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Sunderland students’ final-year ambitions fuelled by legacy scholarship


Oct 25, 2016

TWO Sunderland students with a passion for engineering and education have been selected for this year’s Sir Tom Cowie Memorial Scholarship Awards receiving £10,000 each to support their academic studies.

Connor Dickinson and Katie Braid, who are both about to begin the final year of their degrees at the University of Sunderland, have been announced as the winners of the award, which was set up in memory of the Wearside-born entrepreneur who died in 2012, aged 89.

Sir Tom was a long-term supporter of the University and believed passionately in its principles of affording those with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to enter higher education. As part of his legacy, the Sir Tom Cowie Memorial Scholarship Awards were set up to support students in helping to achieve their full potential.

The Scholarship, now in its fourth year, is awarded to a male and female student from the Sunderland area who, at the end of their penultimate year of study has demonstrated an excellent academic record and is on track to secure a First Class Honours Degree or upper Second Class Honours Degree. Trustees were also looking for additional evidence that the student has the potential for entrepreneurial success in their chosen field following graduation.

Connor and Katie have both demonstrated outstanding commitment to their course despite having to work long hours part-time outside of their academic studies to support themselves financially.

For the first two years of his Mechanical Engineering degree Connor, 21, was juggling a supermarket job to help finance his studies, which often clashed with his university timetable, but says he had no other choice but to ‘just get stuck in’ in order to help him follow in the footsteps of his own parents, who are both engineers.

Now Connor believes the scholarship will make a huge difference to his final year, taking the pressure off him financially and allowing him to concentrate all his efforts on his academic studies.

He’ll also be using the time to complete his final year project, which he was assigned during his placement year at global manufacturing firm 3M, in Newton Aycliffe. There he developed skills, contacts and experience, as well as securing an internship as a manufacturing technology engineer for his outstanding contribution to 3M once he graduates.

He said: “The scholarship will make a huge difference and allow me to fully immerse myself even further into the final year of my degree project without juggling and worrying about the extra external factor of part-time working. I am delighted I applied, I never expected to win the award, but you have to be in it to win it!”

He added: “Engineering is all I have ever wanted to do, both my parents are engineers, I grew up with blueprints on the kitchen table and my family has a history of working in industries from shipbuilding to coalmining. I am also passionate about the North East, so I’m incredibly proud to study a degree at Sunderland and hope to give back to the community I live in one day.”

Principal Lecturer Dave Knapton, who acted as academic supervisor during Connor’s placement at 3M, said: “Connor adapted very quickly into his role as a junior engineer demonstrating a real flair and passion for the work he engaged in. He is highly thought of as a valued member of the team at 3M by his peers and supervisors making a significant contribution to the department.”

Just like Connor, 20-year-old Katie Braid says the scholarship will allow her to give up her part-time restaurant job, working evenings and weekends, to concentrate on the final year of her Primary Education degree. The financial support will allow her the freedom to secure placements at local schools in the Sunderland area, as well as undertake a number of projects supporting young children in deprived areas, expanding her knowledge skills and furthering her own career prospects.

Katie explained: “I have been passionate about teaching for as long as I can remember, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I feel very proud to be the first in my family to go to University, and I’d like to be able to give something back to the community I grew up in.

“I found my own placements in my first and second year in my local area, and was graded ‘outstanding’ in both settings, which is something I strive to achieve in my final year. I believe that all children should have the best chance in life and are entitled to outstanding education no matter what their background.”

Dr Kim Gilligan, principal lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “Katie is a passionate and committed student. She has worked tirelessly to improve her academic profile and professional competencies.

“Being a teacher requires a high level of subject knowledge but also a range of very important personal qualities which Katie has in abundance. Katie has a strong sense of social justice and works in a voluntary capacity to support charities related to children and young people, this shows her personal sense of responsibility to developing children at all levels of ability. I am sure Katie will continue to work very hard at her studies, and having some financial support will enable her to focus on her academic and professional development over the coming year.”

David Gray, FRICS, Chairman of Trustees of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, said: “The scholarship is very much in the spirit of Sir Tom, his ethos of hard work from humble beginnings, and it represents our commitment to the values of the University.

“This scholarship rewards Connor and Katie’s efforts and hard work over the course of their degree, which I’ve been incredibly impressed with.”

By Emily