Ellie beats thousands of hopefuls to win national student award

Showing resilience in the face of personal challenges has earned national recognition for Ellie Lilliott, a first-year Mechanical Engineering student at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).


Competing against more than 5,000 applicants in the TARGETJobs awards, Ellie has been named Undergraduate of the Year for Excellence Through Adversity, earning significant prizes including a 10-week paid internship with award sponsor Rolls-Royce and a Nanodegree with Code Girls First.

Ellie, who has autism, inspired the judges for pursuing education against the odds. Poor mental health forced Ellie to drop out of school during Year 13, leaving her unable to take her A-level exams.

Thanks to her excellent school records and impressive extra curricula activities, Ellie was able to take up an unconditional offer to study at DMU following a two-year road to recovery.

“I was surprised to win given the calibre of the other finalists, but I’m hugely proud of this award. It has really boosted my confidence and it felt good to be recognised for my success in spite of my personal difficulties,” said the 20-year-old from Kent.

“The application process was rigorous. We started off by answering questions online and completing occupational personality questionnaires, inductive reasoning tests and situational judgement tests.

“After that, shortlisted applicants were required to attend an online assessment centre, where there were networking opportunities, interviews and presentations. It was really rewarding knowing that all of the time and effort I put into each stage paid off.”

Due to her autism, Ellie has sensory issues, can struggle socially and requires routine, so transitioning to university life was difficult at first.

She said: “I’m not good with change, but I have a lot of support from DMU’s disability team and my personal tutor, which has made my university experience a really positive one.

“I’ve also been able to continue rowing and playing rugby - thanks to DMU’s societies -as well as boxing. Sport is such a big part of my life and it helps me to stay well.”

Ellie is certain that dedication to her extra curricula activities played a big part in her securing a place at DMU and winning her award.

As an RAF Air Cadet, Ellie graduated from the Qualified Aerospace Instructors’ Course and used this to teach younger cadets. She also volunteers with her local Scout troop and has represented the UK at the World Scout Jamboree in Japan.

With the first year of her degree under her belt, Ellie is currently undertaking her 10-week internship at the Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace plant in Derby, while juggling evening classes to complete her Nanodegree with Code Girls First.

She said: “Rolls-Royce have been brilliant and I’m so impressed with how they’re trying to improve their diversity. I’m currently placed with the thermo fluids team for my internship, working on engine strips which is really interesting.

“Because of the pandemic I’m based at home, but I get to go in on some days for tours of the facilities and to talk to different teams. Soon I’ll get to spend a day shadowing a manager, which should be really insightful.

“University is really good for learning the theory, but you actually see how to apply it during an internship and you see why it matters. This experience so far has really reinforced my choice of degree and it’s exactly what I went into engineering for.”

Posted on Thursday 22 July 2021

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