RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 4


Vanessa Madu

Imperial College London
Academics and University Access

Timothy Armoo

Vanessa was born in Ilford, East London. As the eldest of four, she believes she was naturally very motivated and driven to do well in her academics. Vanessa realised she had a knack for Maths aged 13 at a funfair in Ilford when she guessed the number of marbles in a jar (432) after doing a rough calculation of the volume of the jar. During her GCSEs, her mother suffered with a serious illness which left her hospitalised for periods while Vanessa was preparing for her exams. Despite this, Vanessa was still able to achieve 10 A*s and an A in her GCSEs, the best grades in her year and the best grades her school had seen for a while.

Vanessa had hoped to move to a better sixth form for her A Levels but decided not to do so due to personal circumstances at home. Knowing she wanted to pursue STEM subjects later on in life, Vanessa asked her school to allow her to take four A Level subjects so she would be able to study Further Maths. Whilst they agreed, the school was only able to provide her with one external Further Maths lesson per fortnight in Year 12. This meant Vanessa had to teach herself most of the AS modules and all of A2 in Year 13, Vanessa still achieved 4 A*s in all her A Level subjects – her grades accounted for half of the A* grades achieved by her whole year group.

Vanessa realised that there were probably other students in her school who were very mathematically capable and would benefit from studying Further Maths, but lacked the access to higher level teaching. In Year 13, Vanessa began teaching GCSE Further Maths herself to a group of ten Year 10 and 11 students during her lunch times. This allowed her to give those students a foundation into the subject and provide them with an entry point for A Levels. After leaving the school, the GCSE Further Maths lessons are now being continued officially by her school as they could see it was a valuable resource for their students.

Vanessa had received an offer to study Maths at Trinity College, Cambridge. Unfortunately, despite meeting her A Level offer, Vanessa was unable to meet her STEP offer due to a lack of support from her school with the challenging STEP exams. Vanessa is now studying Maths at Imperial College London, where she is the only female student of black heritage in her year group.

In her first year of university, Vanessa made significant contributions to the planning and running of the London Girls’ Maths event, an outreach event held by Imperial’s Maths Department to reach girls who come from backgrounds underrepresented on the Maths undergraduate course. Vanessa also spoke on various panel events to inspire other young women wanting to study STEM subjects, including the Stemettes Futures Summit, and What Career Live? She also appeared on panels at The Future of Women in STEM conference hosted by Government Events, speaking on how to inspire more girls to do STEM subjects by changing the way we teach. In July last year, Vanessa started writing her technology blog, Vanessa Speaks.

In 2020, Vanessa founded ProjectInsight, a website designed to demystify STEM careers for the benefit of young people, particularly young women. She aims to provide Day in the Life videos, interviews and information into as many STEM careers as possible to make it more accessible to young people, and to remove the fear of the unknown that can surround going into STEM careers. To date, the project has been self-funded.

Vanessa has also arranged a Junior Hackathon at Imperial College London for girls aged 6 – 10. The event, funded by her university, was due be held in July this year with 200 to 250 girls scheduled to attend. Vanessa was planning all the activities and events for the hackathon herself, before the pandemic made going ahead impossible. Vanessa has recently been invited to do a talk at TEDXImperial College where she will be speaking about how ‘the future of STEM is in our four-year olds’.

“I recently discovered a love for technology and have been actively working to ensure that fewer women miss out on discovering a love for technology like I almost did.”

Vanessa will be one of the first undergraduate students to be featured as a part of Imperial People, a campaign designed to recognise the highest achieving students at Imperial College, where she will be featured alongside world class researchers. She has also been shortlisted for the Booking.com Technology Playmaker Awards under the ‘Rising Technologist’ category, selected from hundreds of entries worldwide.

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