Alumni News

Campus Ambassador Wins Ticket to UA Global Summit

Claire Dillon was a Highly Commended entrant in the 2013 Programme for her submission to the Media & the Arts category. Claire was lucky enough to have her university (Northwestern University) sponsor her attendance at the 2013 UA Global Summit. When Claire returned to Northwestern University after the Summit last November, she volunteered to become a Campus Ambassador for The Undergraduate Awards. She summarises her motivations for and experiences of doing just that throughout the 2013-14 academic year. Claire was awarded a free ticket to the 2014 UA Global Summit as an award for her efforts at promoting the 2014 Programme on Northwestern’s campus.

It is hard to believe that nine months have already passed since I attended the 2013 Undergraduate Awards Global Summit. It doesn’t feel nearly so long ago, because the energy surrounding the Summit still lingers and influences my current endeavours and future plans. The Summit brought together a strong community of ambitious students whose ever-growing talents and achievements continue to inspire me. The resultant network of UA Alumni is unique in that it spans disciplines and countries, and it offers undergraduates a great deal of encouragement and resources comparable to those found among scholars with graduate degrees.

In my personal experiences at academic conferences, the platform provided to emerging scholars is often overshadowed by academics who are more established in their fields. The Undergraduate Awards is clearly quite different: their focus is on young researchers. They provide the opportunity for us to develop and share our ideas with one another and with the prominent activists, entrepreneurs, scientists, scholars, and others who attend the Summit as speakers and discussion leaders. As my friends Sam and Yannick explained in earlier blog posts, this is a rare opportunity and it is not to be missed, which is why I applied to serve as a UA Campus Ambassador immediately following the Summit. I was eager to give back to the community that had given me so much.

The Campus Ambassador role is very gratifying because you play an active part in strengthening and broadening UA’s outreach and network. Between 2013 and 2014, submissions from Northwestern University increased 700%. This statistic, along with this year’s overall increase in submissions, reflects the growing awareness of and interest in what UA has to offer young scholars. Working as a Campus Ambassador is not only a good excuse to stay in touch with the wonderful UA staff in Dublin; you also build connections with university administrators and your fellow classmates with similar skills and ambitions. Promoting the Undergraduate Awards enhances the program and its community, the opportunities at your university, and your own connections and relationships: a rewarding experience for all involved.

In August I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to the 2014 Summit in recognition of my work as the UA Ambassador to Northwestern, and I couldn’t be more excited to attend. As my fellow 2013 Summit attendees continue to achieve even greater accomplishments, I cannot wait to meet and engage with another group of inspiring students. When we meet in Dublin, I will tell them — just as I am encouraging you now — to promote UA long after the Summit ends. As an Ambassador, you can help the program evolve for future applicants, attendees, and alumni, thereby upholding the same spirit of collaboration and support that underlies the Undergraduate Awards program.

For more on the Campus Ambassador programme, check out our info page here.

Sam Gordine Reflects on the UA Global Summit

Sam Gordine (University of St. Andrews) was Highly Commended in 2013 for her essay ‘Extracting drift rates from compressed dive profiles by using a step-wise filtering method’ in the Life Sciences category. Below she gives her account of attending the UA Global Summit in Dublin last November.

Attending the UA Global Summit was a fantastic trip to the UA headquarters in Ireland’s capital Dublin, pure luck, and a very rare experience indeed.

‘Pure luck’, you may wonder. And yes, pure luck it was. Not maybe in terms of being chosen as one of the Highly Commended candidates – a lot of work is invested into my coursework and the same is true for all other Highly Commended candidates. I mean pure luck in terms of attending this Summit, but let me explain what exactly I mean by this.

Firstly, let us go back in time. Almost exactly one year ago I submitted three pieces of my most promising academic work to the UA, just like you will have done this year. I was graduating that month too, so over the bustle and hustle that graduation brings with it, I totally forgot about having submitted some of my work to the UA. I also had only a small idea of what The Undergraduate Awards were. ‘An award for undergraduates…’, that is what I thought – and, back then, I could have never guessed the magnitude of an impact the UA would have upon my life. Summer passed and I recall my friend sending me an email congratulating me for being Highly Commended in the UA. Since I had kind of forgotten about it, it came as a great surprise. The following week I repeatedly checked my emails, but I remained a Highly Commended student and the winner of my category was chosen to be someone else. So I forgot about the UA again as the busy life of a new PhD student took hold of me.

