Skip to content Accessibility statement
Home>Alumni>Alumni Awards Winners

Meet the winners of our inaugural York For Life Alumni Awards, as we celebrate their achievements and share their inspirational stories. From forging social reforms, to fostering new talent, find out how the first ever winners of an Alumni Award are using the experiences they gained at York for public good. Congratulations to all our winners!

Alumni Awards Winners 2023

Headshot of Alumni Awards winner Pengfei Jiang

The Environmental Sustainability Champion Award recognises an alum whose innovative work, projects  or actions have made a significant impact on addressing sustainability challenges.

Pengfei works as the academic principal at Zhuji Ronghuai Foreign Language School, as well as the founder of SDGs Curriculum Office, developing and delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) curriculum and educational activities for more than 30,000 students across China. The SDGs Curriculum they developed has been presented at the recent Sixth China Education Innovation Achievements Welfare Exposition. Their Mango Curriculum that has been designed for students to gain STEM knowledge and skills to solve problems for environmental sustainability and change their mindset of growing mangoes as sustainable businesses rather than relying on the the local coal mine to develop their economy. It has won the Global Competition on Design for Future Education Award which was organised by UNESCO and Beijing Normal University.

They have also engaged with UNESCO SDG 4 Youth & Student Network to collaborate with international peers in promoting education in environmental sustainability, talking about green education at the second PRME Global Students Virtual Annual Summit 2023 and at a UNESCO International Youth Day Event. Hosting Local Youth Environment Assembly (Kunming, China) which was in partnership with the Children and Youth Major Group (UNEP), allows them to reach even more Chinese audiences in environmental sustainability. 

According to Pengfei, ‘these achievements are definitely linked to my study experience at the University of York, where I completed my BA in Educational Studies. I first came across the word sustainability when I took the module "Education and Development", which introduced sustainable development goals. Thanks to my tutor's briefing in SDGs during my undergraduate study, I went on to explore this topic further. My educational experience strongly encouraged me to devote myself to SDGs education for secondary school students and trainee teachers' training in China.’

Headshot of Alumni Awards winner Bethan Vincent

The Enterprise Champion Award recognises an alum who has made a significant contribution to the enterprise community at the University of York, in their local region, and beyond. They use their entrepreneurial mindset to make the world a better place, whether founding their own business or having a transformative impact in their sector.

Bethan is a committed and visionary entrepreneur who has made a significant contribution to York's entrepreneurial community. A York graduate, Bethan founded Open Velocity, a marketing strategy consultancy, in 2022. Since then, OV has taken on four members of staff and is on track to turn over half a million in 2024/25. 

As a leader, Bethan is committed to supporting her community, working to develop diversity and inclusion and showcasing York's achievements on the global stage. She is active in supporting the city's business community and helping to inspire the entrepreneurial leaders of York's future.

Bethan runs her own podcast about building a better future, The Brave, and is a regular speaker at international marketing and technology conferences.

Bethan founded and ran the York Guild of Entrepreneurs from 2017 - 2020, which put on regular free events for York business owners of all stages. During that time she collaborated with York Business Week to run the Entrepreneurs' Breakfast, which saw over 60 entrepreneurs come together for a morning of networking and talks.

Bethan is an active member in Women in Tech York, and runs widening participation events at both universities and in schools. As an Enterprise Advisor, she works with Vale of York Academy to help inspire school children to consider a career in technology, running events like "design an app" challenges to educate and inspire the next generation. She also runs sessions for charities such as the Girls Friendly Society in 2020.

She volunteers her time to sit on the selection panel for Venture One, which provides University of York students, alumni and staff with the financial resources to take a business idea from concept through to investment, and is a mentor on the Women in Tech SEO programme, a free global virtual program providing support with both SEO and soft skills development.

Headshot of Alumni Awards winner Karen Wong

The Health and Wellbeing Award recognises and celebrates an alum who has demonstrated outstanding impact in health, wellbeing, and/ or the medical or healthcare sectors.

