Alumni engagement and philanthropy


01 July 2019

Gift Sotonye-Frank – a PhD student in the School of Law recognised for her dedication to the area of gender, sexuality and human rights, with a focus on female’s rights, including the right to education for young women in Nigeria – is the winner of the 2019 First Trust Bank Queen’s Student of the Year Award.

Elected in March as the 2019/20 Students’ Union Vice-President Postgraduate Officer, Gift was previously a Women’s Officer campaigning on issues of importance to women students in the Union, University and beyond and supporting the engagement of female students.

She was chosen as 2019 Student of the Year for her contribution to student life and for being the voice of women students at Queen’s.

The annual Student Award, which is now in its 21st year, is presented by the Queen’s Graduates’ Association (QGA) with generous support from First Trust Bank and is one of the highlights of Graduation Week.

It recognises exceptional individuals for excellence, achievement or service either to the University or to the wider community.

Speaking about this year’s Award, Charlotte Maguire, University Road Branch Manager at First Trust Bank, said: “We are delighted once again to join with the University and the Queen’s Graduates’ Association in the presentation of this eminent award.

“We have been supporting the Graduate and Student of the Year Awards since their inception in 1999. Our endorsement recognises and celebrates the achievements of all those Queen's students who make such a huge contribution to life not just at the University, but throughout Northern Ireland and further afield.

“The 2019 Student of the Year – Gift Sotonye-Frank – is an inspirational role model not just for female and international students but for all students, and at both under- and postgraduate level.”

Gift was nominated by Joanne Graham, a member of staff in The Graduate School at Queen’s who said: “Gift is a very worthy Student of the Year, having inspired staff and students through her work ethic and her dedication to support others at Queen’s and in the world around her.

“She is passionate about supporting females, especially in her home country, Nigeria, where young pregnant females face challenges accessing education,” added Joanne.

Among her many achievements over the last 12 months, Gift represented the School of Law at the final of the Vitae National 3 Minute Thesis Competition, was the voice of female students as she served as Women’s Officer in the Students’ Union, secured a bid as part of Development Weeks to host a Gender Social Justice and Innovation Conference and was elected as the new SU VP Postgraduate Officer. In her new role, she will focus on work-life balance and mental health, and sourcing work experience placements for international students.

Throughout the year Gift was heavily involved in recruitment events for the University and spoke at a number of key events. And as part of a widening participation initiative within the School of Law, Gift is also a Law Tutor on the Pathways Opportunity Programme, a widening participation programme that focuses on teaching young people from underprivileged areas and supporting them in their next steps towards further education.

Commenting on the Award Gift said: “I am delighted – and very excited – to have been selected as this year’s First Trust Bank Queen’s Student of the Year. I have really enjoyed my three years at Queen’s; getting involved in women’s issues and speaking out on behalf of international students is a personal passion.

“Queen’s has equipped me with a range of analytical, planning and leadership skills, which I know will stand me in good stead in my future career.”

Speaking ahead of the presentation, Fergal McFerran, whose term as President of the QGA came to an end on 25 June, believes that the Award acknowledges all that is great about Queen’s. He said: “This summer’s Student of the Year Award recognises the wide-ranging impact of a talented individual who is a role model to many, both within and beyond the University.

“Gift Sotonye-Frank is a highly motivated and focused individual and someone who is widely respected by her fellow students, within the Students’ Union and across the University.

“For the example she sets and for her contribution in the incredibly important area of gender equality, Gift richly deserves recognition this year.” 

An LLB Law graduate of the University of Jos in Central Nigeria (2000), Gift LLM in Gender Sexuality and Human Rights (2008) Keele University UK and an MPhil University of Leicester (2015). Her PhD, which she will complete later this year, is entitled ‘Rethinking the Rights based Approach for Education of the Girl Child in Nigeria’.

The Student of the Year Award was presented by the QGA President, Victoria Denoon, at the 5pm graduation ceremony on Monday 1 July. Gift received a trophy from Queen’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Greer, and over the summer, a cheque for £500.

The Graduate of the Year will be announced later in the year and presented at the Charter Day Dinner in November.

Award and QGA enquiries can be directed to Stephen O’Reilly, Alumni Officer (Engagement), Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast; tel: +44 (0)28 9097 1945.

To submit graduate news items, or for general enquiries about this story, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast or telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

Picture caption (L-R): Helen Surgenor (Acting Director, Development and Alumni Relations Office); Charlotte Maguire, Branch Manager, First Trust Bank University Road; Gift Sotonye-Frank (Student of the Year); Victoria Denoon, President of the QGA; and Professor Ian Greer, President and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University Belfast.

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