At that time I was not really considering attending the UA Global Summit – especially because I was not among the winners. It was two other girls from my university (also Highly Commended) that made me think about attending when they enquired about receiving funding from our university in order to attend. This is when I talked to my PhD supervisor (who was also the lecturer I wrote my Highly Commended piece for). Rather surprisingly he encouraged me to attend the Summit and – here comes the luck part – was also willing to financially support my attendance. So I went.

Once I had confirmed my attendance and the UA Team started sending us some information on the event, my excitement grew gradually. I saw Cindy Gallop’s name on the speaker’s list. Slightly more excited, I heard we would get to experience some Irish culture. Also, that we would go to the Google headquarters and meet the Irish Prime Minister. The excitement continued to grow!

Nevertheless, when I got on that plane to Dublin, I was not at all sure what to expect. I was over-loaded with work the day I left for Dublin and I recall getting on the plane without knowing where to go to on the other end. I will never forget the welcome that awaited me. When I entered the hotel, I recognised two, three people wearing UA t-shirts. Surprisingly they also recognised me – knowing me by name and where I had come from, handing me a personalised goodie-bag and sending me off to my room. ‘Super organised’, I thought, and this impression was reinforced over the next three days – and lasted. To this day I am still very impressed by this genuine welcome.

The three days I shared a room with another Highly Commended candidate. It turned out that she was Dutch and that I had been to her village in Zeeland just two months previous. What a coincidence – we bonded immediately! However, not only did I bond with my roommate. Over the course of the next three days, I met about 65 of the most intelligent young undergraduates the world currently has to offer. Did we bond? Yes, very much so. Why? Well, because we all have certain attributes in common: hard-working, intelligent, interested, young, smart, like-minded, incredible human beings!

What happened at the UA Global Summit was completely unbelievable. To my friends I have described my experience as follows: Imagine a small fire, a light burning within you. Then imagine many people carrying these little fires within them, coming together to light a massive bonfire with their hearts and minds, their own flame growing steadily within their little bonfire hearts.

For this very reason, you, this year’s Highly Commended candidates should attend the Global Summit. You may think, ‘Since I did not win, is attending worth the expense?’. The answer to this is simply ‘yes’; because if there is one thing that I can guarantee you it is that this Summit will change your life. Having your hard work finally recognised by so many other students and people is amazing. This Summit is not about winning a shiny award. Whether you are a Highly Commended candidate or a winner does not matter. Not one single second; because this Summit is about recognising excellence and giving like-minded young individuals a space (temporally and spatially) to meet, to mingle and to mentally challenge their own thoughts, that of others and of paradigms of society.

At the Summit you will sleep too little, but you will not need that lost sleep – for you will be carried on an energy wave that will last days after the Summit has ended. When it ends you will ask yourself, ‘Have I really only been here for three days?’ and ‘Have I really only known these people for 3 days?’. For you will have seen so much of Dublin an average tourist needs a week for; for you will have grown together with this bunch of foreign people as though you had known them forever.

Maybe it was Theo Dorgan reciting one of his poems in the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Maybe it was Cindy Gallop inspiring interesting conversations about feminism. Maybe it was the atmosphere at Farmleigh House or receiving the Highly Commended Awards in Trinity’s Long Room. Maybe it was the Guinness, the Irish dancing and folk music, or maybe it was dining and celebrating together in the crypts of Christ Church on our last evening. All put together, this made the UA Global Summit one of the best experiences in my life. I was lucky to be part of this rare experience. I urge you, take this rare chance in your life. You will never regret it!

Highly Commended Attendee Reflects on his UA Global Summit Experience

Yannick Weiler was a Highly Commended Entrant in the 2013 UA Programme, having been named as such in the Literature category. Below, he reflects on his experience as an attendee at the 2013 UA Global Summit. Highly Commended Entrants are invited to purchase one of a limited number of tickets to take part in the exclusive three-day event in November, which is open only to Winners and Highly Commended Entrants.

The Highly Commended Entrants for the 2014 Programme will be announced in late August.

Here, right beside my desk, hangs a newspaper article cut from The Irish Times, November 16th 2013. Above five familiar, young faces, the headline reads: “ ‘Davos for students’: the brightest undergrad brains ponder the big questions”. Whenever I happen to look at that snippet on my wall, I am transported back to the chambers of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Dublin, because that’s where it all began: the UA Global Summit 2013 – one of the most inspiring events I took part in, and one of my most cherished memories.

