The Aston Achievement Awards 2017 ceremony took place on Wednesday 13 September.  Held to celebrate the achievements of the 16 award winners, nearly 60 people gathered to share in their success and congratulate them.  The evening opened with a short speech from the Vice Chancellor, after which the winners, their guests and colleagues from their schools and departments enjoyed a superb dinner at Conference Aston.  The awards were presented by Alan Charters and Helen Higson, with each recipient receiving an engraved glass diamond and certificate from the Vice Chancellor.

Fred is Assessment Officer in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.  Students and staff hold Fred in very high regard. He has been providing continued and sustained excellent customer service since he joined Aston – in fact students are disappointed when he is not there to handle their coursework!  Every student focus group we have sings his praises. He is personable, professional, a friendly face and most of our student body know him by name. He is popular with all our stakeholders and the school would love to see him formally recognised as such.  

Cathy has been pivotal in supporting the Careers+Placements Department. For over a decade, she has ensured that the Job Shop, based in the Students Union, has contributed to increase the employability of our students, increase employer engagement and achieve key milestones towards Aston 2020. She places over 1500 students in part time jobs every year, across all schools, helping those students who need it most. She offers tailored 1:1 support, including CV checks and matching students to vacancies.  Cathy has added a new strand to the Job Shop this year, through developing a Volunteering Service that connects local charities with Aston students. She matches students to degree-related volunteering opportunities, using this as pre-placement preparation for first years. She has placed over 30 students in volunteering roles since February and engaged with over 50 charities in the local community.

Alison has been a committed Go Green Champion member for many years. Having established excellent Green activities in the Library, she then moved temporarily to IT Services and signed up to be their Go Green Champion in 2016/17. She has proved to be a great asset to the IT team in terms of sustainability, enabling them to improve their place in the Go Green League and achieving full points for nearly every month’s workbook. Her hard work and passion have been positive influences on the rest of the team, who are becoming more motivated to improve their sustainability and will regularly approach Alison to discuss environmental ideas or concerns with her.   Alison is also a dedicated member of the Fairtrade Steering Group and always gets heavily involved in Fairtrade events and campaigns – everything from bananas to wine tasting… In summary, Alison is a passionate member of staff who takes great pleasure in making a positive difference to the environment and sustainability at Aston University. She always offers to volunteer for projects and often has new ideas for environmental initiatives, which are invaluable.   

Phil is Senior Market Analyst in the Marketing Department.  He has made a significant effort to understand the different metrics for every league table and ranking, and the actions that the University needs to take to secure as high a score as possible. A number of factors affecting these league tables relate to decisions made at strategic level and it is to Phil’s credit that he understands the strategic environment in which the University operates, and the factors that we must influence in order to improve our position both in the short term and the long term. Sometimes decisions made at a strategic level can impact on league table performance and Phil is not afraid to communicate these issues, although it is always in a professional and constructive manner.  Phil is someone who genuinely cares about the University. This is reflected in his trademark ‘long emails’, in which, when asked for his opinion on a particular matter, he will always give a thorough and considered response. Phil is someone who demonstrates Aston values consistently and whose work may not always be noticed, but which has a major impact on the University’s reputation, which ultimately influences our ability to recruit students.  

Now a member of the CLIPP team, Farzana was nominated for her work as timetabling office in EAS.  Farzana managed to balance real loyalty to EAS with a desire to create excellent working relationships with other Schools, which are also vital in the timetabling.  She is a great networker is well known across a broad range of departments, and seems to always know who to contact regarding any particular issue.  Farzana is outward looking and has a natural curiosity, she always seems to know the latest on any developing situation or initiative at Aston, and how it may affect EAS, the timetable, or herself - very useful in a rapidly changing environment, assets which I am sure she has carried over to her work with CLIPP.  

Following the tragic and untimely death of Darren Hale a colleague and key member of the Sport Aston team, the team had to pull together and not only cover for Darren on a day to day basis but also support each other and all the members and non-members who knew Darren. They wanted to do something to remember Darren and to celebrate his life and him as a person and came up with the idea for a gym-based triathlon in his honour to be hosted at Sport Aston on his birthday, 5th May. The aim was to raise enough money to buy a defibrillator for Darren’s home Parkrun at Cannon Hill Park. The event was organised and fully supported by all members of the team and management (all team members also took part in the event) and on the day 66 people of all ages took part and raised a total of over £2,300. This sum has enabled the purchase of not one but two defibrillators, one at Cannon Hill Park and the second at Walsall Parkrun one of Darren’s ‘tourist’ destinations and another run that he won on a number of occasions. Additionally the team have offered their own time to provide training sessions here at Aston and on-site at the host Parkrun’s site on the use of the defibrillator. There was also £500 remaining of the donations, which will be used to support Aston Gazelles running group, a student club that Darren was integral in setting up, coaching and a passionate supporter of.  An excellent initiative by the Sports Aston team and one which was very worthy of winning Idea of the Year. 

