Engaging students from underrepresented ethnicities

Thursday 23 March 2023


St Catharine’s is committed to encouraging applications from students with academic potential, regardless of their background. To engage students we might otherwise not be able to reach through traditional methods like open days, the College works closely with schools and other partners to deliver a wide range of outreach activities throughout the year.

Thanks to the generosity of St Catharine’s alumni, our outreach team is able to tailor the support on offer to meet the needs of the students we work with, whether that’s a specific school, subject area or cohort. This article looks at recent examples of how the College has offered tailored support to one of these cohorts: students from ethnicities that are traditionally underrepresented at Cambridge (including, but not limited to, Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Roma, Gypsy, Traveller).

Professor David Bainbridge (2003) and Dr Ivan Scales (2008), Fellows and Admissions Tutors at St Catharine’s, commented:

“St Catharine’s is rightly proud to offer a blend of in-person and online activities designed to attract the most talented students, regardless of background. We take care to develop activities according to evidence about the barriers to higher education faced by young people, and the data are clear about the underrepresentation of students from Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Roma, Gypsy and Traveller backgrounds. The series of events that we have supported for students from these backgrounds open the door for them to find out more about Catz and our wider programme of activities, which are generally open to all prospective applicants in a particular year group.”

Engaging future medics of Black African and Caribbean heritage: 18 February

Given our proud history of educating doctors, St Catharine’s was delighted to host a recent graduation ceremony for students who had successfully completed the Envision Med programme. Envision Med is a 15-month programme designed by the charity Melanin Medics for Year 12 students of Black African and Caribbean heritage, including students of mixed-race heritage, who have aspirations to study Medicine in the UK.

Reflecting on the success of the graduation day, Dr Khadija Owusu, Director of Programmes at Melanin Medics, commented:

“We are truly proud of all the Envision Med students from Cohorts 1 and 2 who successfully graduated from the programme. The students have worked hard over the past year or so on their journey to pursuing a career in Medicine whilst becoming an all-rounded individual. The programme would not be possible without the assistance of Dr Elizabeth Fistein of Lucy Cavendish College and we appreciated Professor Stefan Marciniak and St Catharine's College for hosting our graduation ceremony.”

Tobi Dairo, a second-year Medical Sciences undergraduate at St Catharine’s who attended to support the event, added:

“I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to attend the Envision Med graduation event and I am pleased that St Catharine’s could contribute to its success. The stories shared by students about their journeys into medicine are a testament to the important work that the mentors at Melanin Medics do to help widen access to medicine for individuals from African and Caribbean backgrounds. I hope that the connections formed through this event can be used to inspire more people from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue their aspirations of becoming doctors.”

Envision Medicine 2023 graduation ceremony hosted by the Melanin Medics team with Dr Elizabeth Fistein and Professor Stefan Marciniak
The Envision Medicine 2023 graduation ceremony was hosted by the Melanin Medics team with support from Dr Elizabeth Fistein and Professor Stefan Marciniak (credit: Melanin Medics)

Underrepresented Ethnicities Access Day: 4 March

The College’s outreach team organised this access day with two undergraduate students who share our enthusiasm for engaging prospective applicants from underrepresented ethnicities. Afrin Patel, a second-year Engineering undergraduate, and Sahana Kalam, a second-year HSPS undergraduate, suggested holding the event after they were elected as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities) Officers for the St Catharine’s JCR Committee, which represents our undergraduate student community.

Afrin and Sahana explained, “Once we announced arrangements for the access day, there was a huge amount of interest, with over 250 young people from across the UK applying for a spot. When the day came, we were proud to be part of the group of Catz students on hand to extend a warm welcome to students from a wide range of backgrounds. We hope the experience gave attendees the information and confidence they need when it comes to applying for undergraduate degrees and also that they pick Catz!”

Collage of photos from the St Catharine's Underrepresented Ethnicities Access Day 2023
(Credit for right-hand image: Marianne Adisa)

The day provided a packed itinerary that included an insightful presentation from Sahana and Afrin about life at Cambridge for them and their peers, as well as College tours and small-group, subject-specific discussions led by St Catharine’s student ambassadors. There was also plenty of time to respond to any questions from attendees and a one-hour presentation for parents and carers on supporting a student through the application process.

Liza Zhabina, Schools Liaison & Outreach Officer at St Catharine’s, said:

“It was a pleasure to work closely with Afrin, Sahana and all the other student ambassadors involved in making the access day such a success. Feedback from those who visited Catz emphasised how friendly and down-to-earth our community was, and how inspired they were to see young people from similar backgrounds thriving at Cambridge.”

Year 12 webinar offering insight from students from traditionally underrepresented ethnicities: 8 March

Sahana Kalam, Afrin Patel, Kazal Oshodi, Ammie Vudathu and Rachel Duke
St Catharine's student ambassadors involved in the webinar (left–right): Sahana Kalam and Afrin Patel (also outgoing JCR BME Officers), Kazal Oshodi, Ammie Vudathu (also former JCR President) and Rachel Duke (also outgoing JCR Access Officer). (Credits: Shawn Mwenje and Binky Nixon)

Given the interest in the access day, St Catharine’s also hosted a webinar for young people who were unable to attend in person, ensuring they too could benefit from the insight and advice offered by our student ambassadors. Over 32 participants joined by Zoom to hear Afrin and Sahana repeat their presentation from the access day, followed by an engaging Q&A session led by five ambassadors (pictured above) that dispelled myths about life at Cambridge and provided advice about how current St Catharine’s students settled into College life.

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive and included:

“It was lovely to hear from a range of students from multiple different backgrounds and courses about their person experiences. I can now say that I feel more confident in applying to Cambridge, and that there will be a lot of support from people like me to aid me in my years there.”

Thomas Williams, External Partnerships & Outreach Officer at St Catharine’s, commented:

“After such positive feedback from the in-person day and accompanying webinar, we are keen to build on these events and incorporate similar support into our other activities. We will publicise the details for all our upcoming events on the College’s social media and website.”


Find out more about the St Catharine’s outreach programme.