Karen, as she prefers to be called, studied Social Policy at the University of York, where the seeds of understanding health and well-being holistically were planted in her mind. She is now a healthcare / medical social worker and policy advocate with experiences in the hospital, long-term care, and community services, working with older adults. She has demonstrated outstanding provincial (British Columbia - BC), national (Canada), and international impacts on the health and well-being of older adults and the healthcare sector. 

Karen led a provincial study on older adults' access to online health information, services, and resources. The study examined digital divides between older and younger adults and among older adults, and helped to raise societal awareness of these issues through academic outputs (e.g., peer-reviewed publications) and outputs in accessible languages to different populations (e.g., a report to the public - see supporting evidence and a policy brief to policymakers.) She has presented at international, national, and provincial workshops, panels, conferences, and media interviews, including interdisciplinary healthcare providers, older adults, and families. Poverty was found to be a significant challenge for low-income older adults accessing the Internet. To help tackle this, she and her team successfully lobbied Telus, the largest telecommunication company in Canada, to offer CAD$10 (GBP£5) per month Internet plan to low-income older adults. Karen has achieved multiple awards for her work, including, Research Scholar in 2021 by Simon Fraser University STAR Institute, Liu's Scholar in 2022 by UBC School of Public Policy, Knowledge Translation Award in 2023 by National Collaborating Centres for Public Health, and National Policy Fellowship 2022 by Age Well. 

Karen led policy advocacy on older refugees' access to healthcare services, raising the awareness amongst healthcare providers of how this population can fall through the cracks of healthcare systems that serve either older adults or refugees. She delivered workshops to more than 100 interdisciplinary healthcare providers in Canada and published a peer-reviewed journal article to reach international audiences (see supporting evidence. ) She was recognized with the MOSAIC Award 2023 by MOSAIC, the largest settlement service agency in BC, and the Clinical Practice Award 2021 by Province Healthcare, one of the significant healthcare authorities in BC.

Loneliness can affect the psychosocial health and well-being of residents in long-term care, which is a persistent issue in Canada and internationally. Using the de Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale to assess residents' loneliness is common among healthcare providers. Karen led a study collaborating with people with lived experiences of dementia and interdisciplinary healthcare professionals to reflect on this practice critically, raised the challenges, and gave recommendations on a more holistic understanding of the loneliness of this population. This peer-reviewed article from this study led by Karen, was recognized as the Best Publication of the Year 2023 of the Health Policy Group of the Alzheimer's Association International for its international practice implications. The recommendations were also widely promoted among long-term care facilities in Canada and internationally. 

Karen led a team co-creating, co-implementing, and co-evaluating dementia-friendly videos for people with moderate to severe dementia from cultural and language minorities in the hospital and long-term care, one of the older adult groups with the least access to technology. Her team comprised people with lived experiences, industry partners, and interdisciplinary healthcare providers. The videos they co-created have reached around 100 people with lived experiences, interdisciplinary healthcare providers, and families in Vancouver. One of the peer-reviewed articles they published on dementia-friendly videos was recently selected for the Best Research Award 2023 by Psychologists in Long-term Care.

Karen's contribution to promoting the equality of older adults was recognized by the Inspiring Social Worker of the Year Award in 2021 by the BC Association of Social Workers, the Leadership in Aging Award in 2023 by the National Institute of Aging, and the Equality Award in 2022 by the UBC School of Social Work. The University of York joins them in recognising her outstanding contribution to this field of work.

Headshot of Alumni Awards winner Benjamin Till

The Culture and Creativity Award recognises an alum for their outstanding contribution to culture and creativity, who continues to make a positive impact on the wider community, nationally or internationally.

BAFTA-nominated Benjamin has forged a 30-year career uniting communities through music and film. His work is staggeringly ambitious and always celebratory. On two separate occasions he's been commissioned to create compositions for close to 1000 performers. Benjamin always goes above and beyond in order to create immersive experiences for those who take part, many of whom still write to him to say what life-changing experiences he facilitated.

Benjamin's most extraordinary projects have been the multi-award-winning musical documentary films he's made for the BBC and Channel 4. These include films about the A1 Road, Watford Gap services, the Tyne and Wear Metro in Newcastle, Yorkshire Pride and Coventry Market. In 2014, he turned the lens on himself, marrying his husband, Nathan, in a groundbreaking film musical. Our Gay Wedding: The Musical is considered one of the most successful films broadcast on Channel 4. 

