Final year Engineering student Areeg Emarah has received the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Award 2021 for her varied access and student support work, and her commitment to the May Week Alternative (MWA) movement.
Areeg, who has just finished her exams, said it was an honour to receive the award and she paid tribute to friends who had nominated her.
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.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards were established in 2019 by the Cambridge Hub, the centre for student social action, with the support of Professor Stephen Toope, to celebrate and recognise exceptional commitment to social impact.
Areeg, who was born in Egypt and grew up in Kenya, has worked on a wide range of initiatives, both at Trinity and the University, been active in student politics, and pioneered a women in engineering access project at Cambridge. She has also been active in the Cambridge University Islamic Society.
One of Areeg’s award nominees said:
Areeg demonstrates a deep care for those around her: when the pandemic hit in March 2020 with four weeks to go before Engineering exams, she rallied her year group’s morale and liaised with her department, collecting testimonies from 350 students about welfare and exam mitigations; she was recognised for this with the Engineering Department’s Outstanding Contribution to Education Award.
Areeg’s Tutor at Trinity, Professor Adrian Poole, said:
I have the greatest admiration for Areeg. She sets a wonderful example of intelligently directed enthusiasm, energy and resilience. Simply put, she is an inspiration to all around her.
Areeg is passionate about encouraging and enabling more students from under-represented backgrounds at apply to Cambridge. She co-founded the Womxn in Engineering Society and became the first Cambridge University Engineering Society Access Officer.
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, 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.
In addition, I have mentored students as part of several schemes during my four 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.
Recognising that getting into Cambridge is one step, Areeg has worked hard to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds have a positive experience once here. As a member of the Trinity College Students’ Union, she campaigned for a Reflection Room for all faiths, the reintroduction of Halal food and ran International Freshers’ Week at Trinity.
Areeg is a Beacon Scholar, an initiative for Africans, and she has engaged with the University to increase access efforts for students from the Continent, organising Q&A events and creating resources.
Meanwhile, Areeg joined May Week Alternative, founded by Trinity student George Rosenfeld, which seeks to change the way students and wider society think about charity. George takes up the story:
When I was initially setting up the initiative, my first goal was to find one person who would take the brave decision to donate the approximate cost of a May Ball ticket to charity, as a way of celebrating the end of exams. I knew that I just needed to find those first people in order to pave the way for wider adoption, but it wasn’t easy … I went through days of rejection. But as soon as Areeg heard about it she was on board, ready to dive in. I didn’t know her yet, but she reached out and said that she didn’t care if anyone else would donate, she wanted to join.
But Areeg didn’t only want to donate herself, she also wanted to help build a movement for the whole of Cambridge. From that moment, she was an integral part of my committee for two and a half years, a crucial part of its transformation into one of Cambridge’s biggest student charity movements, which has now raised over £280,000 nationally for the Against Malaria Foundation.
She has always been one of our brightest representatives across the University, speaking about MWA with a smile and making it impossible for anybody who talks to her not to join. Areeg is unparalleled in the way she represents our message and our mission, and I do not know where we would be without her.
Areeg has an IT job lined up in London. Her commitment to widening access remains. She says:
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!
Perhaps the last words should go to Areeg’s nominees:
Areeg always approaches everything with boundless enthusiasm and joy, and gives
so much of herself to others. She is truly an incredible individual.
Areeg is a relentlessly positive individual who you can’t help but take a liking to. The energy she exudes inspires her peers to support one another as well as those most in need, there is no doubt she will go on to do great things for the world. Areeg has a spirit like no other.