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Golden futures

As our first cohort of Gold Scholars graduate, discover the difference the Programme makes to our students and the wider Bath community.

Group of Gold Scholars celebrating
2021 was a cause for celebration for our Gold Scholars.

“I got accepted on to a Bath master’s programme to study international development with economics,” beams Gold Scholar Sherifat Adeniyi, who graduated this summer with a degree in economics. “I’m hoping to work abroad for a few years, and at some point I’d like to work for a big international body like the UN or the World Bank.”

You may remember Sherifat from our short film about the Gold Scholarship Programme back in 2018. She spoke about how, as a young carer from a single-parent family, the scholarship offered her a new sense of independence, a space of her own for the first time and freedom from financial pressures.

Launched in 2017 as part of the University’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, the Gold Scholarship Programme (GSP) offers up to 50 bright young people per year from disadvantaged backgrounds a £5,000 bursary for each year of study, as well as skills workshops, pastoral support and access to a pool of Gold Mentors. These scholarships are supported by alumni and friends – through individuals, like Sherifat’s sponsor Stephen Kelly (BSc Business Administration 1984; Hon DBA 2016), and collectively through the Alumni Fund.

Then and now

“Getting on to the scholarship felt incredible,” Sherifat said in our video. “The best thing about my life right now would be my independence. I’ve never had my own room before and having my own space has been really empowering.”

She continued: “I see many things for my future. I see me growing into myself further, becoming even more independent, discovering who I want to be as a career woman.” Thanks to the scholarship, Sherifat has not only decided on an ambitious career path, but also gained the skills to help her achieve it.

Since joining the Programme as part of its first cohort, Sherifat has flourished at Bath, building her confidence and undertaking a placement year at the Home Office. She credits the GSP with providing a community of like-minded people: “It’s fostered opportunities for me to volunteer and do outreach work, which has really helped me to feel part of the University and part of Bath on a wider scale, as well.”

Smashing targets

One of the outreach activities she’s been involved with is Target Bath. This free initiative offers Year 12 students of Black African and Caribbean heritage from across the UK the opportunity to find out more about studying at Bath, as well as support with their application.

“I remember when I was applying for university, I went to a bunch of summer schools and Saturday schools to get a feel for everything, so I think outreach is really important,” Sherifat explains. “I know from experience that it helps you get into the right frame of mind for coming to university.”

Helping them to help others

This focus on volunteering is one of the key elements of the GSP, with each scholar expected to complete 50 hours of volunteering, fundraising or outreach work per year. It’s also something that George Cooper, who graduated this year with a degree in mathematics, found hugely beneficial in broadening his horizons.

A keen musician and songwriter, George is initially planning to follow a career in music after graduation, but also found himself inspired by a maths tutoring scheme he set up last year in a local secondary school.

“I thought the planning would be the easy bit, but in fact the implementation was the most rewarding – because you’re actually seeing the difference being made,” he says. “I never really wanted to pursue a career in teaching, but this opened my eyes to the idea that it might be a good job in the future.”

George believes that the soft skills he’s picked up during his time at Bath will be key to any career path, admitting that even the word ‘networking’ was enough to make his hair stand on end before he joined the GSP. However, the Programme’s regular networking sessions with Gold Mentors, donors and industry professionals have helped him to reach a point where, “if I was ever put in that scenario where I needed to network in a professional way, then I’d be very confident doing it, whereas a lot of my peers who aren’t on the Gold Scholarship feel that’s still a barrier for them.”

Support and stability

The positive effect of a Gold Scholarship on its recipient can’t be underestimated. It provides the financial stability for them to concentrate fully on their studies, a support network if they lack industry contacts, and encouragement to get fully stuck into a range of extracurriculars. But they aren’t the only ones to benefit from the Programme.

“I hope the Gold donors know that the money they give doesn’t just impact us: it also impacts the wider community,” says Hannah Eustice, whose Gold Scholarship is funded by alumna Christine Gibbons (BPharm Pharmacy 1978) and her husband Mike. “For example, if I wasn’t on the Gold Scholarship Programme, I’d never have been able to set up the Letters to the Elderly project properly.”

Reaching out

In 2020, second-year Pharmacology student Hannah tasked her fellow students with writing letters to care home residents to boost morale during the coronavirus restrictions. Writers were urged to include information about their hobbies and passions in their letters, so that they could be matched to recipients who shared their interests.

The project was initially local in its scope, with the first letters going out to care homes in Bath – but as interest grew, Hannah ended up sending around 350 letters to care homes UK-wide.

“The reason I wanted to lead the project was because I’ve been shielding during the pandemic,” she explains. “During the first lockdown I went home, so I was lucky enough to be with my family. But people in care homes literally couldn’t see theirs – they weren’t allowed any visitors at all. I wanted to do something that showed them there were still people thinking about them.”

It’s a project that Hannah hopes will continue to grow, thanks to her role as a V Team project leader – the volunteering group within the Students’ Union. While the first batches of letters were sent as one-off missives, next year the plan is to implement safeguarding training for student participants, so the correspondence can become a two-way conversation.

With lockdown restrictions easing, Hannah also anticipates that students may also be able to pay visits to their pen-pals in future.

Looking to the future

“I feel like the skills and the volunteering make me stand out a bit more,” adds Gold Scholar Rachel Stones. “During the pandemic, I trained as a Covid-19 vaccinator with the St John Ambulance. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually been able to vaccinate anyone yet, but I’ve been stewarding at vaccination centres such as the one at Bath Racecourse and a couple of places closer to home. As someone studying a health-related course, I felt that I needed to do that bit more, even if it was out of my comfort zone.”

Rachel has also done plenty of work for Bath Marrow – a student group that works with blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan – raising money and persuading people to register as stem cell donors. It’s a cause particularly close to Rachel’s heart, after her then-partner was diagnosed with leukaemia during her second year.

Her dedication to her studies during this period, despite the challenging personal circumstances, led her to receiving the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Student of the Year Award. Having graduated this summer with a degree in pharmacy, she’s now beginning her training as a hospital pharmacist in Bristol and is eventually aiming to specialise in intensive care medicine.

Like Sherifat, Rachel was not only among our first intake of Gold Scholars but also featured in our promotional videos, where she explained that university simply wouldn’t have been financially feasible without the support. And now? “I feel like I’m a completely different person to first-year me, in a good way – as clichéd as it sounds,” she says. “I’ve learnt more about myself and who I am.”

She continues: “I’m hoping that now I’ve graduated the Gold team will recruit me as a mentor, so I can offer guidance to the future students coming on to the Programme!

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This article was written by Emma Davies for BA2 Issue 29, published in September 2021.