Provost's Public Engagement Awards

14th December 2009

Slavery, non-violent protest, lead poisoning and curious chemistry were the themes of UCL staff and students’ public work to be recognised in the first annual Provost’s Awards for Public Engagement at UCL.

Four winners shared the prizes awarded by UCL Provost Malcolm Grant, showcasing the many ways in which UCL increasingly engages with public audiences. Additionally, UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) received the Public Engagement Unit Prize for the shift in outlook on public work that has taken place in the department in the last year. In this time, SSEES staff have been involved in a range of public activities, including events to explore the experiences of London’s Eastern European migrants.

Rosie Coates (UCL Chemistry) and Saba Haider (UCL Centre for Intercultural Studies) shared the student prize for engager of the year. Saba Haider first visited Lebanon while researching her Film Studies Master’s degree on Palestinian film at UCL. She continues to share what she has learnt with Palestinians in Beirut’s Shatila and Mar Elias refugee camps, helping them to make their own films to highlight their circumstances and promote non-violent protest. Rosie Coates, a PhD student, has entertained schoolchildren, their parents and adult audiences on chemistry subjects ranging from animal prints to aphrodisiacs, sometimes explosively! She has also performed chemistry-based stand-up comedy at UCL’s ground-breaking Bright Club variety night.

Dr Caroline Bressey, Department of Geography and Director of UCL’s Equiano Centre, won the research staff prize for her work engaging a wide audience in her research on the African diaspora in Britain. The award recognises her efforts to ensure community voices are heard in research and in policy. Caroline has worked with ‘community scholars’ - a term she has coined to acknowledge work by researchers outside academia with whom she collaborates on research and funding applications. Caroline has been instrumental in co-curating exhibitions on slavery and abolition at the National Portrait Gallery and has made important contributions to several other exhibitions, campaigns and initiatives.

Simon Gould, UCL’s contemporary projects curator in the Museums and Collections department, won the support staff prize for his innovative programme of public events, exhibitions, artist collaborations and workshops. His most recent project, Object Retrieval, with artist Joshua Sofaer involved a converted Routemaster bus parked in UCL’s main quadrangle which was visited by thousands of people. On display in the bus was an object from the university’s pathology collection – a 1960s toy car linked to the suspected lead poisoning of a toddler – for which many visitors were able to contribute their own knowledge and experiences to build a vast biographical network of information around the toy.

The Public Engagement Awards are funded by the UCL Public Engagement Unit, one of the six UK Beacons for Public Engagement. The Beacons act to encourage public work among universities and create a culture in which universities share their research, teaching and learning with a wider public audience. The Beacons for Public Engagement are funded by the UK Higher Education Funding Councils, the UK Research Councils, and the Wellcome Trust.

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