SERC students and staff honoured at Further Education NI Excellence Awards

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10 June 2024

Gary Richie, Heather McKee, Andrew Smyth, Ken Webb, Cassie Caldwell, Yehor Chuckhil, Alan     McCrum, Dean Mackintosh and Tommy Martin

Vikki Pinkerton, Ellie Notley,  Ken Webb, Avery Chambers, Martha Craig and Alan McCrum Andrew Smyth with Martin Murphy, Thales

Eight SERC students and two staff members have been honoured at the first-ever Further Education NI Excellence Awards.

The inaugural awards ceremony was held at the Armagh City Hotel on Tuesday 4th June, with awards categories reflecting the wide spectrum of learning levels and pathways available across Northern Ireland’s further education colleges, from introductory and supported learning to apprenticeships, higher education and lifelong learning.

The ceremony was opened by the Economy Minister Conor Murphy who said: “I was delighted to attend these awards to celebrate the achievements of excellence by both students and staff across the further education sector. “My economic vision has skills at its core and further education colleges have a significant role to play in delivering a regionally balanced economy with good jobs, higher productivity and which is reducing its carbon output. “I commend our colleges, our students, our staff, and all who support you, for all that you do, and will continue to do, to support the north’s economy. “I want to see and hear more of this excellence and for further education colleges to continue to collaborate, to lead, and to take their rightful place in the story of our improving economic outlook.”

Guests at the event heard how student award recipients have improved their life and job-related skills thanks to the incredible effort they have made during their studies, and of the positive impact made on people’s lives by the winning staff members.

Speaking at the event, Ken Webb, Principal and Chief Executive of SERC, said: “Every day our staff at South Eastern Regional College work hard to support our students in enabling them to fulfil their ambitions. It has been a privilege to hear their stories of dedication and commitment tonight at the first FE Excellence Awards, and of how FE has made such a difference to them and our community. On behalf of the college, I would like to congratulate all our award winners and we look forward to seeing what they do next.”

SERC FE Excellence Award winners on the night included Dean Mackintosh from Bangor, who is studying Skills for Life and Work on the Ards campus. Dean collected the FE Excellence Award for an Introductory Programme and was congratulated for his fantastic presence in the college’s retail group and for being an asset to his placement employer.

Art and Design student Avery Chambers from Crossgar won the Level Two Award. A talented and creative artist who has been designing and making her own jewellery, art and fashion through her own company The Goblin Emporium, Avery’s work ethic, leadership qualities and abilities were all commented on during the ceremony.

Yehor Chuckhil from Killinchy also collected an award for his commitment to Level 2 studies. Training as a Professional Chef, Yehor has only been in Northern Ireland for one year. During that time, he has learnt to speak English, gained full-time employment and enrolled on an apprenticeship programme with SERC. Since enrolling on the programme, Yehor competed at the International Food Expo IFEX, winning gold in the Classical Junior Chicken category, and was headhunted for a new position in The Cuan.

The SERC School Partnership Programme Award went to Ellie Notley from Killinchy, a Level 2 Diploma student in IT in Downpatrick. Ellie won praise for her 100% attendance, for  achieving distinctions in her first year, and for her work ethic.

Cassie Caldwell from Cloghy received the FE Excellence Award Category for Level 3 Further Education. Cassie, who is doing a National Extended Diploma in Applied Science, represented SERC at the BT Young Scientist competition at the start of the year and was highly commended by the judging panel.

The SERC FE Excellence Award for Higher Education went to Alex Markuls from Portadown. Currently completing a Foundation Degree in Mechatronics, Alex was recognised for his performance in his modules and impressive results.

Vikki Pinkerton from Bangor received a Lifelong Learner FE Excellence Award. Vikki is undertaking the Access Programme to HE and was recognised for her contribution to college life. She created a community garden at the college’s Bangor campus as part of her project-based learning and continues to help maintain it for students and staff.

The final student recipient on the evening was Andrew Smyth from Ballygowan, a Level 3 Apprentice in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, employed by Thales, who previously won NI Apprentice of the Year. He was presented with his award by Martin Murphy,  International Business Director at Thales. Andrew is aiming to join the Thales Skills Academy on a Higher Level Apprenticeship. 

The evening also honoured staff members from the Further Education sector, recognising the positive contribution they have made to their colleges and their communities over the years. Two SERC staff members were recognised on the night. Martha Craig, who is Deputy Head of School for Hairdressing and Wendy Baird, who is a Finance Business Partner in the College were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards.


Speaking after receiving her award, Martha said: “It is an honour to be recognised in this way. To me, further education is the potential for students to reach their goals in life. When they come to FE they learn in a way that suits them, and they learn in a way they love.”