Emma is Business Relationship Manager in Research and Knowledge Enterprise, or RKE.  Emma has worked tirelessly to join up activities across Aston and to help instigate a more sharing culture. She is a very proactive person who is always looking for new ways to do things in a better, more efficient manner and has challenged the status quo and brought new thinking to the RKE team.  Emma has been a key member of the Employer engagement group for apprenticeships liaising with key accounts manager to gain feedback on their apprenticeship plans. She has also worked hard to link CED and APEC together when they work in similar areas.  She has managed a placement student who has found many new companies for projects, particularly Rimilia who Aston now have an awarded KTP and has supported Key Account Managers to engage more widely with their accounts.  Emma has already had a significant impact by bringing together Aston staff working on skills and research to share contacts and expertise in a more joined up manner. She is supporting a culture change which is hard to achieve and to quantify, but is key to Aston’s mission to be the number one University for Business and the professions.   

Daniel is Lecturer in Law in Aston Business School.  He joined the Law School in September 2016 and already his contribution to the Law School and to ensuring the best student experience has been remarkable. He has improved third final year students’ legal research and writing skills and already this has led to an increased standard of legal essays from many students. Students have referred to how valuable the in-depth feedback on legal research and writing has been, and they have implemented these skills in other modules.  Daniel has been mentoring a group of first year students to take up an opportunity of potentially receiving a law training contract with a magic circle firm in London. He has taken his personal time to mentor and prepare these students, and we now have a group attending the assessment centre for this opportunity, which is the first time in Aston Law history that students have attended assessment centres for magic circle law firm. Daniel has developed an extensive list of publications in his areas of research, and thereby enhancing the School profile. He has proven that he is an asset to the Law School in all areas of Learning and Teaching, Community Engagement and Research.

Chris is Associate Dean in LHS.  He is known for being a person that can always be turned to no, matter what the query.  As his nominator says, perhaps inside his head he was cursing at me for bothering him but it never came across!  Chris is always prompt in response, helpful and straight to the point.  He has helped out with chairing boards when the head of department was away, has responded from holiday to help in all manner of complex issues, and is also exceptionally supportive to LHS support staff, especially those in the programme office.  Chris goes out of his way to make life easier for his colleagues and it is for this that he has been awarded the 2017 Best Citizenship award.

Alex is Learning Development Advisor for maths in the CLIPP team. Alex began work at Aston in 2001 as a founding member of the Maths Drop-In Centre in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He was instrumental in establishing the maths drop-in service, providing one-to-one maths tuition for Foundation Year and Undergraduate students, continuing this support when it moved to the new LDC in 2006. The focus of Alex’s work has been to raise the level of students’ maths ability and support progression by providing an accessible, non-judgemental and welcoming environment for developing confidence and ability. The LDC maths drop-in service receives excellent feedback from students and staff at the University each year and is regularly cited as a contributing factor in students’ applications to Aston, and to the positive outcomes they have achieved on their programme. When a student was asked for comments on how the centre could be improved, their response was that they “Require four more Alexes!” Alex has contributed his knowledge and expertise to the development of new initiatives – especially in the development of online resources for the benefit of campus based, part-time and distance learners. He is always open to new ideas and supportive of approaches that will enhance the student experience and improve their love and understanding of maths. Alex’s energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun is infectious, and a great motivator to all those that have the opportunity to work with him – whether staff or student. His catchphrase “Keep smiling!” – helps all those he works with tackle challenges with a positive attitude. 

Max has made outstanding contributions to research in his field (bioinformatics) over the last year. His achievements throughout the year significantly exceeded and he has published papers in the highest impact, most widely-read rank Q1 international journals including Nature Genetics, GigaScience, and JMIR Research Protocols.  In 2016 he published nine papers in respectable outlets and has already published three in 2017, with more in the pipeline. His work has rapidly grown in influence over the last year, having been cited nearly 500 times in 2016, and giving rise to more than 2100 citations in total over an academic career spanning only 10 years. As testament to the accelerating influence of his published work, a quarter of his citations were attained only in the last year.  He is an excellent PhD supervisor and his PhD students have won awards for outstanding mathematical research both internally in Aston University and also across the country.  As well as being an excellent researcher and teacher, Max is highly regarded and well-liked within and outside his department.

