17 July 2008

Top athlete and quiz genius win Chancellor’s Medal

British heptathlete Jessica Ennis and Paul McKay, captain of the highly successful 2008 Sheffield University Challenge team, are to receive the University of Sheffield’s Chancellor’s Medal. The annual award recognises a final-year student or recent graduate of the University who has achieved outstanding attainment in academic or sporting or personal achievements.

This year the University’s Chancellor, Sir Peter Middleton, was so impressed with the achievements of both Paul and Jessica that he decided to award two medals.

Jessica, who graduated with a BSc in Psychology last year, has been awarded the medal in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the field of international athletics, where she is currently ranked fourth in the world in the heptathlon.

While studying for her degree Jessica received her first international success, winning a bronze medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, held in Melbourne. She was eighth in the European Championships later that year, and then in 2007 came sixth in the European Indoor Championships and fourth in the World Championships, where she finished first in all three track events. In September 2007, Jessica won the inaugural European Athletics Rising Star Award.

Paul, who will graduate this month with an MArch in Architecture, has excelled both academically and in personal projects. He captained the Sheffield University Challenge team to the final of the quiz show, for the first time in the competition's 45-year history, achieving the highest score in all but one of the rounds leading up to this.

Paul has also gone out of his way to help disadvantaged members of the local community. As part of his degree programme, Paul emerged as the natural leader of a group working with Weston Park Hospital to develop an improved recreational area at the Cancer Support Centre.

He then followed this up by working as part of a team on a Ground Force makeover to create a garden for patients. In another project Paul worked with Sheffield City Council to improve the standard of facilities at the drop-in centre for adopted children in crisis.

Paul said, “This award is clearly a great honour. To be awarded a medal simply for having done the things that I enjoy doing is extremely fortunate. I have had the privilege to work and compete with some very intelligent, talented and devoted people during my two years at Sheffield and I feel I owe a lot to them for their support in helping me achieve this accolade.”

Jessica said, “It was such a lovely surprise when I received the letter from the University about the award. I really enjoyed my time at the University and the support I received from my tutors and head of department was brilliant. It was difficult studying, training and competing all at the same time but I was determined to get a degree. I really appreciate being recognised in this way and I hope it shows other young people that if you have that drive and enthusiasm to succeed you can achieve anything you want.”

Professor Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said, “Paul and Jessica are two outstanding graduates who I feel extremely proud to list as our alumni. They have both shown tremendous commitment to their chosen fields and have been ambassadors for both the University and the city of Sheffield.

“I wish them both well in their chosen careers and want to thank them for the excellent contribution they have made whilst at Sheffield. I also wish Jessica a speedy recovery and hope to see her competing on the international circuit again soon.”