Having grown up in the West Midlands and attending Heartlands Academy before heading to sixth form, Abubakar Mohamud is the first ever Heartlands student to attend the University of Cambridge. We recently caught up with Abubakar to find out how his first term at Cambridge went and any advice he has for E-ACT pupils wanting to follow in his footsteps.
Tell us about life at Cambridge
I’m studying for a degree in Human Social & Political Sciences. I feel very grateful as I’ve also had lots of opportunities to get involved in activities away from my studies in my first term. I’m part of my college football team and I’ve also started rowing, as it’s a very ‘Cambridge thing’ but also a good skill to have.
I’ve also become the new access officer for my college, working on social mobility and helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is really important to me to get involved in access and inspire others from similar disadvantaged backgrounds.
How has your first term at Cambridge been?
I’ve really enjoyed it. In the first few weeks everything was very new and I was meeting a lot of people from different backgrounds. It has been really interesting to have diverse conversations and hear lots of different perspectives.
This year has obviously been very different because of COVID-19. This has meant that I haven’t really had the chance to go to other colleges within Cambridge or attend university wide events. However, my own college (Robertson) has a really good atmosphere and a community feel, so I’ve been able to make lots of friends in my college. I live in catered halls of residence, but I also like to cook for myself sometimes.
How else has COVID-19 impacted on your first term?
All of my lectures moved online, and I didn’t get to meet people from other colleges in my lecture halls which is a shame. The second lockdown in November also meant that sports and other activities were cancelled. However, I’m still looking forward to my second and third terms, which should hopefully be better.
What is the best thing about being a Cambridge student?
I would have to say the unique teaching experience that Cambridge offers and the help you get from supervisors. It doesn’t feel like a teacher-student relationship, but more of a professional conversation. My supervisors are also researchers in my academic field, which is exciting.
What are your career aspirations?
I’m not really sure just yet, but I have started thinking about it as I’d like to look for work experience for the summer holidays. I’m interested in law and one day I’d like to work for an international charity or an NGO. I’d like my dissertation to focus on how aid is allocated in certain countries in Africa, so being able to have my career in a related field would be great.
When did you realise you could in fact apply to Cambridge University?
I wouldn’t say there was one particular moment, but my siblings pushed me academically which really helped. When my older brother suggested applying to Oxbridge I laughed at him at first, as I didn’t think it was possible. However, I went to a lot of open days which were very helpful and important for getting a feel for the university.
I went to an open day specifically for BAME students applying to Cambridge where I got the chance to speak to other BAME students already at the university. It showed me that people who look like me are already at Cambridge, so why not me! Also, the Social Mobility Foundation charity supports high achieving disadvantaged students and they had lots of events such as career insight days and open days, which really helped me as I was able to meet likeminded individuals through the charity.
Do you have any advice for E-ACT pupils aspiring to go to Cambridge?
To be honest, when I heard I was the first Heartlands student to go to Cambridge University, I was really proud, but slightly disappointed that I was the first. I felt like there were other students just as capable as me, but I don’t think they saw it as something that was within their possibilities.
The main advice would be to get out of your comfort zone. It took a lot of people to convince me to apply to Cambridge and my advice would be to not be constrained by your environment and circumstances. Just push yourself, persevere and go through it to make a stable future for yourself.
Who were your favourite teachers at Heartlands and what was the best advice you got from them?
I really enjoyed the history lessons given by Miss Steward as she went beyond just the curriculum. I learned a lot in her lessons and found them interesting and engaging. I also enjoyed reading books a lot in Year 7 and Year 9. My form tutor at the time, Miss Gillespie, gave me some great advice which was to never give up reading books or engaging in reading and learning. I thought that was really good advice to take into adulthood.
What is your best memory of being a student at Heartlands?
I really enjoyed the atmosphere at Heartlands, I felt part of a community there and really liked the friends I made. I also really liked playing football with my friends at lunchtime and the fact that everyone around me came from similar backgrounds.
Heartlands Academy has had a number of key successes over the last year, including being named as both secondary school of the year and overall school of the year at the Tes Awards. Having a former student attend Cambridge University is just the icing on the cake. We look forward to seeing how Abubakar progresses at university and beyond. To find out more about Heartlands Academy, visit https://heartlandsacademy.e-act.org.uk.