Celebrating our student volunteers

Monday 5 June 2023


St Catharine’s students and their societies are finalists in the 2023 Cambridge Students’ Awards. Organised by the Cambridge Student Union, the awards celebrate the achievements of students who volunteer across the University and the wider Cambridge community.  This year’s awards attracted a total of 241 nominations across nine categories and the winners will be officially announced on 16 June.

Dr Holly Canuto (2020), Senior Tutor at St Catharine’s, commented:

“Congratulations to everyone shortlisted for the 2023 Students Awards! St Catharine’s is proud to be able to support our students to pursue their wide-ranging interests and achieve their full potential, as demonstrated by these amazing finalists: from funding the Shirley Society’s activities each year, to supporting Anthony’s visit to Caltech this summer and Malik’s travel to the inaugural session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent at the United Nations. We are grateful to the generosity of donors past and present who enable us to continue to provide this assistance and encouragement.”

The Shirley Society – shortlisted for ‘Society of the Year’

Established at St Catharine’s in 1864, the Shirley Society is the oldest literary society in Cambridge. Sasha Brearley, a second-year English undergraduate,

She said, “I'm incredibly touched that the Shirley Society has been shortlisted for this award. To me, Shirley represents how poetry can enable beautiful and profound connections between people, so it's lovely to hear that this sentiment has been shared throughout Shirley this past year. That literature resonates deeply and meaningfully with a very human impulse inside of us has certainly been proved to be true.”

“Our events over the last year have attracted students from across the University, from our weekly meetings on strange and often obscure themes such as 'lost at sea' and 'the fig', to our candlelit open-mic nights with partners like the Blackbirds Poetry Society and Screeve. We have also relaunched ‘Wicked Ant’, the Society’s own publication that dates back to 1975.”

Sasha Brealey and the cover of the 2023 edition of Wicked Ant
Sasha Brealey and the cover of the 2023 edition of Wicked Ant

Abdul Malik Al Nasir & Rhiannon Jones – shortlisted for ‘Contribution to Access & Widening Participation’

Malik, a History PhD candidate, has been recognised for the impact of a groundbreaking initiative addressing the barriers facing Black academics in UK higher education. He is shortlisted with Rhiannon, a PhD student at St John’s College and the Faculty of Education, who has supported the initiative by leading a literature review and a new workgroup looking at the role of widening participation activities in overcoming these barriers.

Two St Catharine’s alumnae are among those who have supported the initiative: L’myah Sherae (2018, International Relations & Politics), founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race Equality in Education, has led the legislative workgroup and drafted a policy report with Rhiannon; and Naomi Abayasekara (2021, Classics) has been transcribing and editing insights from a recent policy roundtable event. 

Malik commented, “It was a massive but pleasant surprise when I found out that Rhiannon and I have been shortlisted – just as we are starting to see the impact of months of hard work. Our findings are due to be published by the University of Liverpool in a policy report and has spawned a new policy brief entitled ‘Lifting the Barriers to Black Academia through Positive Action and Decolonisation’, which will be published with Bristol University Press. We are about to embark on a tour of UK universities to promote our work and encourage implementation of our policy recommendations, and L'myah and I have been working with Lord Griffiths of Burry Port to introduce the new Higher Education (Widening Access and Participation) Bill in Parliament.”

L'myah Sherae, Naomi Abayasekara and Malik Al Nasir at St Catharine's
L'myah Sherae, Naomi Abayasekara and Malik Al Nasir

UPDATE - 16 JUNE: Malik and Rhiannon were announced as winners in their category. 

Read about Malik’s recent Global Impact award in the 2023 Vice-Chancellor’s Social Impact Awards.

The Cambridge University Synthetic Biology Society – shortlisted for ‘Campaign Impact’

Anthony Phung, a second-year Natural Sciences undergraduate, is Vice President of the Synthetic Biology Society. His success with the Society prompted him to apply for the Caltech Cambridge Scholars Exchange Program (CamSURF) programme to further engage with cutting-edge research in synthetic biology on an exchange visit to Caltech supported by St Catharine's. 

He said, “We were very delighted to be shortlisted for the Campaign Impact category. This is a testament to the Society’s persevering endeavour over the past three committee terms. Our society has worked diligently to relaunch the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (known as iGEM) at Cambridge ever since its hiatus in 2016. Along the way, we have introduced synthetic biology to wider audience through workshops and talks, as well as raising awareness of the associated bioethics. As the current Vice President, I am committed to following the footsteps of my mentors, and this greatly motivates me to rerun iGEM at Cambridge again in upcoming years and give students more opportunities to engage with synthetic biology.”

Anthony Phung and the 2022 Cambridge team at iGEM
Anthony Phung and the 2022 Cambridge team at iGEM

Read our report on Anthony and the Society’s medal-winning achievements at iGEM 2022.