First-year engineering student Luke Collinson finished ahead of thousands of others this year to be named as an undergraduate of the year in a national competition. However, as Luke reflects, it hasn’t been an easy journey.
To say growing up wasn’t easy for Luke Collinson would be an understatement. He endured a turbulent childhood in and out of care and attended more than ten schools along the way. Fast forward to the present day and he’s going into his second year of an engineering course, has won a national award and has just completed a summer internship with a major engineering firm.
“I wasn’t the best student, historically,” Luke thinks back. “I’ve had my highs and lows, but I have tenacity and I’m trying to get myself into a better situation in life.”
The original self-confessed “naughty kid” was kicked out from one school for hacking into their IT department before being brought back to shore up their online security. However, he worked hard achieving A-levels in maths, physics and chemistry while living alone, and was awarded Undergraduate Student of the Year for Engineering at the 2019 TARGETjobs Awards.
A tenacious streak
The national competition received more than 4,000 entries from 138 different universities across the UK. Reaching the final is a huge achievement for the student finalists – and particularly for Luke as only 6% of care leavers in the UK enrol at university.
“Winning the award was pretty unbelievable,” Luke says. “People come to university for a variety of reasons but, for me, it’s a genuine necessity to get out of poverty. If I’m not here then I’m either homeless or working in a dead-end job and I want more than that.”
That tenacity is what drew Hampshire-born Luke to Manchester in the first place, following in his sisters’ footsteps by studying at the opposite end of the country to where he grew up.
As he recalls: “My sisters came here and they did really well so I thought, why not?”
I’ve had my highs and lows, but I have tenacity and I’m trying to get myself into a better situation in life.
Making the most of it
It’s fair to say that Luke has made the most of his first year, with a summer placement at Laing O’Rourke at Manchester Airport being his reward.
He enjoyed a summer of working his way through their various departments, from undertaking mechanical, electrical and public health work to project leadership.
“The placement was amazing and totally exceeded my expectations,” Luke beams.
“My favourite part was the digital engineering department. The technology they use is amazing. They basically have this system in place now where you can envisage whatever you’re building as a finished product through AI technology. It was good to see that in action.”
Luke’s experience has inspired big plans. He has an idea for a fleet of drones made using sheets of graphene that will transport medicine between Manchester and London in 40 minutes.
Support where it matters
Support has come in all shapes and sizes for Luke’s Manchester journey. The foundation year team who cheered him on through ups and downs, the student recruitment team championing him and other care leavers to succeed, and the accommodation team who were compassionate towards his circumstances – they’ve all made a difference.
“I’ve met so many incredible staff this year that help make the University tick,” says Luke. “As a collective, people have been really caring, considerate and understanding. I’d like to say a big thank you to them.”
Find out more about the award and Luke's journey.