We are delighted to announce the shortlist for this year’s Alumna of the Year, our annual award celebrating the considerable achievements of our alumnae. The award recognises those who have championed a charitable cause, achieved outstanding academic or professional success, driven social or environmental change or provided inspiration to women or young people.
As with previous years, we have an incredibly strong list of candidates from a range of different fields from which everyone is invited to vote for their winner. Full details of the shortlist are below.
Northampton High School
Outstanding research into the effects of air pollution on human health & ecosystems
Helen ApSimon CBE is Professor of Air Pollution Studies at Imperial College London. Her research has led her into studying the effects of nuclear accidents, acid rain, excess tropospheric ozone and fine particulate concentration.
Air pollution is one of the main contributors of chest and bronchial infections leading to premature death across the globe. Helen is among a relatively small number of female scientists who are globally recognised as leaders in their field and her work and membership of EU and UN bodies has had a significant impact on improving human health and ecosystems.
Throughout her career, she has worked extensively in Europe and chaired the European Association for the Science of Air Pollution (EURASAP). As a young scientist, she witnessed the damage on forests caused by the thoughtless siting of energy intensive industries in Eastern Europe which strengthened her determination to make air pollution her life work.
Helen co-founded the Air Pollution Research in London (APRIL) network, helping to flag up air quality blackspots in the capital. She has been a member of the UN ECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution, and is on the Air Expert Group of DEFRA and the Airborne Particles Expert Group.
Helen was also a member of the expert panel of the Airports Commission which studied the UK's long-term aviation capacity, and where investment should be made. Its report relied heavily on the impact any investment would have on air quality and the environment.
Her work is highly interdisciplinary, linking science and policy development.
Oxford High School
Outstanding contribution to policing
In 2017, Cressida was appointed the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in its 188-year history.
The full copy of Cressida's nomination will be available soon.
South Hampstead High School
Outstanding contribution to STEM education
Emily is an expert in molecular genetics with a Double First Natural Sciences from Cambridge & a PhD in cancer research. Her work today is as a science broadcaster, educator, writer & trainer; teaching STEM at all levels, & explaining science to a wide range of audiences.
Selected as a “BBC Expert Woman”, she is the resident science expert for a number of television & radio shows, including work for ITV, Sky1, Discovery Channel, C4 & the BBC. Emily’s YouTube series, produced in collaboration with the BBC & Royal Institution, has been viewed over 300,000 times. Her work has contributed to the educational programme of the Science Museum, learned societies & several universities. Her science shows are the hot ticket at STEM fairs (Big Bang, Teen Tech) & literary festivals (Hay, Cheltenham, Emirates, JW3). Her first book has recently been published by DK Books. Emily delivers training for early career researchers & science communicators.
Emily is an advocate for gender equality & diversity in STEM. She debated women in science alongside Breitbart News’ Milo Yiannopoulos on Sky News. She’s since spoken at a number of feminist conferences, been interviewed for national newspapers & written for the British Council. Her Tedx talk “Why Science Needs People Who Cry” has been viewed by 10,000 people. She was featured on BBC Woman’s Hour talking about the politics of crying in the workplace.
Emily’s talks in schools, universities & at science festivals inspire & enthuse all audiences, convincing girls to follow their dreams, irrespective of what other people tell them.
Sutton High School
Outstanding contribution to the Royal Navy
Lt Cdr Maryla Ingham is a Sutton High School old girl who read Law at UCL before joining the Royal Navy at the age of 21 in 1999. She is now the Commanding Officer of HMS BROCKLESBY, a HUNT Class Minesweeper. She is the only female Commanding Officer among the 19 off shore patrol and mine-sweeping vessels in the Royal Navy and commands an all-male Crew of 45 sailors. She is currently leading her team as part of a joint military and industry partnership to bring BROCKLESBY out of an extensive refit with the Ship returning to sea in summer 17.
In the 18 years since she joined the Royal Navy, Maryla has spent 14 years in warships serving at sea around the World from the Far East to Home Waters. She started her sea going career in HMS CAMPBELTOWN off the coast of Somalia as part of Operation Enduring Freedom following the September 11 attacks in 2001. She was the only female on her yearlong Principal Warfare Officers Course, learning to fight the Ship from the Operations Room and served as the Operations Officer of the Type 45 destroyer HMS DIAMOND. Having previously navigated the Type 42 Destroyer HMS MANCHESTER, she passed the demanding Aircraft Carrier Navigation Course to become the first female Navigator of HMS OCEAN, the biggest Ship currently in Service in the Royal Navy. Maryla has commanded three Warships including BROCKLESBY, firstly HMS EXPLOIT where she was also in charge of the Birmingham Universities Royal Naval Unit, helping young people to make the most of their potential and then HMS MIDDLETON deploying to the Arabian Gulf for 7 ½ months as part of the Royal Navy’s presence in the area, helping to keep sea lanes open and ensuring the maritime trade on which we depend could flow freely.
Maryla has proved that women can succeed in a male dominated world and she has operated thousands of miles from home for large parts of her career away from her husband and normal support networks. She said: “The Royal Navy is a meritocracy and although it has been tough at times, the confidence I developed in my time at Sutton High has helped me thrive. Together with hard work and perseverance, it means women can succeed in any career they choose; don't be limited by lack of confidence - the opportunities are there if you want them."