Colin is a postdoctoral researcher in Aston Medical School.  Colin has helped the school to develop its in vivo vascular surgical facilities as well as maternal vascular infrastructure and research; he has secured a high quality research grant that will deliver major impact in the next few years for the new medical school PhD training programme; he has won a Diabetes UK grant this year and has been using this work to disseminate knowledge about his work and promoting AMS. Recently, he was the invited speaker for Diabetes UK talking to the general public at Birmingham Library about his research on “How healthy blood vessels make a difference to fight diabetes”. In addition to his successful grant applications this year, Colin has contributed hugely to the development of the Placement Programme AMS runs each year to support LHS biomedical students. He acts as the main contact point for these placement students in the AMRI and they all speak very highly of the support and training that he provides our students. More widely, Colin takes an active role in the development of AMS by sitting on our internal management team and contributing where relevant. 

The contribution of the whole Sociology and Policy group to enhance the learning experience of their students has been outstanding over the last few years. They are a true example of collegiality and dedication. The Learning and Teaching Enhancers have been excellent contributors to Learning and Teaching discussions at School level, and they have led several initiatives within the group to disseminate enhancement, which are a testament to how seriously Learning and Teaching is taken in SaP. The group excels at fostering debate and honing students´ critical skills. They do this through modules which are relevant in today´s world and thought-provoking, and the quality of their teaching has constantly been praised. Modules taught this year by the group, show an average in overall satisfaction of 4.4; NSS results for this group have been very good and consistent, despite a considerable increase in the number of UG students; students value and commend the quality of the teaching and the learning experience provided. Their completion rates and good degree classifications are a testament to the commitment and engagement of the academics in the SaP group, and their extraordinary engagement with their students.  This award is recognition for a group which is a great role model for the Aston teaching community in terms of the quality of the teaching delivered, and their proactive efforts to enhance their teaching practices. 
Jessica is responsible for the Erasmus programme at Aston and goes out of her way to both the incoming students and staff, and Aston hosts in dealing with all aspects of programme.  She has made the process as straight forward as possible, is very efficient in preparing and signing all paperwork for the programmes and ensuring everything is very competently arranged. Jessica takes time to guide visitors, arranging all necessary formal and informal needs, particularly important for visitors with very little practice in speaking English or experience of adapting to a very different environment both in academic and everyday life.  She is helpful and quick-thinking when surprising situations arise, as they often do when dealing with overseas institutions.  She has done fantastic job for creating efficient working which has resulted in a number of successes for the University nationally and internationally.  
Steven is a teaching fellow in LHS.  He has been at Aston University for nearly twenty years, starting with his PhD then working in the Pharmacy department as a Post-doctoral fellow before joining the Biology department as an academic support officer.  Steven’s role now as a teaching fellow involves running the biology and biomedical science undergraduate projects and teaching keys skills to the second years. Steven has been a consistent member of the teaching team within biology supporting student attainment as a personal and academic tutor and as a person that all the students can approach for support. His open and friendly manor puts students at ease and feedback from the undergraduates and masters reflect his supportive approach.  Committed to outreach, Steven has designed and gained funding working with children as young as year 5 engaging with them on university as a future destination during a laboratory session here at Aston. He works with a number of schools offering work placements and careers talks. Feedback from schools liaison includes the following. Steve’s commitment to engaging school pupils in HE and STEM is invaluable to the work Schools and Colleges Liaison undertake, and his contribution over the years has been second to none. 
Ryan is one of a very select group of academic staff who is brilliant within his own field of expertise, genuinely understands and appreciate the importance of support staff, and also care passionately about students.  Ryan is friendly and always supportive, often helping out when needed.  Ryan did a fantastic job, stepping up as Head of the Law Group, in extremely difficult circumstances, following Jill Poole’s tragic death. This must have been very difficult for him personally, but all members of the Law Group will testify what a great job he has done. Ryan is also a champion of the student. Everything he does has the student in mind, both in terms of development of the curriculum and pastoral support.  His enthusiasm, cheerfulness and willingness to go the extra mile is to be commended.  The Law School, Business School, and the University owe a lot to his professionalism, loyalty, hard work and selfless dedication to his role at this institution.  

See all photos from the 2017 ceremonies here >>>

These annual Awards celebrate the amazing work carried out by Aston staff every day, commending the dedication and commitment shown within Schools and Departments to our research, students, and to the University as a whole.  

Nominations for the 2018 Awards will open in April 2018. Further details will be posted here, when available.