In 2017, Benjamin started working with the Jewish community. Through his work with Mosaic Voices, at New West End Synagogue and with UK Jewish Film, he's tirelessly created, uncovered, and breathed new life into British Jewish culture, exploring the stories and experiences of countless individuals. He commissions 7 films about UK Jewish life each year. He has recently started working with native speakers of Britain's many minority languages. His recent film composition, Psalms, is performed in Yiddish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Irish and dialects of English. 

Benjamin states that, ‘I have alway been uncompromising in valuing art and the purity of my mission way above any financial gain. I live a humble existence but believe this is a small price to pay for the positivity and pride I have handed to communities up and down the country.’

Headshot of Alumni Awards winner Chidinma Oli

The Alumni Rising Star Award recognises recent alumni (graduated five years ago or less at the nomination deadline) whose early accomplishments inspire and provide leadership to students and alumni.

After completing her Master's in Public Health at the University of York, Chidinma returned to Nigeria to establish Inspire Her Afrika, a non-profit dedicated to mentoring the next generation of female African leaders. The mission of IHA is to create a safe community for African women to connect, learn, grow, and encourage themselves to achieve their full potential. According to Chidinma, ‘This initiative reflects the skills and insights I gained at the University, especially through my role as an International Student Ambassador and the mentorship I received from Professor Noreen Mdege.’

‘Inspire Her Afrika's six-month program has positively impacted 26 women from 8 African countries, countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Namibia, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe equipping them with essential skills in personal branding, networking, and personal development. The program's success is reflected in the substantial personal growth and self-confidence reported by mentees. Mentors also experienced significant enhancements in their leadership and self-mastery skills. This venture exemplifies the commitment and values instilled in me during my studies at the University of York.’

‘My studies at the University were instrumental in preparing me for my role as Executive Director of Inspire Her Afrika. As an international Student Ambassador, I acquired skills in stakeholder engagement, ideation, and leadership all of which were crucial in launching this initiative. The guidance from Professor Mdege was a key motivator to turning this vision into a tangible reality.’

‘Inspire Her Afrika stands as a testament to the transformative power of education and mentorship in driving social change. My journey, deeply rooted in the experiences and lessons from the University of York, highlights the significant role my alma mater has played in shaping me into the leader I am today, embodying the university's vision of being an institution that exists for public good.’

Headshot of alumni awards winner Osarenogae Ogieva

The Alumni Volunteer Award recognises those York alumni who have made a significant contribution to the wider University of York community through their commitment to volunteering.

Osarenogae Ogieva (who prefers to be known as Osas) stands out as a selfless volunteer for the University of York. He has volunteered as a Regional Coordinator for the University of York in 2020. Since then, he has worked with OPPA to create and organise the University's alumni society in Nigeria, publicised and supported the University's campaigns, causes and events, and has served as a reliable source of insight and inspiration to the York community. 

In 2023 he completed York's virtual marathon, campaigned for mental health awareness and raised funds for mental health research as part of the Mentally Fit York Marathon Month. In October 2023 he signed up as an Ambassador for the York For Life Giving Day. His passion for supporting the University saw him top the leaderboard of Giving Day Ambassadors creating awareness during the Giving Day period. 

Osas is an entrepreneur at heart. Since returning to Nigeria, he has founded a tech startup called Novart Technologies, which is geared towards creating innovative solutions to problems in his local community. He adapts a host of cutting-edge technologies such as Cloud Computing, Agile Software Development, Cyber Security and Machine Learning to the local environment of his clients so they can consume the technology in a sustainable way. In 2023, he provided businesses with low-cost management systems that help them manage their inventory and sales with insights from customer data. He built a web application for a non-governmental foundation to promote girl-child and women rights, and a website to advance the development of southern Nigeria through tourism and investment amongst others. According to Osas, he has ‘been able to succeed as a tech founder with the help of the project management, leadership and research skills I honed through my degree program at the University of York.’ True to the spirit of York’s ambition to drive forward public good, he has passed on this knowledge, providing training to young tech enthusiasts through his company's development initiative and the 3 million Technical Talent Program (3MTT) which is in collaboration with the Federal government of Nigeria.