There, in this venerable library-like room, Irish poet, novelist, and journalist Theo Dorgan delivered a uniquely witty and refreshing introductory address on what’s in there for us – in life. What struck me about this opening was Theo’s unflinchingly positive and constructive approach to the various topics he spoke about, and for me this vibrant positivity continued to run through each single moment of the three-day summit: It was manifest when we all presented our papers to each other – studies ranging from economics to literature, from engineering to history, from biology to philosophy –, it inflected our workshop on the “ideal university” of tomorrow at Google headquarters, it suffused the awards ceremony in Dublin’s City Hall – and this, really, is just a tiny glimpse into the many exceptional events and speakers the UA team provided us with.

The most rewarding thing to emerge for me from the Summit was a strong sense of recognition. It is one thing to receive a good mark on your term paper from your professor at your institution; but it is quite another matter to experience that an international jury, highly talented students from all kinds of disciplines, as well as a body of internationally distinguished social entrepreneurs and academics not only is aware of but strongly values your work, and that they are willing to lend you a hand in order to develop your potential to the full, and to make a contribution to a better future – like many of them have done before.

Yet, the Summit showed me something even more important. With all those exceptional people – several MacArthur fellows, a psychology professor suffering from schizophrenia, the first African-American female to travel into space –, you get the sense that talent and potential bring with them a responsibility to give something back, to make a positive change in some area of society. And while I was aware of that before, those people at the Summit showed me that to fulfill this responsibility can actually be fun, that it can make you into someone you thought you could not reach up to, and that it can become something rewarding in itself.

Before attending, I had been oscillating between plans to embark on a career in academia or to go into secondary education. The UA Global Summit finally showed me that a field full of problems is nothing to shy away from; by contrast, this is where you are most needed, where the most opportunities for positive change arise, and where you can develop yourself by improving the field. This is why I decided to pursue a Master’s of Education-degree, and I am looking forward to making a positive imprint on the schooling system of tomorrow.

Lastly, I am immensely indebted to the UA Summit for having had the chance to meet all those wonderful students from all over the world. The talks, discussions, bus-rides, dinners, concerts, and dances of these three days have made an imprint on me, and many of us are still in contact with each other. For this reason alone – and you have, I hope, seen that there are many more –, I strongly encourage you to attend the Undergraduate Awards Global Summit. After all, it is, I suppose, not every day that you get the chance to talk to the first African-American NASA astronaut over dinner in the crypts of Christ Church Cathedral or to meet the Irish Prime Minister on a Thursday evening!

UA Alum Helping Babies Breathe in Sudan

This year, UA 2013 winner, Siobhán O’Connor was selected to participate in an international training programme called Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) to educate and support community midwives in Northern Sudan. Siobhán was the Irish category winner for Nursing and Midwifery. She is a graduate of University College Cork, Ireland. Here’s what she had to say about her involvement with HBB and how UA helped her in this novel global educational initiative!

Since winning the Nursing and Midwifery category of the UA in 2013 I was privileged to take part in an international training programme to help educate and support community midwives in Northern Sudan. Professor Anthony Ryan, a Consultant Neonatologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital and Dr Sami Ahmed, a Consultant Pediatrician at the Bons Secours Hospital, Cork, Ireland established a long running teaching, research and clinical partnership with Omdurman Maternity Hospital, Sudan in 1999. I was asked to join the team due to my multidisciplinary background and my academic achievements recognised by UA.

In January 2014 I visited Khartoum for one week to help deliver the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) programme in conjunction with a team of international trainers. HBB is a neonatal resuscitation training programme specially developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics for use in low resource settings.  My experience of participating in UA’s Global Summit imbued me with so much enthusiasm and motivation to follow my passion and I jumped at the chance of getting involved in this global educational initiative.

HBB consists of a pictorial learner flipchart, newborn simulator and simple bag and mask ventilation equipment. The programme delivers a series of practical hands-on skills based workshops using dyad or paired learning to teach resuscitation skills. This includes a physical assessment of an infant at birth, temperature support, stimulation to breathe and assisted ventilation as needed. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health we delivered a HBB Train the Trainer programme to 80 paediatricians and midwives from across Northern Sudan who will in turn train hundreds of village midwives on neonatal resuscitation. This simple educational programme will help reduce infant deaths by building the knowledge and skills of healthcare workers throughout Northern Sudan. The words of UA 2013 keynote speaker Dr Mae Jemison were ringing in my ears, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Thanks UA & HBB for an amazing experience!

