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Graduate honoured as part of national campaign by Universities UK

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Published on 15 April 2024

Vijayalakshmi Subramani in front of her purple plaque
Vijayalakshmi Subramani in front of her purple plaque

The University of Sunderland is helping shine a light on those who were the first in their family to attend university as part of Universities UK’s 100 Faces campaign.

One of the graduates named in the campaign is our very own Vijayalakshmi Subramani (VJ to her friends), who studied MSc Environment, Health and Safety and graduated in 2020.
VJ said: “Choosing to study at the University of Sunderland felt like a natural step for me, having made Sunderland my home since 2011.

“Witnessing the remarkable journeys and successes of its graduates always filled me with inspiration. More than just a local choice, the University represented a gateway to achieving a long-held dream, especially as a first-generation graduate.”

VJ played a key role within the University’s student community, enriching not just her own studies but her peers’ studies as well.
“Returning to academic life at the University of Sunderland after a 13-year gap since my bachelor's degree in India was both exhilarating and challenging,” she said.

“Despite the initial daunting prospect of resuming studies after such a long break, the nurturing environment and the unwavering support from the University community facilitated a life-changing journey for me.”

VJ added: “As a student representative, I had the privilege of engaging closely with both my peers and our faculty, organised various events and activities that enriched our collective experience.

“Winning the Student of the Year 2019 award during my Master's studies reinforced my belief in my potential. It empowered me to take bold steps forward, translating academic achievements into real-world applications.”

After graduating, VJ was inspired by her autistic son to create and found TeenyWeenyVR – a fun, VR edutainment and visit preparation platform for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

“The University of Sunderland was a catalyst for transformation in my life, marking the beginning of a journey that reshaped my perspective and ambitions.

“The confidence and skills I gained became the foundation upon which I built TeenyWeenyVR, turning a personal mission into a venture that seeks to make a tangible difference in the world.

“In essence, the University of Sunderland didn't just educate me; it transformed me into an innovator, a leader, and a changemaker, setting me on a path I could never have imagined before my time there.”

VJ’s groundbreaking technology gained national recognition and she received a cash boost of £50,000 from Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards.

In March 2024, she was honoured with a purple plaque at the University in recognition of her award.

VJ is also one of the founders of Kerckoffs Ltd, the company behind TeenyWeenyVR, and is also the vice president of its US subsidiary, Eyemersive Inc.

Building on her success, VJ aims to grow even further, putting inclusivity and innovation at the forefront of her next steps.

She is aiming to create a comprehensive digital ecosystem named SENDelight Gifts, a platform which will serve as a one-stop resource for SEND children, parents, and carers, offering everything from toys to technology and specialised advice.

VJ said: “By continuing to innovate and expand our services, we strive to create a more inclusive world where the special needs community receives the recognition and support it rightfully deserves.”

The 100 Faces campaign aims to champion and celebrate the positive impact of first in the family graduates in the UK in order to highlight the need for access to support.

VJ said: “Embarking on a university education as the first in your family is both a brave and transformative decision. It’s a path that may seem daunting at first, given the new experiences and challenges it presents. However, the opportunities it unlocks are immense and profoundly life-changing.

“University is not just about academic learning; it’s a platform to discover your passions, develop critical life skills, and meet people from all walks of life. These experiences will shape your worldview, expand your professional network, and enhance your career prospects.

“Remember, the decision to attend university is a step towards not only advancing your own future but also setting a precedent for others in your family. It’s about paving a new path of possibilities, not just for yourself but for future generations.

“So, approach this adventure with courage and curiosity, seek support when needed, and take pride in the trail you’re blazing.”

Find out more about the 100 Faces Campaign here: https://100faces.universitiesuk.ac.uk/