Headshot of Alumni Awards Winner Annelies Vredeveldt

The Global Community Award recognises and honours the outstanding achievements of an international alum who has realised distinction in their chosen field and whose accomplishments enhance the prestige of the University of York.

Dr. Annelies Vredeveldt is a legal psychologist whose research focuses on ways to improve eyewitness memory. Her 2012 PhD in psychology from the University of York was recognized in awards from the British Psychological Society and the American Psychology-Law Society.

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she became an Assistant Professor and later an Associate Professor at VU Amsterdam. She has published over 50 scientific articles and book chapters and has supervised many graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. To support her research, she obtained research grants from prestigious sources including the European Research Council and Science in Society. 

Her leadership skills are evident in her founding and directing the Amsterdam Laboratory for Legal Psychology. In 2022, she was awarded the Academic Excellence Award by the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group. 

Dr. Vredeveldt is deeply invested in applying her scientific findings to improve the interviewing and assessment of eyewitnesses in practice. She writes accessible articles for practitioner magazines and frequently trains police investigators, lawyers, and judges in various countries. She developed a Psychology course for law students at VU Amsterdam, to promote future legal practitioners' knowledge about psychology. 

Her commitment to education and societal impact is further shown by her involvement in Project Reasonable Doubt, in which small groups of students investigate potentially dubious convictions. She regularly serves as an expert witness in criminal court cases and assess applications from other legal psychologists to be registered in the Netherlands Register for Court Experts. 

Dr. Vredeveldt has not only realised distinction in the academic field of legal psychology, she has also brought about positive changes in the lives of many junior researchers, legal professionals, students, potential witnesses and even convicted prisoners.

Headshot of Alumni Awards winner Shqipe Neziri Vela

The Equality Champion Award recognises and honours an alum whose outstanding contribution to equality has promoted positive attitudes towards equality and diversity and who has helped to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and with dignity and respect.

Shqipe Neziri-Vela embodies the essence of the accolade through her exceptional dedication to promoting equality and diversity. With over 20 years of professional expertise in anti-corruption, energy, and environmental sectors, Shqipe has consistently demonstrated an outstanding commitment to fostering positive change.

As a co-founder of Kosovo Women in Energy and Mining, Shqipe has played a pivotal role in advancing gender equality and empowering women within traditionally male-dominated industries. Her tireless efforts have not only raised awareness of equality issues but have also inspired tangible actions and positive responses within the community. 

Shqipe's influence extends beyond her immediate professional roles, as evidenced by her co-chair position on the Diversity and Inclusion Council at the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo. Shqipe's significant impact on improving equality is further evident in her role as a faculty member, where she imparts her wealth of knowledge on energy policy at the American University in Kosovo/RIT Kosovo. 

Her contributions to various platforms and magazines reflect a commitment to sharing insights and perspectives that contribute to a more inclusive dialogue on equality issues. 

With a double MA degree in Public Administration & Public Policy from the Central European University and the University of York, Shqipe Neziri-Vela brings a well-rounded perspective to her advocacy. Her engagement goes beyond borders as she volunteers as a mentor for students and mid-career professionals through programs such as York Profiles and Mentors, Erasmus Mundus, Global Women's Network in Energy Transition (GWNET), and Global Engineer Girls mentoring initiatives.

Notably, Shqipe's involvement in international organisations such as the United Nations Development Program, UNICEF, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, coupled with her role as a member of the Advisory Council of the International Women in Mining, showcases a commitment that extends beyond her immediate community. 

Shqipe Neziri-Vela is an undeniable force for positive change in the realm of equality.  

According to Shqipe herself, ‘the University of York played a pivotal role in shaping my success by providing a strong academic foundation in public policy and human rights and fostering a global perspective. The emphasis on research, skill development, and a supportive community contributed significantly to my achievements in the fields of anti-corruption, energy, and environmental sectors.’