Karla Hitchins, a final-year Aston University psychology student, has been awarded the Christopher J Hewitt Prize for exceptional student citizenship in the College of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University, for her work setting up the Aston Creative Wellbeing Group.
The prize is named after and in tribute of Professor Christopher J Hewitt FREng who 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.
Karla set up the Aston Creative Wellbeing Group in 2022, with the aim of connecting students through art and crafts to enhance wellbeing. More than 120 participants joined the group in its first term in autumn 2022, with nine more sessions taking place over the 2023 spring term.
The judging panel, which consisted of three post-doctoral researchers across the College and Chris’s widow Sandra Hewitt, was unanimous in its decision to award the prize to Karla.
“The panel very much liked that Karla had started Aston Creative Wellbeing, an inclusive, initiative open to, and attended by students from a variety of courses with an emphasis on relaxing and taking a break from work. Sandra commented that promoting a work-life balance was very important to Chris. The panel wishes Karla well in the idea of promoting this idea to other universities in the UK,” the panellists said in their citation.
Karla is “honoured” to win the prize, recognising not only her efforts but also Aston Creative Wellbeing as a whole.
“A safe, inclusive space to express yourself is vital at university and a vision I held when setting up the group. It gave students opportunity to freely express themselves through engaging in creative activities. Attendees could also meet and socialise with new people across different courses. We held around 18 sessions with activities such as rock painting, poetry and learning new skills like crocheting which were all showcased on our Instagram page: @aston_creative_wellbeing. I am incredibly grateful to the students and staff who supported the establishment and successful functioning of this group without whom this would not have been possible.
“Looking ahead, I am continuing my studies at Aston University and I am also interested in further researching how the group benefits university students,” she said.
Professor Anthony Hilton, Executive Dean of the College of Health and Life Sciences, said: “Chris was a passionate advocate of the importance of community, both within Aston University and the local region and he understood the value of what people could achieve when they work and play together. I’m delighted we can recognise and celebrate the values Chris held dear with this award to Karla for her work with Aston Creative Wellbeing and wish her all the best for the future.”
In 2022, MPharm student Hanan Tahir won the prize for his support helping colleagues achieve their goals through mentoring and his significant charity work. The inaugural award in 2021 went to neuroscience PhD student Clíona Kelly for her advocacy for diversity and the contribution of Black scientists in neuroscience-related fields.