For more information on HBB in Sudan please visit:

Alum Reflects on her UA Experience

Éabha O’Leary Fitzpatrick reflects on the reasons why she submitted to The Undergraduate Awards below, and how it has impacted her life since. Éabha is a University of Limerick graduate and is currently studying an MSc in Innovation Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship in University College Cork. Éabha was named as Highly Commended in the Irish Language category in 2012.

I remember the exact moment it happened, I had finished class, I had an essay due and was eager to get home to finish it. I was walking towards the entrance of the Main Building when in the corner of my eye I spotted a green poster with ‘The Undergraduate Awards’ written across it in bright bold. Although I was in a rush to get home I retracted my steps to read what was on the poster. I wrote down ‘The Undergraduate Awards’ on my hand and thought to myself, I must Google this when I get home. Little did I know at the time, that simple decision to stop would have a momentous effect on what was to follow.

The wonderful thing about The Undergraduate Awards is that students submit work they have already completed. I had worked on my project; an analysis of the discourse of Existentialism in the poetry of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill for several months, as part of my final year project and I absolutely loved it. I called it my baby! Receiving the email from The Undergraduate Awards to say that my project was one of the top ten percent selected gave me a huge sense of recognition, and confidence. Despite working all those long hours, doubt niggles at the back of your mind as to whether the work you do is good enough. Suddenly, following one email that doubt dissipates… but not for long.

I was terrified to attend the UA Global Summit, I knew that I would have the opportunity to meet many students from all over the world who were incredibly accomplished and talented and I did not feel like them. I felt like an impostor. Interestingly this is the reason why many friends did not submit their work to the UA, believing it was a case of ‘us versus them’. ‘Them’ being the prodigies of today who are so very far removed from us to the point that it would be impossible to relate to any of the participants.

I promise you this is not the case. The impostor syndrome wears off after ten minutes as I came to realise that the participants were wonderfully kind people from all walks of life who had intriguing stories to tell. They were so passionate about their own work and everyone I met was equally passionate to hear about mine. We shared stories, ideas and anecdotes. The UA Global Summit made me realise that in life you cannot be the best at everything but it’s important to be comfortable with that. Everyone has something to bring to the table.

The wonderful thing about the UA Global Summit is that you build a fantastic network of eclectic people who are passionate, hardworking and excited for what the future holds. The 2012 participants stay in contact and meet up from time to time. All of the participants from 2012 have gone on to do incredible things, and it has been a privilege to share successes with them, I was so proud to read Meicen’s blog on her attendance at the Clinton Global Initiative. I think to myself; I have the coolest friends.

Before the UA Global Summit I had never thought I had placed a glass ceiling over my head, I thought of myself as ambitious and determined. That was of course until I began to listen to the wonderful, enlightening speakers at the Summit, and there came a sudden realisation that I had placed many limitations on what I believed I was capable of.

These wonderful speakers from many diversified backgrounds were people who had not taken the conventional path. Listening to their encouraging and exciting stories, I could see that the glass ceiling of limitation was cracking and by the end of the Summit it had shattered completely.
The UA Global Summit gave me the confidence to embark on a completely new adventure. I was offered a placement on a fantastic and prestigious graduate program before the Summit, but on the train home I knew I wouldn’t take it. Instead I asked a very inspirational lady could I come work for her where I was offered an internship that completely changed the path I took.

Consequently I decided to do a Masters in Innovation Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship which is something I would have never before considered, (I didn’t even use mobile applications on my phone and I was about to undertake an MSc that had technology at its core). It was a risky move but as I am a few months short of completing that Masters, having recently returned home from participating in the International Graduate Competition in Montreal, I know in my heart that I would never have taken this route if I did not submit to the UA and thus attend the UA Global Summit which invariably led me down the path less travelled to the point I am at today.

I shout it from the rooftops, the UA Global Summit offers you the opportunity of a lifetime! I implore, urge and plead ANYONE who reads this, or walks by a UA poster to submit your work!

At the end of the day, however, it boils down to the decision that is made – to submit or not? Certainly that one decision I made shaped me in ways I would never have expected. In the words of F.W. Boreham, “We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us.”

What will your decision be?

Submissions are open until June 2nd 2014. Students in the penultimate and final year of their degree are eligible to submit, as well as those who graduated from their degree in 2013. The submission page is available to view here.

