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Sunderland theatre’s rock-solid reward for city students

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Published on 07 October 2021

George Vasilakis, Moesha Ezeala, Empire Theatre Director Marie Nixon, Carol Reed, Adele Bowman and Lauren Peterson
George Vasilakis, Moesha Ezeala, Empire Theatre Director Marie Nixon, Carol Reed, Adele Bowman and Lauren Peterson

Sunderland students who have gone the extra mile to support others during the global pandemic have been recognised for their efforts with an invite to the Sunderland Empire for a special gala night. 

The Gala performance of the West End hit musical School of Rock, is a ‘thank you’ by the Empire to all its supporters, as well as rewarding University of Sunderland students for all their hard work this last 18 months in their efforts to support others. 

Academics had the challenge of identifying those students the opportunity to enjoy the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, they included: Carol Reed (Learning Disability Nursing Practice), Adele Bowman (Psychology), Lauren Peterson (Medicine), George Vasilakis (Web and Mobile Development), Moesha Ezeala (Medicinal Chemistry) and Christopher Izuchukwu Ezennadili (International Business Management). 

The students have done everything from vaccine support, working on hospital wards, supporting the local community, to providing new students with buddy schemes and even creating cookery videos to keep isolating students entertained through lockdown. 

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University, said: “We are very proud of all our students at the University.  

“However, it is only right that we recognise those who went above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic. The range of support these students provided, both to individuals and organisations, is quite extraordinary.  

“Even in the midst of unprecedented times, our students were prepared to look out for others. We are honoured to have them in our University community so it is only fitting that their efforts will be recognised at the special gala night at the Sunderland Empire.” 

School of Rock - the Musical is the Empire’s first big show from the heart of London's theatre-land since reopening this autumn, marking another milestone for the city venue on its journey back to normality. 

Theatre director Marie Nixon said: “The response from our audiences, partners and friends has been truly overwhelming and we’re so thankful that everyone in Sunderland and beyond has welcomed us back with open arms. 

"We are absolutely thrilled that audiences are returning to enjoy the very best in live theatrical entertainment 

She added: “We wanted to recognise the work of Sunderland students during these unprecedented times, going above and beyond to help others. They thoroughly deserve this recognition.” 

This is the first ever tour of School of Rock - based on the popular movie starring Jack Black which sees failed rock star Dewey Finn pose as a substitute teacher and turn his class of A students into a rock band - which had its debut in New York in 2015 and has since picked up Tony nominations and an Olivier Award.

About University of Sunderland Students  

  • Lauren Peterson in the University’s School of Medicine set up a Covid-19 peer support group among the medical students and also helped in the initial phase of the pandemic with the vaccination effort with at weekends.  

  • George Vasilakis, from Greece, joined the University of Sunderland last year, and is studying Web and Mobile Development 

    George is an International Officer at the Students Union, a Student Ambassador, Course Representative and a Wellbeing champion and made sure he got involved in creating content to make sure students were not feeling isolated or unsupported, from making cooking videos, meeting online with students and playing games, reading the news during the weekly Global Friendship Evening night. 

    George also became a course representative. He explains: “I always wanted to make sure that I contribute to a better student experience by collecting feedback and bringing solutions to the course, especially during the last 18 months, that was crucial, to make sure students get all the support available to them. Volunteering with the Students' Union and other areas of the University has enriched my student experience in ways I could not have imagined. The skills I have developed are helping me in all aspects of life, both professionally and in the pursuit of hobbies. Overall, the opportunity to help others and meet new people is the most rewarding aspect of volunteering.”  

  • Carol Reed has just qualified with a first-class degree after studying for the Learning Disability Nursing Practice course for three years and is now a registered Learning Disability nurse.   

    She said: “It has been a challenging 18 months for everyone. I opted to work on an inpatient ward when student placements were halted due to the pandemic. I tried to support fellow students when possible throughout the course.  

    “I just took each day at a time. There were some days I doubted my abilities. However, Ruth Wilson (Programme Lead) at the University encouraged me to believe in myself that I had the capabilities to qualify as a nurse.” 

  • Moesha Ezeala, from Teesside, is in the final year of her Medicinal Chemistry degree. 

    She developed a buddy-mentor scheme for first year students to act as a guide to ensure that they got the best possible experience out of their first year of university throughout the pandemic. 

    She added: “I also did many presentations, featuring 'what I wish I knew' sessions to first year and second year students over Teams sessions. When we were able to go on campus, I did presentations for the university about my experience as a student. While I was doing this, I was doing my placement year at Sterling Pharma Solutions. I also volunteered with Macmillan and wrote my own blog in the hope of helping others. 

    “By taking part in all of these activities, it has helped other people, and as a bonus it has allowed me to develop my personal and professional development!”  

    Moesha is currently the 2x Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnology Award winner for the highest marks in Biology and Biotechnology.  

  • Christopher Izuchukwu Ezennadili, from Nigeria, is studying the one-year Masters in International Business Management 

    Sacrificing his time to help other students became a lifeline for many students, as well as helping them to make the most of their university experience in difficult circumstances, through phone calls to check on their welfare and offer practical and emotional support, as well as mental health support. He also created a WhatsaApp group where students could participate in activities and have valuable interaction. 

    He explained: “This past 18 months has been a challenging time for everyone and can be particularly difficult for students away from family and friends. For many, student life is as much about the people you meet as it is about your studies, though sadly the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed both. 

    “I wanted to be a beacon of visible hope for my fellow students into settling in even as a new student myself. Many calls and messages would come in from students who were already in the UK or ones who were back in their various countries at the time.” 

    He added: “The support I provided doesn’t end with Covid-19. For me, helping has become an addiction and I’m willing to help all year round supporting local communities, providing financial assistant when I can with mobility aids, educational resources and phone calls to all students.”  

  • Adele Bowman, a Stage 3 Psychology student, and school coordinator for the school of Psychology.  

    As a course representative, students would come to Adele with issues and feedback and also just as someone to vent to and chat about the stress of university life. Adele would often help them with university work as well as just being an open ear for someone.  

    Adele said: “I was always responsive with student feedback and proactive at gathering it and using my initiative, and because of this a lot of students said positive things to many of my lecturers who all agreed that I made university life that little bit easier. 

    “It was really overwhelming hearing this actually, as a psychologist I just have this inbuilt drive to help others, and just to be supportive, and it’s incredibly heart-warming to know that it really eased some stress for them. 

    “I honestly can’t thank my peers and academics enough though, they’ve supported me throughout the last 18 months also and it’s been a time that has really brought a lot of people closer together through all the hardship.”