The Werner von Siemens Award aims to motivate young talented students and researchers and to reinforce positive attitudes of students and the general public towards science, as well as to promote the importance of the work of educators. It is among the most significant independent projects of its kind in the Czech Republic in terms of its scope and prize amounts. Its winners and winning theses are voted for by independent panels whose members include rectors and vice-rectors of leading Czech universities, the Chairwoman of the Czech Academy of Sciences and directors of individual institutes. Since 1997, four hundred laureates received over CZK 14 million in prizes.
Even though the main award categories are aimed at students and researchers in life sciences and technical sciences, educators and scientists, this year’s laureates include MU student of informatics and information and library studies Ester Milostná. Her nomination in the category Recognition of overcoming barriers to study was submitted by Masaryk University through the Teiresiás centre.
Masaryk University’s Support Centre for Students with Special Needs provides assistance to Ester in organising her studies in MU buildings, as well as during lectures and seminars. Due to progressive spinal muscular atrophy she needs an electric wheelchair and continuous personal assistance.
“I have been listening my whole life to people saying that due to my condition I should only use well-trodden paths: such as elementary and secondary school for students with special needs, camps and leisure time clubs for the handicapped, or part-time jobs in organisations known for working with the handicapped… and a college major that is easy and long-lasting just to prolong my student status. Which is exactly what I don’t want,” says Ester, who is among the top one-third in her programme.
The decision to study in a big city and at Masaryk University was a good decision, she admits. Free assistance provided by the university is the biggest help. “Physical barriers in the school environment are easier. There are elevators, platforms or detours. Worst case scenario, I can ask for a lecture to be moved to a more convenient room. However there are limitations during seminars because I have to use the services of a pre-arranged note-taker or ask for video recording. I also need extra time during tests if I have to write on my own. Teiresiás provides everything.”
The Werner von Siemens Award includes cash prize which Ester wants to use for a study programme abroad. Unlike most students, she will not be able to find a part-time job to earn some extra income. “Financial reward is always a nice bonus, especially if you want to do tons of stuff, like me. As for the award itself, I take this victory as an opportunity to prove to the general public the ability of handicapped people to be fully integrated in the society, as well as the opportunity to showcase the approach of our university, as well as the help provided by the Teiresiás centre, and of course as a message to prospective students in my situation that they should try to study the field of their dreams,” Ester added.
She has many ambitious plans for the future. She loves travelling, sports (swimming and floorball) and creative arts. She writes poetry; she likes painting and sewing and experiments with 3D printing and cutting plotter to make stickers and T-shirt printing. As for her future career, she would not say no to IT, but she is also drawn to social work or teaching. And having a family is also a big dream of hers.
This year, Faculty of Science students succeeded in the category “Best thesis” as well. Barbora Hrnčířová finished ninth (topic: Optimisation of synthetic binding protein scaffolds on the surface of Pseudomonas putida bacterial cells, supervisor: Pavel Dvořák) and Jacek Marciniak finished tenth (topic: The gut and buccal microbiome during the first year of life; supervisor: Lenka Kosečková Micenková).