Meet the winner -Areeg Emarah
Joining Cambridge as a wide-eyed fresher, I didn’t know where I would fit in. I felt very lucky — lucky to have found out that Cambridge was an option, lucky as I was the only Kenyan undergraduate in my year, and lucky to have received the Beacon Leadership Scholarship, without which I wouldn’t be here. My time here has been defined by amazing people, who inspire me every day. Together we have worked on initiatives aimed at making Cambridge a more accessible, impactful, and socially aware community.
May Week Alternative (MWA) has been a huge part of my life at Cambridge, from the moment I helped found it in my first year. As one of the fastest-growing student-led charity initiatives, it aims to place giving at the heart of May Week celebrations. We encourage students to engage with charity by donating an amount that is significant to them. We hope that this, in the long run, makes students more aware of opportunities to give as they arise in their futures. Being part of its committee for 3 years, I have helped MWA grow from 45 participants donating £12,000 to a community over 450-strong, raising about £110,000 for the Against Malaria Foundation in 2020. With a smile on my face and enthusiasm in my voice, I have advocated tirelessly to convince friends (and soon-to-be friends) to join our community. As Outreach Officer, I represented MWA in University social media outlets and organised events. In 2020, when we were not in Cambridge to celebrate May Week together, MWA and other societies rallied to organise the virtual May Week Mega Event; we raised funds for Covid research and lifted the spirits of the thousands of Cambridge students far from their friends. It was my honour to be one of the hosts of this event. I hope that in addition to the impact we had on lives beyond the Cambridge community, our work at MWA has changed student perspectives on giving for the better.
I have always felt that it’s my duty to enable other students from under-represented backgrounds to apply to Cambridge, given how much support I have received to get where I am today. As the first Access Officer in the Cambridge University Engineering Society (CUES), I organised the society’s inaugural Access Day. We hosted about 50 students in what was possibly the last in-person access event in Cambridge pre-pandemic. During this event, we gave them an insight into student lives and a taster of teaching at Cambridge, emphasising that it is a place for them too. In addition, I have mentored students as part of several schemes during my 4 years here — including the Students’ Union Shadowing Scheme, Target Oxbridge and initiatives by the Islamic Society of Cambridge — and (more informally) other prospective applicants from Kenya. To my pleasure, I was approached by a fresher in my third year who was one of my shadowing scheme mentees two years before!
Pre-pandemic, I practically lived in the Engineering Department (famously known for its fantastic beanbags). Thus, my friends and I felt it only right to give back to the engineering community by founding the Cambridge University Women in Engineering Society (CUWES) in our final year. We were excited to create a community that inspires and empowers women in the department and helps encourage young girls to consider engineering and STEM subjects as a viable option for their futures. Over the past year, we have held presentations by professionals, inspired young girls during the Shadowing Scheme and held socials and informal talks among students for support. I can’t wait to come back in a few years to see what this vibrant society will grow into! In a way, this drive has stemmed from my work on the Student-Staff Joint Committee which acts as a bridge between the department and its students. When the University had to close its doors at the end of Lent term in 2020, we liaised with staff to come up with assessment solutions that would work best for students. It was a pleasure working with other third-year representatives (known to some as the “Pandemic Tram”). It felt good to be able to make a positive impact, however local, during what was such a tough time globally.
Concluding my time at Cambridge by receiving the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Award is such an honour. The friends I have made, worked with, and gotten to know over these years have been not only the highlight of my time here, but also central in every action that has led to me being nominated for this award. Even after graduation, I hope to encourage more African undergraduates to apply to Cambridge. I believe everyone should have the chance to become a part of Cambridge and experience the opportunities to make an impact that come with it!