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Talented young women empowered to reach children most in need

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Published on 15 February 2024

Tom Cowie scholarships
Tom Cowie scholarships

The legacy of Sir Tom Cowie, a north-east champion of education for all, is being kept alive, empowering two young trainee teachers from Sunderland to reach those children who are most in need.

Primary Education students Lauren Coxon, 20, and Millie Herron, 22, are both in the final year of their studies at the University of Sunderland. The trainee teachers have won this year’s Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award, receiving £10,000 each to support them in their final year.

The Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award is now open to applications from full-time undergraduates at the University of Sunderland studying either Arts, Business, Education or Engineering programmes, who are at the end of their penultimate year (second year for standard programmes or third year for four year programmes) of their studies. You must be from the City of Sunderland in order to apply.

The award was set up in memory of the Wearside-born entrepreneur who died in 2012, aged 89. Sir Tom Cowie was a long-term supporter of the University and believed passionately in its principles of affording those with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to enter higher education. As part of his legacy, the Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award was set up to support students to achieve their full potential.

As well as carrying on Sir Tom Cowie’s legacy, student Lauren Coxon, from Washington, is also carrying on a family legacy – as her mother and grandmother both graduated from Sunderland.

“I decided to study at Sunderland because of my mother and grandmother, but also because of Sunderland’s reputation as a university. I also wanted to study close to home, it was the perfect combination.”

Lauren’s mother studied Business Management and Leadership, graduating in 2022, and her grandmother graduated in 1994, also from Business Management.

Lauren has very different career aims, and hopes to become a primary school teacher, teaching students with special educational needs and disabilities. She currently works for Vision for Education as a Teaching Assistant in special needs schools, alongside her studies. Lauren is also a carer for a little girl who has Batten Disease, a genetic neurological disease which is congenital, progressive, and terminal.

She applied for the Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award to open up her opportunities while she studied, without the pressure of having to work in her final year.

“I applied for the scholarship as I am keen to take up various courses such as Makaton, a language used to communicate through speech, signs, and symbols which supports people with disabilities and learning disabilities so they can communicate, and paediatric first aid. I also wanted to be able to focus on my final year of studies and not worry about how I can support myself financially. This means I’ll be able to achieve the best grade I possibly could.”

Fellow award-winning student Millie Heron, from Sunderland, is also hoping to help support vulnerable primary school students, but is taking a very different approach, thanks to the support of the Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award.

“I am planning on staying and working within the local area once I graduate, so it is great being able to gain experience working in local schools during my placement time at the University,” says Millie.

“After I graduate I want to complete a Forest School training course which will allow me to be fully qualified to lead forest school sessions within schools and promote the benefits of outdoor learning around other schools.

“I want to reduce the mental health rates within primary schools by promoting the benefits of outdoor teaching and getting more children learning outside of the classroom.”

Millie was initially sceptical of her chances of receiving the award, but now is keen to encourage others to apply.

“I applied to the Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award a couple of days before the deadline. It was a very last-minute decision because I didn’t believe I would get it, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t apply.

“I want to make a difference when I am a fully qualified teacher to children’s mental well-being, especially in Sunderland. I am so grateful, because I know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Professor Lyyne McKenna MBE, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society at the University of Sunderland, says: “I am absolutely delighted that this year our recipients are Primary Education students. 2023-24 has certainly been a year where we have been able to celebrate the achievements of our staff and students in initial teacher training.

“Our Initial Teacher Training programmes were judged to be GOOD when Ofsted held their inspection visit in May 2023 and our Primary Education Qualified Teacher Status programmes were highlighted as being groundbreaking in some key areas. We are therefore justifiably proud of Millie Herron and Lauren Coxon, our two Primary Education Sir Tom Cowie Scholarship recipients.

“Both are worthy recipients of the scholarship having achieved the highest standards in both their academic work and importantly in their practical school experience modules. I look forward to following Millie and Lauren’s progress throughout this year and I will especially be looking forward to reading their names out at our summer graduation ceremony.”

David Gray, FRICS, Chairman of Trustees of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, added: “Sir Tom would have been absolutely delighted to see the Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award develop into what is now its 14th year.

“The annual get together we have with past scholars shows the difference this award can make to final year students from Sunderland. We have expanded the number of courses we cover to try and encourage more applications, as the quantum of the grant is significant.”

For more details on the Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award, a full list of eligible courses, and how to apply go to: The Sir Tom Cowie Sunderland Award. Applications close on Friday 24 May.