Judges Confirmed from Australia, UK and Ireland

The UA Team continues to work hard in putting together the panels of academics and industry experts to judge each of the 25 categories.

We are delighted to confirm three more extremely high-calibre academics as the Chair Judges for the Earth & Environmental Sciences, International Relations & Politics, and Nursing & Midwifery categories.

Dr Glen Fox is based in the University of Queensland’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Science, having previously worked for 25 years, conducting research projects with the Queensland Government. He obtained his PhD from Southern Cross University in the area of barley genetics related to barley and malt quality. In 2011, Dr Fox was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Since 2013, he has worked as an Affiliated Scientist at the Biosciences eastern & central Africa (BecA), International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya. We are delighted to have Dr Fox on board as the Chair Judge for our Earth & Environmental Sciences category.

Dr Nick Robinson is an Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds. He currently holds a four-year research grant from the Swedish Research Council and is part of a multinational research team investigating the militarization of social media and video games. Prior to that he has been engaged in research on the EU which covered issues such as the equitable distribution of EU resources and issues centred on the exercise of power. Dr Robinson will be the 2014 Chair Judge for the International Relations & Politics category.

Prof. Imelda Coyne is Head of Children’s Discipline in the School of Nursing & Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin. She is also a former Director of Undergraduate Studies in the school. Prof. Coyne has over 20 years experience in children’s nursing, firstly as a practicing nurse then as a lecturer. Prof. Coyne previously served as the Chair Judge for the Nursing & Midwifery category in 2013, and returns to that post for UA this year. We’re delighted to have her with us again.

If you’d like to apply to become a judge for the 2014 Programme, as part of one of our 25 panels, then fill in the form here.

UA Alum attends Clinton Global Initiative

Last week, UA 2012 winner, Meicen Sun, attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference, which took place in the Arizona State University. Meicen was the international category winner for International Relations and Politics. She is a graduate of Princeton University. Here’s what she had to say about her involvement with the CGI U and how UA helped her to get where she is today!

It was a little over a year after I won the 2012 Undergraduate Award when I got accepted to the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University conference. The acceptance came as a surprise. Used to reading books and writing papers, I’d long held the mistaken belief that the so-called start-up culture was an antithesis of academia. Even when CGI U later honored my project for its “exemplary approach” to addressing a global challenge, I was prepared to believe that I was one of CGI U’s “admissions mistakes.”

But upon a second thought, it all made sense. Whereas UA recognized my academic achievement, CGI U provided me with the validation to take it one step further into the real world. The issue of international justice has always been a major area of interest to me, and my CGI U project specifically examines the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of the Kenyan state leaders for crimes against humanity. Partly in an effort to balance depth and impact, I have adopted a two-pronged approach for my project: It will at once generate policy feedback for the ICC and the relevant UN agencies, and assist the victims of the Kenyan crisis following the violence. In so doing, I’m hoping to help establish a communication network for international justice facilitators, as well as an avenue for victims of injustice to express their needs.

Rather than a “distraction” from my academic coursework, I see my CGI U project as a logical extension. It gives me a special opportunity to both supplement theoretical learning with real-world experience and more importantly, to transform such learning into a concrete, positive impact that hopefully will gain its own momentum in the process. In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly counterproductive to treat “academia” and the “start-up scene” as two distinct if not opposing spheres. Instead, what we need to do is create synergy between these two tremendously energetic “poles” that can, and should reinforce each other.

My experience of attending CGI U just a few weeks ago confirmed my speculation that this trajectory was taking place around the globe. It was as inspiring to hear the distinguished individuals speak as it was to mingle with hundreds of brilliant young minds from all over the world, each with a big, bold idea. Ultimately for me, those three days in Arizona were about breaking boundaries, treading new grounds, and unleashing that creative, innovative energy that I never knew had existed within me.

“Let me get to know the guy/girl who has half of an idea that I can combine with my own,” said my friend and mentor Kyra Maya Phillips whom I met at the 2012 UA Summit. Those words have since stayed with me, as I have continued collecting numerous such “half ideas” while having my breath taken away time and again by just how quickly the imaginary boundaries retreat. Like UA, CGI U is yet another signpost that will remind me of the simple fact that the sky is the limit, and that plus est en vous.

Photograph: Barbara Kinney/Clinton Global Initiative. Meicen Sun pictured with NFL star, Jay Feely.

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