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NEON Student of the Year Allison Vitalis scores a first at UEL

Students attend a seminar

Allison Vitalis, who helps victims of knife crime, has earned a first-class honours degree

University of East London graduate Allison Vitalis, who won Student of the Year in the 2019 National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) Awards, has just gained a first-class degree in clinical and community psychology from the University.

She has also stepped up her voluntary work helping victims of knife crime and is passionate about wanting to help young people at risk and families who have been affected by such crime.

Allison, 43, from Hackney, was a mature student at the University doing her degree over a four-year period while being a single parent to two children, Brandon, 19 and Ariètte, 7.

Despite a hectic lifestyle involving her family, her work and her studies, Allison still managed to find time to get involved in a number of volunteer projects and is a strong advocate of supporting victims of knife crime.

Allison won the NEON award primarily for her contribution as a student ambassador to the University’s widening participation team. Her work started in her foundation year, supporting the widening participation team to design and deliver curriculum related sessions about psychology to secondary and post-16 students.

Allison said, "I was amazed to have gained a first-class honours degree. I never thought that I would achieve that. This, on top of having won the Student of the Year, has made it a great year after all the tough times I have been through trying to achieve my goals and bring up a family.”

Allison said that she first became interested in helping victims of knife crime back in 2016 while working part-time with the Hackney Playstreet organisation. The organisation helps young people to have better facilities by enabling them to play in the streets from time to time by arranging certain streets to be closed off for play.

“It was at that point I became aware of the effects of knife crime,” Allison explained. “Then my nephew Ramone, who is now 25, got stabbed and that made me even more convinced that something had to be done. Fortunately he is OK and has recovered.

“But I hope that the work I am doing is helping to save lives and that I have helped to provide comfort to parents and families who have lost children through this kind of crime.”

Allison added that she hoped to use her degree to further provide support to her community.

She said, "Receiving an award gave me the confidence needed to see me through the last hurdle of my undergraduate degree and to achieving academic success. It has increased my motivation to continue my dedicated work within the community that I care so much about. Now I can use my knowledge and academic practices to support victims, working together towards eliminating knife crime and youth violence.”

Allison is also a social coach with the UN-accredited charity Youth Charter, plus a volunteer project director of The Charlie Burns Foundation and The Shaquan Sammy-Plummer Foundation. 

Allison’s goal is to obtain her PhD in research. She aims to take a one-year break this year to dedicate this time to shape both foundations and community projects and fulfil objectives, before returning to the University of East London for postgraduate study.

The NEON Awards provide a platform to celebrate the successes and accomplishments of NEON’s members and their learners in widening access to higher education and enabling social mobility across the UK. Allison was chosen over 90 competitors.