RARE  RISINGSTARS 2014 The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 7

 

EILEEN ATIENO

MEng Aerospace Engineering
University of Bristol
Academics and Charity
Brandon Akem


Eileen’s story is so remarkable that it might easily form the plot of an emotional Bollywood epic.

She grew up in an abusive home in Kenya, having been left in the care of extended family by her mother who moved to the UK. The abuse included forcing her to miss primary school, alongside her sister, and work on the roadside. When her mother arrived out of the blue to fetch her, aged 11, she thought her torment was over. When they arrived at the airport in Nairobi, Eileen laid eye upon an aeroplane for the first time. It was at that very moment that she determined, one day, to work in aviation.

"Have some fire; be unstoppable; be a force of nature."

A month after arriving in the UK, Eileen’s mother disappeared, sadly never to be seen or heard from again, leaving her and her sister living – in cramped conditions – with a strange man in a strange country. Despite all these setbacks, seemingly unaware that her life was atypical, Eileen excelled at school. Despite missing much of her primary schooling, and in a school where only 40% of pupils achieved 5 GCSE passes, she gained four A*s, four As, two Bs and two Cs, before going on to achieve A*AA at A‑level.

Despite her undoubted academic potential, her dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer was in danger of being crushed when she was refused a student loan due to her visa status. It was only then that Eileen realised that her experience hadn’t been like that of her fellow students. Fortunately, the Refugee Council spotted her and put her onto their programme for people not in employment, education or training (NEET).

"Sometimes the future changes quickly and completely, and we’re left with only the choice of what to do next. Dream big and never give up."

After volunteering with the Refugee Council for two years helping with their accounts, Eileen secured an internship with the Royal Aeronautical Society. Despite not having a degree, she impressed to the extent that they offered her a job, which – of course – her visa status precluded her from accepting. However, with her self‑confidence restored, she re‑applied to university. Against all the odds, she secured £10,000 of funding in only three months by writing to almost 100 charities and funds. She was also granted a fully funded scholarship from the Dean of the University of Bristol.

Despite all of her setbacks, and having had two years out of education, she continues to go from strength to strength academically – she is 7th in a class of 104 after her first year on this highly competitive course. Not one to rest on her laurels though, Eileen now acts as a mentor and ambassador trying to encourage other girls to take up STEM subjects at degree level. She is also about to start the first Formula 1 motorsport engineering society at her university. There is every chance that, one day, you will fly in a plane designed by this remarkable young woman, and her amazing story looks set to be one that has a fairy tale ending.

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