Published on 27/07/2021
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Winner of Chris Hewitt prize
  • The Prize was established to commemorate the life and work of eminent scientist Professor Christopher J Hewitt
  • It is awarded for exceptional student citizenship in the College of Health and Life Sciences
  • Clíona Kelly, a second year PhD student, is its first recipient for her advocacy for diversity and the contribution of Black scientists in neuroscience-related fields 

The inaugural Christopher J Hewitt Prize for exceptional student citizenship in the College of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University has been awarded to Clíona Kelly, a second year neuroscience doctoral student, in recognition of her advocacy for diversity and support of fellow students from diverse backgrounds.    

Professor Christopher J Hewitt FREng was pro-vice chancellor and executive dean of the School of Life and Health Sciences and professor of biological engineering from November 2014 until July 2019. Chris sadly passed away on 25 July 2019 at the age of 50; an eminent scientist and truly devoted family man. 

To commemorate Chris’s life and to celebrate the values that he held dear, the Christopher J Hewitt Prize was established in 2021 to recognise exemplary citizenship through support of other students, contribution to the Aston University community or achievement in the face of adversity.

The judging panel, which consisted of five research fellows and Chris’s widow Sandra Hewitt, noted that Clíona stood out due to the diversity of her contribution. Cliona is currently an advocate for diversity and supports her fellow students through scholarship development, peer support and a number of initiatives such as Black in Neuro, of which is she a founding member; and the community groups Sip ‘n Study and the PhD Hive. 

Cliona also mentored students in schools, was an aim higher ambassador and held a number of other voluntary positions including Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Nice Time on Saturday and the Pathway to Healthcare Summer school. 

The judging panel also noted that neither of Clíona’s parents went to university and that she has taken the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement to promote black scientists.

On receiving her award, Clíona said: “Outreach and widening participation are matters that I hold close to me and so I am truly heart-warmed and grateful to my peers for nominating me. 

“The University has always provided outreach opportunities for students since my first year of undergraduate and it is one of the things I like about being a part of #TeamAston. With these initiatives being important to the university, I hope we can continue to grow and become a more inclusive and progressive environment.”

Sandra Hewitt, Chris’s widow, added: “I was touched and honoured to be invited to present Clíona with the inaugural Christopher J Hewitt Memorial Prize. The candidates were all of a high standard, but we concluded that Cliona is a worthy winner who has shown exceptional character, achieving amazing things and has gone the extra mile.

"The afternoon was a fitting occasion where all members of the College were able to socialise together and enjoy the lovely BBQ - which was one of Chris’s great passions - ‘there is nothing you can’t cook on a BBQ’ was one of his mottos. Congratulations again to Clíona.”

Professor Anthony Hilton, executive dean of the College of Life and Health Sciences, said: “I was delighted to see Clíona receive the Christopher J Hewitt Prize and to meet her and her nominators at the celebratory summer event.  It makes me exceptionally proud to see members of the College demonstrating the culture and values we hold dear and being held in such high regard by their peers.”

To learn more about Black In Neuro you can visit the website. 

For more information about studying neuroscience at Aston University please go to our website.

Notes to editors

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world. 

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44)7557 745416 or email:

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