Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, Emma Allsopp, Winner, Student of the Year Awardee, Moira Doherty, Head of Skills and Education at the Department for the Economy and Jane Askin, event Sponsor and Head of Culture and Talent at PlotBox ©


Monday 09 October 2023

Emma Allsopp takes the top prize of student of the year for Study USA. The 22-year-old Queen’s University Belfast student spent a year studying at Centenary College of Louisiana and hopes that the experience can help with her future career.

Emma, who is from Dunmurry, Belfast, and studied Law with Politics, was among 43 students from Northern Ireland to successfully graduate from the programme this year and was honoured at a graduation ceremony at the Harbour Commissioner’s Office in Belfast.

Emma was named student of the year after achieving top academic marks and for an essay highlighting how the experience has helped further her employability. This year’s awards were sponsored by Study USA alumna Jane Askin, Head of Culture and Talent at PlotBox. Also honoured were Cerys Edwards from St Mary’s University College and Mary Freeman, also from Queen’s University Belfast.

Study USA is managed by British Council Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department for the Economy and since its formation in 1994, the initiative has sent over 2000 students from Northern Ireland to all four corners of the United States where they have successfully completed a year studying business or business and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at one of 140 institutions.

Speaking about the award, Emma said: 

“The Study USA programme has changed my life in the best way possible, pushing me out of my comfort zone, enabling me to explore new places and gain knowledge of the business realm.

"My university career started in the wake of the COVID pandemic, lacking in social interaction. Study USA gave me a real college experience; the chance to meet new people from across the globe, create enriching friendships, and participate in college sports as an NCAA swim athlete.

"I could not recommend this programme more. It has helped me become a more confident and dynamic individual ready to tackle the professional world on a national and international scale."

The inaugural Study USA Student Spirit award recognises the importance of a student’s contribution to campus and community life during their time studying in the US. It rewards not only academic achievement but also the wider contribution through sports, service, and voluntary opportunities. 

The award was presented to Belfast student Claire McGurk who spent her Study USA year at La Roche University in Pennsylvania.

Claire is the first student to receive the Student Spirit award saying;

“I really threw myself into campus life at La Roche, and it has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to broaden my horizons, to build skills and make lasting connections. The experience I’ve gained this year will stand me in good stead as I embark on my next overseas adventure during a work-placement in Spain”.

Executive director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities Jeff Arnold presented the new award. Many Study USA alumni have attended colleges within this association, alongside other partners including the Catholic and Methodist college associations.

Moira Doherty, Deputy Secretary, Head of Skills and Education at the Department for the Economy took part in the graduation and said about the programme: 

“I am delighted to be able to congratulate this year’s award winners Emma and Claire and indeed all the 2023 Study USA graduates. Through the opportunity to study outside their home country, students gain additional confidence, an international outlook, and enhanced core employability skills that directly benefit our local economy.

“Over the past 29 years the Study USA programme has provided the many students who have participated in it with life-changing opportunities as well as helping to strengthen our relationships with the US. I would therefore like to express my appreciation to our partners for their continued support for the students, the associate colleges in the US and the hard work put in by the British Council which plays a key role in delivering the programme on the Department’s behalf.”

Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland, also spoke about the programme as it moves into its 30th year.

He said: "Congratulations to this year’s special award winners Emma and Claire, and to all the 2023 Study USA graduates. All of the students have demonstrated their ability to successfully adapt and thrive in a different environment, gaining new intercultural skills, and often overcoming personal and work challenges. Students will graduate from the programme with enhanced employability skills which will help prepare them in their future careers and support the Northern Ireland economy with vital skills needed to work in a global economy.

“As we move into Study USA's 30th anniversary year, the programme continues to support students from across Northern Ireland in their various career paths and while in the US, every student has acted as an ambassador for Northern Ireland and helped bring an international outlook to the institutions they studied in. The programme helps to develop important connections with the US, strengthening cultural and economic links and understanding between the two countries.

I wish all the graduates every success as they join this growing and global network of Study USA alumni.”

The audience at this year’s awards ceremony is testament to the achievements of Study USA alumni, with previous participants attending the event including: Jane Askin, event Sponsor - Head of Culture and Talent at PlotBox, Jayne McCormack, BBC Political Correspondent. Sarah Quinlan, MBE, Director at Radiotherapy UK, Hayden Stewart of Citibank, Tessa Breslin, Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach, and Sherene Masterson of Ulster Bank.

Students interested in applying for the Study USA 24-25 programme can now apply online at Students will study a combination of classes related to their home course alongside leadership, communications and business classes and/ or STEM subjects and the deadline for applications for Higher Education Institutions is midnight Sunday, November 19 2023 and for HND/Foundation degree students midnight Monday, January 3 2024.

Notes to Editor

The British Council is the UK’s leading international cultural relations organisation, creating global opportunities in arts and culture, education and the English language. For more information on current opportunities in Northern Ireland, visit, or follow on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language. We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2021-22 we reached 650 million people.