people have attended the festival over the years, with the money it generates earning over £250,000 in UEA student scholarships over the years.

Christopher said: “At the age of six I won a school prize for being good for a week. It was a Little Red Ridinghood money box made of metal. It did not include any money but meant a great deal to me. So does this award.

“It doesn’t rival an index-linked pension but it belongs alongside the money box, as a prize that comes with no money included but which I receive with a great deal of personal pride, although with rather more than a week’s worth of good behaviour involved this time around.”

At the other end of the career spectrum, PhD pharmacy student Zuzana Hlaskova was handed a Student Engagement Award, having already played her role in starting up a sustainable cosmetic company.

Through UEA and NRP student enterprise programme i-Teams, Zuzana co-founded Purple Tomato Cosmetics Ltd, who prioritise their positive social, ethical and environmental impact by packaging their products in refillable containers and reusable packaging, sourcing a number of their ingredients from food waste and supporting smaller local businesses.

She has also designed activities around medicine delivery systems, more pertinent now than ever, for the Norwich Science Festival and World SCI Day events and was selected as a UEA ambassador for the ‘Code First: Girls Introduction to Web Development’ course, which aims to increase the number of women in tech industry.

Zuzana said: “Throughout my PhD, I discovered science communication is very often the missing link between research and business, policy making, or other disciplines. As well as this, I enjoy exploring creative ways how to make science more approachable to broad audiences and I’m keen to look for different routes research can fulfil its potential.

“I believe science communicators have a power to build the interdisciplinary bridges, creating long-lasting positive impact.”

Co-director of True Stories Live and Creative Writing research lecturer, Molly Naylor, was given an Achievement Award to recognise her pioneering work in improving accessibility within the community.

Storytelling initiative ‘True Stories Live’ brings together a variety of different groups to Norwich Arts Centre, including LGBTQ+, refugees and members of the deaf community, and gives them a platform to perform their autobiographical stories at popular live events. Stories are developed at workshops, and the nights are recorded and turned into podcasts. Molly has codirected this project for the last four years alongside Lucy Farrant, and they continue to work to make their public events as accessible as possible.

Molly said: “Co-directing and hosting True Stories Live continues to be a pleasure and a privilege. Myself and Lucy Farrant are always overwhelmed at the honest, vulnerable, brave contributions shared by participants and by the supportive environment our loyal and diverse audience help create.”

Among the other Engagement Award winners were:

  • Prof Paul Hunter, Norwich Medical School; Achievement Award – Paul’s expertise on the spread of emerging infectious diseases has seen him in high demand for media interviews over the past few months, with appearances on Newsnight, Good Morning Britain, BBC Radio 4 and more besides since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Paul has had hundreds of mentions in the media in 2020 and his research has led to a systematic review of the use of facemasks outside health care facilities.
  • Hans Pfalsgraf, PhD student in School of Biological Sciences; Student Award - Hans gives short science talks using his hands rather than slides, with his presentation style taking him to the national science communication competition FameLab, where he finished second. He’s led activities at the last four Norwich Science Festivals (NSF), using his distinctive presentation style to talk about enzymes, motor proteins, organic chemistry and the human ear.
  • Learning Disabilities: A Journey of Discovery and Reflection; Project Award – The brainchild of Learning Disability Nursing lecturer Kirsty Henry, Learning Disabilities brought together services and service-users from across the region to raise awareness during the Centenary of Learning Disability Nursing in 2019. Activities included a giant 100-year timeline exploring the history of learning disability, a pledge wall for members of the public and a coordinated sign language flashmob performance of ‘This Is Me’. Kirsty is continuing to educate on sign language during the COVID-19 pandemic on her Twitter page.

The full list of award winners can be found on the UEA Engagement Awards page on the University’s website.