A PIONEERING programmer in the computer games industry was named a winner of one of the Association of Colleges' gold awards this week.
Joanne Clowes, creator of some of the world's best-selling games, joined a list of star students who won recognition for their achievements since leaving college.
The 33-year-old left City of Stoke-on-Trent College with A-levels in computing, social science and general studies. She now works for Microsoft Games, where she produced shooting games Halo and Halo 2. The latter sold more than 7 million copies, with $125m worth of sales on its first day of release in the US.
Ms Clowes, a former triathlete, who has competed for Great Britain, said:
"I was always into science and maths and I had a Commodore 64 that I used to type programmes into."
As a girl interested in science and computing, she often found herself isolated. But having a female lecturer, Jean Beckett, for computing studies was inspiring.
"I don't know if I was necessarily encouraged on a one-to-one basis, but it really helped that one of the lecturers was female," she said. "Having strong female role models made me realise it wasn't particularly out there for me to be doing this career."
She credits the college with giving her the fundamental know-ledge of computers that has seen her through more than a decade of rapid technological change.
"The course was highly technical, but it did help lay the foundations for what I have gone on to do," said Ms Clowes, who is married and lives in Seattle, near Microsoft's HQ.
Other AoC winners at Tuesday's ceremony in London included Alex Turner and Matt Helders, singer and drummer of chart-topping indie band the Arctic Monkeys. They studied music technology at Barnsley College while playing sell-out gigs in nearby Sheffield.
Michael Caines, a chef who trained at Exeter College, was another award winner. Despite losing an arm in a car accident in 1994, he was back in the kitchen within two weeks. He credits his tutor with encouraging him to move to London and train with prestigious chefs, which led to him receiving an MBE for services to the hospitality industry last year.
Also named among the winners was Hazel Blears, one of the candidates in the deputy Labour leadership contest. It was at Eccles College, where she studied English, history and maths A-levels, that she began debating.
The other winners were Henri Oguike, a choreographer who studied at Swansea College, and Paul Walsh, chief executive of drinks company Diageo, who studied at Oldham College.