The passion and legacy of a North East champion of education for all is being kept alive by two young Sunderland women.

Primary Education student Lauren Ord, 25, and Mathematic Education student Zoe Morrison, 23, are both in the final year of their studies at the University of Sunderland. The trainee teachers have won this year’s Sir Tom Cowie Excellence Scholarship Award, receiving £10,000 each to support them in their final year.

The award 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 Excellence Scholarship Awards were set up to support students to achieve their full potential.

The Scholarship, now in its ninth year, is awarded to students from the Sunderland area who at the end of their penultimate year of study have demonstrated an excellent academic record and are on track to secure a First Class Honours Degree or upper Second Class Honours Degree.

Award-winning student Lauren Ord is from Sunderland. She studied sport at Gateshead College but, unsure of what direction to go next, decided to spend some time travelling, and that is where she found her passion for teaching.

“I lived in Australia for a year and traveled around South East Asia, and then lived in Thailand for a year,” says Lauren. “There, I volunteered in a school teaching English to Thai children. I knew then that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I came home to Sunderland to study teaching.”

To make ends meet Lauren worked as a swimming teacher, gym instructor and a sales consultant for Everyone Active.

“Whatever hours I could get I did alongside university to run my car and pay other bills.”

Lauren says being awarded the £10,000 Sir Tom Cowie Scholarship has made a huge difference to her life and to her studies.

“Now the money from the scholarship means I get to focus on my academic work and placements. My grades are already significantly improving now that I have time to invest in my studies. Thanks to the funding I’m now coming out with First Class grades which I aim to keep up!

“The award is helping me become the best teacher I can be. I have a passion for working with children with English as an Additional Language due to the experiences I have had both abroad and in Sunderland.

“The award has helped me to gain skills that will create the best possible opportunities for children.”

Fellow awardee Zoe Morrison is from Seaham. She came to the University of Sunderland after studying at St Bede’s R.C. Comprehensive School in Peterlee and then Hartlepool Sixth Form College.

Like Lauren, Zoe had to work to support both herself and her baby daughter.

“I was working 16 hours a week part-time job at Dunelm in Durham to support myself and my family. That continued until the week after being awarded the Sir Tom Cowie Award.”

Zoe admits that the Pandemic has proved just as much of a challenge as supporting herself and her daughter throughout her studies.

“The Pandemic has made things a lot more difficult – it definitely would have been easier to concentrate at university rather than at home. Sometimes I had to take part in online sessions with a toddler needing my attention.

“But all the lectures and seminars were recorded, so I was always able to catch up. The lecturers at Sunderland are also very supportive and accommodating meaning that if I had to miss a session, they would make sure that I had all the resources I needed.

“I am hoping to get a job as a Teacher of Mathematics for when I graduate, hopefully in a school with a strong SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) provision.

“I’ve been on placement in SEND schools and have thoroughly enjoyed them and found them extremely rewarding, despite thinking that I would always only want to be in a mainstream school.

“For me the important thing to remember is that success is not necessarily measured by grades but by having such an approachable and friendly attitude that students feel like they can go to you for anything.”

Both Lauren and Zoe are studying at the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Education and Society, and will both graduate in summer 2022.

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “This is the nineth occasion that two of our Initial Teacher Education students have been awarded the prestigious Sir Tom Cowie Scholarship. I am absolutely delighted that this year our recipients are from Primary Education (Lauren) and Secondary Mathematics Education (Zoe), representing both Primary and Secondary teaching.

“I am so proud of the resilience, adaptability, commitment and hard-working attitude displayed by Lauren and Zoe. Both are worthy recipients of the scholarship having achieved the highest standards in both their academic work and in their school experience modules.

“At a time when our teachers and school leaders are demonstrating the highest levels of professionalism and public service, and are continuing to deliver education in very challenging circumstances, it is clear that the future of the profession is going to be in very safe hands with students like Lauren and Zoe entering the profession.”

David Gray, FRICS, Chairman of Trustees of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, said: “In 2011, I discussed the principle of continuing Sir Tom’s long term relationship with the University of Sunderland through the provision of two scholarships for third year students.

“I am delighted that this year’s recipients, Lauren Ord and Zoe Morrison, are both involved in education. Hopefully, this will ensure that the Charity’s support will assist two final year students with their studies, that will lead to them having significant influence on children in Sunderland in the future.”

The Sir Tom Cowie Scholarship Award is now open to applications from full-time undergraduates studying either Business or Education programmes at the end of their penultimate year (second year for standard programmes or third year for four year programmes.) You must be on track for a 1st or high 2:1 degree classification and you must be from the City of Sunderland.

Every year the University of Sunderland offers tens of thousands of pounds worth of funding to current students, to help improve their studies, professional practice and employability. DOSH, the Development Office Scholarship scheme, offers students studying at Sunderland non-means test, non-repayable scholarships from £250 to £10,000.