Wimbledon High School
Outstanding charitable work in the Middle East, Africa & Europe
Saskia has spent the last decade working in some of the world’s most conflicted areas - from Kosovo, Gaza, to the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was the United Nation’s youngest ever employee aged 24, and is one of a relatively small cohort of women working on conflict, stabilisation and anti-radicalisation issues – areas traditionally dominated by men. In Gaza, Saskia set up and ran the UN's largest ever community engagement programme despite military incursions, an economic embargo and threats by extremist groups. ‘Summer Games’ provided 250,000 Gazan children every summer with opportunities to both play and learn, and in doing so taught children the values that form the fabric of civilised society - respect for others; tolerance ; the concept of rights, but also responsibilities. The initiative has had lasting impact on social dynamics in Gaza.
Saskia has been fearless in seeking to deliver real change for people who are in often desperate situations. Particularly with Summer Games, Saskia gave over and above what might be expected– putting her own life at risk to ensure the initiative went ahead, to give children hope, and to perhaps help contribute, one day, to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Saskia continues to work on addressing socio-political challenges in difficult parts of the world, most recently in Tunisia where she is leading a programme with young men at risk of joining fundamentalist groups in Syria and Iraq. She maintains her links to the Middle East and runs, in her spare time, a small charity called Hope and Play working with grassroots organisations in Gaza.
Howell's School, Llandaff
Outstanding sporting achievements
Hannah Mills MBE won a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics in the women's 470 sailing event and was awarded an MBE in the 2017 New Year honours for services to sailing. Hannah Mills began sailing, aged eight, on a family trip to Cornwall. Bitten by the sailing bug, Hannah became involved with the RYA, where she came to the attention of the Welsh National Squad. She won a series of world titles in a stellar junior career, and in 2002 Hannah was voted UK Young Sailor of the Year and BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year. She teamed up with sailing partner Saskia Clarke just 18 months before London 2012, but saw immediate success on the water, winning silver at the 2011 World Championships and gold the next year. At the London Olympics, they won silver, but remained determined to bring home a gold medal for Team GB. Despite losing their coach, and a violent mugging on the streets of Rio, the pair continued racing, and in August 2016 they sailed to Olympic gold victory.
Courageous, resourceful and talented, Hannah Mills is an inspiration. Despite the disappointment of narrowly missing out on a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, she exhibited tenacity and self-assurance beyond all measure to achieve her goal at the Rio Olympics. Her Rio 2016 win has given her fame beyond the sailing community; Hannah is an ambassador for the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, a charity that encourages children of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy sailing; and in 2017 she will be working with the NSPCC, going into schools to inspire young people to be as assured, confident and determined as she is.
South Hampstead High School
Outstanding work in the field of advertising & technology
Having earned a double first in Mathematics at Oxford, Sophie’s career began in strategy consulting, before moving into paid media. She has overseen the massive growth of Brainlabs (Most Impressive Agency Growth 2015, 2016 at the UK Agency Awards) since its founding, and as COO is responsible for all client services departments. Under Sophie’s leadership, Brainlabs now employ over 100 people, up from just 8 in 2014. They have just opened an office in New York. Sophie has pitched and secured £4m of new business, delivering an average of 42% increase in sales across the client portfolio. She has picked up 11 industry awards, including the IPA Woman of Tomorrow and the Everywoman Technology Inspiration award. She has been invited to speak at conferences and deliver keynotes in London, Paris, New York, Berlin and Amsterdam. Sophie is regularly invited into Google’s offices for consultation and hosts a regular industry event ‘PPC Chat Live’.
At Brainlabs, Sophie revamped performance review and introduced new recruitment guidelines to overcome inherent gender bias. Under her leadership, the gender balance has shifted from 25% to 49% women; unusually high for a company within the marketing/tech sector. When Sophie’s pay equality plan made national news (BBC, Guardian) it was met with negative feedback. She was brave enough to fight back; increasing women's pay by an average of 8.6%. Sophie has created open-source award-winning pieces of tech, which displays her commitment to advancing the industry, and her goal to define best practices, rather than following them. Sophie encourages Brainlabs employees to engage with the local community; running the Brainlabs work experience scheme and giving talks about sustainability for young people.
Norwich High School
Outstanding contribution to British Diplomacy
Alice Walpole is the British Ambassador to the Sahel countries of Mali and Niger, based in Bamako, where her focus at present includes developing the UK role in combating human-trafficking, modern slavery and violent extremism across the Sahara region and supporting implementation of the Malian peace process. Previously, she was the British Ambassador to Luxembourg (2011-2016), and immediately before that she was the British Consul General in Basra, Iraq (2009-2011).
Alice began her career at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1985, and has served overseas, in addition to Mali, Luxembourg and Iraq, at the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York (twice), the UK Representation to the European Union in Brussels, the UK delegation to NATO and in the British High Commission in Dar es Salaam. Her home postings in London have included Head of the Foreign Office’s Peacekeeping Unit and Deputy Head of the (cross-Government) Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit.
Alice Walpole’s exemplary career in the Foreign Office has seen her in leadership positions across the world, often in extremely difficult security environments. In Iraq, she led the follow-on mission after the British military withdrew from Basra, during which posting she slept in a shipping container and was accompanied everywhere by a close protection team, with the enduring risk of incoming rockets, explosive devices on roads and kidnap when travelling.
The challenges she has faced as a woman in some of the world’s most volatile regions are made even more remarkable as she is the very hands-on mother to six (now adult) children. She dedicated herself to one of the most daunting and dangerous jobs any British diplomat could, whilst balancing a busy family life.
Her exceptional achievement was recognised in the 2017 New Year's Honours List, when she was awarded an OBE. Despite her many commitments, Alice has made time throughout her career to mentor younger women and girls, and volunteered to launch the inaugural “Inspiring Females” Symposium at Norwich High School in 2016.
The deadline for voting is midday on Friday 12 May 2017. The winner will be announced at the GDST Annual Reception in June, where they will receive a trophy and a £500 donation for the charity of their choice. They will also be interviewed for our alumnae magazine, Verve.