Michelle Payne, from East Boldon, was chosen for her outstanding performance across all areas of the Community and Youth Work programme.
The 40-year-old, who graduated with a First Class Honours this month, said: “I feel incredibly honoured to receive this award from Teresa’s family.
“Although I did not know Teresa personally, she was highly regarded amongst my fellow students who carried out their work placements at The Annex.
“Teresa not only studied and supported the course, but she was also pivotal within her community. This is so inspiring and a quality and ethos that I will always strive towards.”
Michelle added: “Community and Youth Work is all about giving something back. It can be challenging at times, however, if the last few years have taught us anything – support, friendship and dialogue is key to people and communities thriving. This is what spurs me on.”
Michelle was presented with the honour by Teresa’s daughter Kayleigh and son Michael during the graduation ceremonies at the Stadium of Light.
Kayleigh said: “I think my mam’s most notable achievements can’t be found in her degrees or awards. They can be seen and are felt the most within the communities she worked with, grew with, and strived for. I’m so impressed by her professional achievements even more so since becoming a parent myself, as she did it all whilst being a parent to two children.
“I feel that the University of Sunderland was one part of my mam’s life she loved and enjoyed the most, despite all the course work! I always remember the time she did the weekly shop at 10pm and other times when she got up at 1am to finish her essays! I am so proud of my mam and what she achieved.
“I hope this award inspires those with an interest in Community and Youth Work to pursue that interest.”
Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society at Sunderland, said: “We are very grateful to the Wharton Trust for sponsoring the Teresa Driver Memorial Prize.
“This prize is in recognition of the work Teresa did which contributed to the important work of the faculty. Teresa’s work with the Trust in Hartlepool ensured that many students benefitted from placement experiences and subsequent employment over the years. The prize is worthy recognition of her contribution to Community and Youth Work.”
Michelle, who worked in the travel industry for 21 years before deciding to pursue her dream career in Youth Work, is now looking forward to an exciting new chapter – having just begun a graduate programme with the Northern Housing Consortium based in Sunderland.
She said: “I had a life changing moment in 2016, which made me reassess everything. From then on, I did some volunteering and I started looking into how I could possibly change my career to something that would really help people.
“Community and Youth Work was not something I was aware of until I came to the University Open Day, and it just so happened that one of the Community and Youth Work lecturers came to the social work talk.
“Community and Youth Work really called to me that day and the rest is history. I have never looked back.”