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Warwick Sutton Scholars 2021: Food and sustainable development

Vegetables including kale, peppers, and butternut squash lined up on supermarket shelves

Warwick Sutton Scholars

Warwick Sutton Scholars is a two-year programme for Year 8 and 9 students from under-represented backgrounds in higher education across the West Midlands. Coordinated by Warwick's Widening Participation and Outreach team, the aim of the programme is to inspire students to consider university as an option for the future.

This year's team

The Year 9 programme is run in collaboration with the GSD Department. The programme usually consists of a two-day residential and several campus days, culminating with a graduation event. Due to the pandemic, this year the programme was run entirely online, with more (shorter) events.

The GSD team involved in the programme this year included two GSD student ambassadors: Beth Disdel, Philosophy and GSD graduate; and Akshaya Shekaran, single honours GSD graduate. Beth and Akshaya worked under the guidance of Dr Marta Guerriero, Associate Professor in GSD; and Dr Maria Gavris, Senior Teaching Fellow in GSD, to design and deliver the academic content of the programme.

"Being a student ambassador for the Sutton Scholars project has been such an amazing experience. We’ve seen students identify a problem relating to food and the Sustainable Development Goals, conduct their own research and design a solution to address the issue."

Akshaya Shekaran, single honours GSD graduate and student ambassador

"The GSD team have been an integral part of this important Widening Participation initiative for several years and it’s great to see the relationship continue, in what has been the most challenging of years. The enthusiasm of the staff and students from the department is demonstrated through their commitment to supporting young people from under represented backgrounds. The work that the young people produce is of a high quality and the experience of working with the GSD team will doubtlessly benefit the Year 8 and 9 students as they move through their schooling."

Damien Homer, Widening Participation Faculty Co-ordinator (Arts)

"We couldn’t run the programme at all without our fabulous team of Warwick Sutton Scholars Mentors (all current Warwick students) who supported the group throughout the year at the live events and in between on the virtual platform. We are also grateful to the GSD staff and ambassadors for all of their continued support with this programme and we look forward to working with you again in the future."

Catherine McNicholl, Widening Participation Officer

The central Widening Participation (WP) team this year was led by Catherine McNicholl, Widening Participation Officer. The WP team also included Emily Cannon, Outreach Officer; Vicki Hill, Outreach Officer; and Sarah Glassborow, Widening Participation Assistant.

This year's theme

The participants worked in groups on a research project titled 'Every Plate Tells a Story', aimed at addressing a problem linked to food and sustainable development. They established a research question, conducted primary research (surveys), and designed an intervention aimed at tackling the problem.

Virtual events, research projects, and graduation

The first virtual event took place in November 2020, kicking off with a quiz on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participants' favourite theme was food miles and in particular the homework activity that involved checking the food in their fridges to see where the food was from and how far it had travelled. The Sutton Scholars started their research projects early in the new year, working in groups to think about their research questions, surveys and interventions.

The culminating event of the programme, the graduation, took place on Wednesday 30 June 2021. All of the groups had the opportunity to showcase their research to a panel of judges. The panel included Dr Marta Guerriero, Associate Professor in GSD; Dr Maria Gavris, Senior Teaching Fellow in GSD; Damien Homer, Widening Participation Faculty Co-ordinator (Arts); Beth Disdel, Philosophy and GSD graduate; and Akshaya Shekaran, single honours GSD graduate.

"One of the best parts of the programme was seeing how creative, detailed and innovative the interventions were, such as a cook-off using Fairtrade ingredients, adjusted to the requirements of social distancing! The presentations were of incredible quality, which showed the students' progress and hard work."

Akshaya Shekaran, single honours GSD graduate and student ambassador

"The project proposals that the Sutton Scholars produced were undeniably interesting to read, well thought through, and of a high standard. Seeing young people challenge their own thinking patterns in regard to sustainability, as well as navigate ways to approach others to produce lively discourse around certain topics, was a delight. Well done everyone!"

Beth Disdel, Philosophy and GSD graduate and student ambassador

During the graduation event, the winning groups and the runners up were announced:

Best presentation

Group 4

Group 4's presentation focused on food miles. The presentation linked to SDGs 4, 7, 12 and 13. The group's intervention was in the form of a poster, "to inform people about the issues food miles cause and to increase people's awareness", encouraging people to buy food that is locally sourced, supporting local businesses and the environment.

Most engaged

Group 5

Group 5's presentation also centred on food miles, looking at the ways we can reduce how far our food travels and its impacts on the environment. The group highlighted some of the possible ways to reduce food miles, including: checking labels on products, buying locally produced food, and growing your own food.

Runner up

Group 9

Group 9's presentation looked at the topic of healthy eating. The presentation linked to SDGs 3 and 12. From their survey results, the group found that "people often choose unhealthy food over healthy options because it is more convenient and less time consuming". Their intervention took the form of a cookbook to encourage healthy eating.

Runner up

Group 1

Group 1's presentation focused on the impacts of Fairtrade, connecting to SDGs 1 and 12. From their survey results, the group proposed an intervention around education. Their intervention took the form of a 'cook off' for school students, to "help spread awareness of Fairtrade and its impact".

Congratulations to all the Sutton Scholars for their hard work during this year’s programme. You should be proud of what you’ve achieved during your time with us. We hope to see you on campus in a few years!

"It has been a real pleasure to work on the Warwick Sutton Scholars programme this year. I would like to thank the young people for the enthusiasm they have shown, and their level of engagement, during what has been a very unusual year! I was impressed by the quality of the projects they’ve submitted, which shows how much they’ve learned. Having watched them develop creative solutions to real-world problems, I have no doubt that these young people will go on to achieve great things!"

Dr Maria Gavris, Senior Teaching Fellow in GSD

"We are incredibly proud of all the young people who have participated in their second year of the Warwick Sutton Scholars (WSS) programme. Bearing in mind that we only had one in-person Campus Day prior to the first lockdown, the fact so many came back for Year 2 is amazing. We have been blown away by the hard work, creativity and general resilience shown by this group of Year 9 pupils."

Catherine McNicholl, Widening Participation Officer

Hear from the Warwick Sutton Scholars

Students' highlights from the project: interesting things, the amazing ideas, making new friends, working with new people, it was fun, learning about food miles, meeting new friends, solving modern problems, seeing what uni is like, having fun, fun group project, the ideas, the team work, meeting new people, explore virtual platforms, finding unique solutions, teamwork, working with my group, seeing everyone's opinion, working with others, my amazing mentors, working together, prizes, working as a group, collaborating together

"Working with everyone involved in the Sutton Scholars project was a wonderful experience. Everyone I encountered was entirely committed and it was truly reflected in the quality of the outcomes. The students in particular should be so incredibly proud of themselves!"

Beth Disdel, Philosophy and GSD graduate and student ambassador

"Even though the programme took place online rather than in-person this year, it was amazing to see how engaged the students continued to be with their topics. I’m very grateful to have been part of their journey in the programme!"

Akshaya Shekaran, single honours GSD graduate and student ambassador