WATCH: Stephen Fry congratulates Dundee academics for awards victories

Stephen Fry said he hopes to visit Dundee this year as he praised university academics for helping transform lives in Scotland and across the world.

The writer and broadcaster commended Dundee University staff for their efforts in communicating their research to the public at the Stephen Fry Awards for Excellence in Public Engagement with Research.

He also said he hoped his diary would allow a trip to the City of Discovery in the university’s 50th anniversary year.

A project seeking to improve the lives of vulnerable and marginalised street children in Africa was named Public Engagement Project of the Year, while Professor Jennifer Woof won the Engaged Researcher of the Year prize in recognition of her with schools and the public to raise awareness of science.

Speaking in a video message played at the university’s annual Discovery Days ceremony in the Dalhousie Building, Mr Fry congratulated the winners.

He said: “I want to congratulate the winners who have both done extraordinary work in fields which are, to me, the most important in academia. They are public engagement and education about the involvement of research in improving lives, especially those of the most vulnerable who are, of course, children in poverty in the urban areas of the world. I can’t think of two more worthy winners and so I want to commend them and all those who have contributed.

“I really am so proud of my involvement with Dundee University. I think it is extraordinary how the institution is growing and growing.

“In every direction it seems to be improving, from its research to its student experience which, as an ex-rector, I find that to be a deeply important part of how an institution functions.”

Led by Professor Lorraine van Blerk, the Growing up on the Streets team worked with hundreds of street children and youth in the African cities of Accra, Bukavu and Harare. They aimed to understand the capabilities of youths on the street in their daily lives, in order to improve policies and practices that transform lives.

The team, which also included Dr Wayne Shand, Janine Hunter and three project managers in Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe, built relationships with young people, local project teams and peer practitioners across Africa. In collaboration with UK-based charity StreetInvest, the university researchers gathered and analysed over 3,000 interviews and focus groups, creating the largest ever database of the lives of young street people.

Professor Woof’s public engagement work includes hosting work experience placements designed to help school pupils progress to higher education. She involved one such pupil in the design of experiments and a public engagement event to raise the awareness of coeliac disease.

Professor Woof and the pupil wrote a paper detailing the engagement activity that has been submitted to the international peer-reviewed Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education.

The Stephen Fry Awards celebrate the sharing of the world-class research carried out at Dundee with the wider public and is given to the project and researcher that made the greatest contribution to public engagement in the past year.

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